Will and Grace (Season 1) Review

Stars appearing in a series is usually the final proof of the pudding. With Michael Douglas, Miguel Ferrer, Harry Connick Jnr, Matt Damon, Woody Harrelson, Cher, Glenn Close and many others jostling at the gates of Will & Grace, NBC must be laughing all the way to the bank... Managing to successfully overcome the Ellen phenomena, Will and Grace is now in its fifth season in the States but has only recently started to be shown in the UK on C4 and rapidly became part of their (deadly) Friday night concotion of American sitcoms...

The series revolves around four main characters: Will (Eric McCormack) is a relatively well adjusted gay lawyer who lives in a nice apartment in NY. His friend, Jack (Sean Hayes) on the other hand seems to have dropped out of society altogether; holding down a job seems to be an impossible feat for him due to his innate laziness and if he's got a masterplan for life, he's keeping it well hidden. Grace (Debra Messing) was Will's roommate at university - her relationship with men have not been the easiest and with the mid-thirties approaching she's starting to pine for the relationship into which she can settle for life. She is however quite a successful professional running a small interior design company although most of her time seems spent trying to get her personal assistant, Karen (Megan Mullally), to work. A NY socialite who uses the job as a way to get out of her penthouse, Karen spends the best of her time slating Grace's clothing but her high society connections are too valuable for Grace to do without her...

Whether Will & Grace can be seen as high-brow humour is relatively debatable - it does seem to aim at a more mature audience than Friends and packs in enough high culture references to avoid making those allergic to US sitcoms feel too superior to it. Despite Grace's Jewish upbringing, the humour is however quite far away from Woody Allen's (despite Bergman being a major plot element in one episode) but manages to avoid the pitfalls of the team-writing method - the certain kiss of death for humour in any sitcom. NBC seem to have been hell-bent on not alienating their audience (or more crucially the sponsors) in this first season - Will's lack of partner seems to have been chosen to give an aura of mystery to his real feelings towards Grace. However, in this area, Jack more than makes up for Will to such an extent he winds up being the usual Hollywood stereotype of a gay male - no points for guessing who between Jack and Will gets the most laughs in the series... All in all, Will and Grace does tend to tread a lot of the same ground as most American sitcoms but does have enough quirk and good sense of humour to make it an enjoyable if not unforgettable watch.

The DVD:

All 22 episodes from the first season are featured over 3 DVDs (8 episodes per DVD). These are as follows:
While Grace plans to get married although Will is uncertain is this is too smart a move...
A New Lease On Life
Grace sets out to find a new apartment for herself but Will seems to have little trust in her ability
Head Case
After moving into Will's flat, Grace is finding that her bathroom is somewhat too small for her liking -expanding it would be a good idea but will Will agree?
Between A Rock And Harlin's Place
Grace sets out to decorate a flat for Harlin, one of Will's clients. Jack on the other hand has decided that his vocation is to become a cabaret singer...
Boo Humbug
Harlin has some business to do this Halloween so he lands his kids on Will & Grace...
William, Tell
Grace needs an assistant to replace Karen for a week so Jack gets hired to fill in. Meanwhile, Will is acting evasively and Grace is starting to think something is afoot.
Where There's A Will There's No Way
Jack gets into trouble with the IRS as he hasn't paid tax for his entire adult life. Can Will broker a rescue package for him?
The Buying Game
Grace has an option to buy her office space and asks Will for counsel - but she's none too happy with the advice she gets...
The Big Vent
Will has had a heating vent installed in his flat - but Grace discovers an added bonus to it - you can also hear the neighbours private conversations through it.
The Truth About Will & Dogs
Grace brings home a puppy but Will does not want a dog spoiling his perfect flat.
Will On Ice
It's Will's birthday but Jack and Grace have hijacked it so they can go and see the ice-skating show in town.
My Fair Maidy
Grace has a decorating competition coming up and is terrified with the stress of it all.
The Unsinkable Mommy Adler
Grace's mother is coming to stay but Grace and her have never seen eye-to-eye. Will this time be any different?

Big Brother is Coming (two episodes)
Will's estranged brother appears at Jack's birthday but Will is in no mood for making up with him.
Yours, Mine or Ours
When a sexy new neighbour moves in, Will and Grace's relationship is threatened when they find out they both have dates with him. Karen meanwhile has to fire her limo driver.
Secrets & Lays
All four of them go off to Karen's remote holiday cabin - Grace is hoping to make Will forget about that this is the anniversary of the end of his previous relationship.
Grace, Replaced
Grace is working flat out but finds herself replaces as Will's best friend by a new resident, Val.
Will Works Out
Jack has been kicked out of the gym he has been squatting in but Jack is hoping that Will can sory something out for him.
Saving Grace
Miguel Ferrer guest stars as a hot-shot publicist who gives Grace the job on condition that she can fix him up with Will - Grace obliges.
Alley Cats
Will and Grace have had a fallout with their friends due to Grace's over-competitive nature. Can Will help her change it?
Object of My Rejection
Karen's maid, Rosario, finds herself in a pickle with the immigration services and her only option is to marry a US citizen. Can Will find anyone that could fit the bill for her?

The image:The image seems to be almost identical in quality to the broadcast quality. It is kept in the original aspect ratio of 4:3 and therefore doesn't require anamorphic enhancement. There's little artifacting visible even on close inspection but the image suffers at times from the source materials natural bluriness - nothing major but at times one wishes the image were slightly sharper... All in all the transfer is more than adequate though and is as good as one can expect from a TV show...

The sound:We get the original stereo mix - everything is mixed quite well with the voices being perfectly clear and audible. The use of the stereo effects is occasional and not really that noticeable but given the nature of the program one isn't really expecting a 5.1 mix...

The menus:These are pretty basic and silent but nice enough. The colours for selecting the episodes are a little ill-chosen though as I had trouble sussing out what was selected and what wasn't and this does require a little patience (not something I own by the truckload!).On the plus side, the 8 chapters on each disc are in the same data block which means that you can watch them all in one sitting without having to select the next episode with the menus - very useful given that this is not always the case with most releases of TV series (e.g. The X-files, The Simpsons...)

The extras:The extras are included over the 3 discs that make up the first season.
On the first DVD we get 8 minutes of interviews with the cast - these seem to have been done round the time of the launch of the series back in 1998 and it's mostly the usual "explain your character to us" responses. The interviews are interspersed with clips from the season - don't watch this if you haven't watched all the episodes as they spoil some of the jokes. Added in for good measure we get the text biographies of Messing, McCormack and James Burrows (director and producer). To round it all off we get a bizarre photo gallery set to the theme tune in which photos of the cast flying into the centre of the screen - a one-off feature really...

The second DVD includes a preview of season 2 (3 mins - watch out for the spoilers), some more biographies (Hayes and Mullally this time) and another picture gallery with different photos this time.

Finally the third DVD features recent cast interviews from 2002 (10 mins.) - the image quality of this feature is not too great - there's a great deal of visible artificating - and about 50% of the 10 mins is made up of long clips from the series that are usually unrelated to the interview. Still we do discover that McCormack is quite a Woody Allen fan (in case any of us hadn't noticed that!) and there is much more insight in these interviews than in the 1998 ones. We also get the text bios of Mutchnikc and Kohan (the creators of Will and Grace), and another musical picture gallery!

Conclusions:Although the boxset of these DVDs seems to have been delayed once again, they are available individually. The sound and image are more than acceptable and although the extras are few, at least some effort was made to give us some extra material rather than a barebones release. Also given that this has not yet been released in the US due to syndication, this is the only release so far so we can count ourselves lucky!

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