Two weeks ago, Will and Grace made its comeback after an eleven year hiatus and, unsurprisingly, the first episode lived up to its hype. The characters maintained their delightfully entertaining, sometimes over-the-top quirks—Will was still the more reserved, put together, uptight gay lawyer, Grace the slightly immature, boisterous redhead, and Karen and Jack remained a hilarious dynamic duo. The episode opened up with a spirited game of “Heads Up”, a 2017 technological upgrade from Will and Grace’s favorite game of charades. Grace has once again landed at Will’s doorstep to stay after being newly divorced from her husband Leo (played by Harry Connick Jr. in the original sitcom). As the episode progresses, we find Will, Grace, Jack and Karen in the Trump White House navigating the current social and political landscape. By its conclusion, both Will and Grace were forced to choose between their political morals and their own personal gain.
The reboot’s first episode was witty, endearing, and nostalgic—everything that other reboots like Fuller House and Gilmore Girls have been. But what will make the show a success yet again? What will keep viewers coming back week after week to watch on Thursday night primetime? Here’s the reason why the Will and Grace reboot will be a hit once again: straight women love gay men.
Just a year before Will and Grace aired in 1998, Ellen Degeneres’ show Ellen was taken off television after she came out both on the air and in her personal life. Following her coming out, the nation responded in an uproar of homophobia. Advertisements were pulled immediately from the show’s commercial breaks for fear of being associated with “inappropriate” content and losing their consumer base. Ellen received numerous death threats from homophobic viewers, and she was told to keep her gayness private—no one wanted to see “that sort of thing.”
How then, after only a year of Ellen’s show tanking, did this sitcom about gay men become such a success? The answer lies deeply nestled in the pervasive misogynistic culture that exists to this day in America. The main difference between the two shows was that Ellen was about a gay woman, not two gay men. After all, who would want to watch a sitcom about a woman who doesn’t make a man her first and only priority? In our society, both men and women have been taught to value men above all others. And, even though both Will and Jack were gay, the fact that they were men made it easier for viewers to overlook their “wrong” homosexual lifestyle. These characters still enjoyed the privilege of their race and sex and, above all, were highly valued and accepted by the rest of the women on the show. This sociological tendency for straight women to prefer heterosocial relationships over homosocial relationships may also explain why they so often strike up close relationships with gay men.
For a long time, straight women have had a certain fondness for gay men. Why wouldn’t they? Gay men love men just like straight women do. The age-old gay male stereotype can serve as a stand-in girlfriend who loves shopping, gives dating advice, never gets tired of show tunes, and is the ultimate fashionista. In an article published by The Conversation, a Ph.D student from the University of Texas Arlington attempted to explain the sociobiological reasoning behind the gay man/straight woman relationship. Author Eric Russel iterates that gay men are the “safe bet” because women can bond with a gay man the way they often bond with each other. This bond is advantageous because they do not have to compete with one another for a mate. A gay man is also a safe bet because there is an opportunity to have male companionship with sex taken out of the equation. Therefore, a straight woman can feel safe knowing that she won’t be pressured into having sex after dinner and a movie or an innocent game of pool at a bar. She is able to relax and be herself, all whilst finding common ground with a man.
Creators Max Mutchnick and David Kohan must have known that this particular relationship would be highly relatable to a straight female audience, and they capitalized on it. First and foremost, this show is about the relationship between two best friends—a gay man and a straight woman—traipsing around New York City, each seeking to find love. Will and Grace’s relationship is everything that many straight women fantasize it to be—entertaining, witty, and often co-dependent. Perhaps this dynamic is what kept viewers coming back for nine seasons in the late 90s and early 2000s. Perhaps this is also the dynamic that will give Will and Grace the ability to endure on the airwaves today.