Review

'Will & Grace' reboot breathes fresh life into familiar characters

Sure, it’s just a comedy, but among all the recent TV reboots and resuscitations — “Star Trek,” “Dynasty,” “Gilmore Girls,” “Full House,” “SWAT” — “Will & Grace” has the most at stake upon its return to prime time.

The show, which makes its comeback Thursday after 11 years off the air, boosted the mainstreaming of LGBTQ culture by featuring two of network TV’s first main gay characters. Former Vice President Joe Biden once said the show “did more to educate the American public” on LGBTQ issues than anything or anyone else had to that point.

No pressure, Will (Eric McCormack), Grace (Debra Messing), Jack (Sean Hayes) and Karen (Megan Mullally), or original show creators Max Mutchnick and David Kohan.

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You’re just reentering a political climate that polarizes by the hour around gender identity and sexual orientation, and a competitive, crowded field of TV programming that’s exponentially more LGBTQ-inclusive than the one you left.

That means “Transparent,” “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” “Orange Is the New Black” and a host of other Emmy-winning series dating to when your show went off the air in 2006.

Evidently, this veteran crew excels under pressure.

The new “Will & Grace” not only keeps up with a culture it helped change, it remembers to laugh at itself … and the absurdity of the new world it’s daring to inhabit.

Three of these four characters are still single and still searching for love, except now it requires dating apps, compression garments and lots of concealer.

The young gay men whom Jack and Will meet at the club don’t know much about gay history, confusing Stonehenge with Stonewall. And there are near-fatal generation gaps: “He doesn’t like Madonna!” gasps Jack when Will tells him about his young date. “He should be beaten with a VHS copy of “Evita’!”

But what about the kids? Remember that last episode, the brief flash-forward that showed Grace and Will living separate married lives, with spouses and children?

It turns out that was a drug-fueled daydream of Karen’s. Yes, she’s still chasing prescription meds with martinis while barely working for Grace at the interior design company.

Now, it’s explained, that Will and Grace indeed went their separate ways and married, but there were no kids, and both are divorced. Grace has “temporarily” moved in with Will.

Jack still lives across the hall and is still on an “inward” journey as he scratches for acting roles in the outside world (latest success: a regional dog food commercial).

The chemistry, comedic timing and rapid-fire one-liners that made “Will & Grace” rise above the fray back in the 1990s and 2000s still work today.

All the show needed to regain its mojo was a little inspiration— and the past year has been full of it.

There’s all sorts of modern, and funny, shorthand that’s developed in the group.

Successful gay men are called Anderson Coopers. And when there’s drama: “OK, Shonda, now we got ourselves a scandal!”

The marriage-wealthy Karen is now a Donald Trump supporter and won’t stop rubbing his win in Grace’s face. “Please stop saying, ‘Lock her up!’ when you don’t like what I’m wearing,” says Grace to Karen.

In one episode, the quartet ends up at the White House: Will to chase after a prospective date who happens to be a Republican, and Grace to redecorate the Oval Office because Karen signed her up for the job since “Trump said it’s a real dump.”

In a closed box on the president’s desk: a Russian-English dictionary and a fidget spinner. No way they could have had this much fun with Bill Clinton or Barack Obama.

There are moments when the show does feel too bent on being politically or culturally relevant rather than just developing the story line, but the dialogue is so quick, and the episodes so chock-full of brisk humor and physical comedy, that there’s not enough space or time for things to go stagnant.

The old setup of four good friends living in New York and looking for love — or whatever — should be a tired one. But the new “Will & Grace” naturally rolls into these absurd situations on the strength of its characters and the actors who play them.

It’s in keeping with the tradition of other classic New York buddy sitcoms — think of “I Love Lucy” and that chocolate factory, or “Seinfeld” and the Soup Nazi line. Ridiculous and hilarious.

In coming back “Will & Grace” risked a legacy. Right now it looks as if that gamble has paid off. But there’s a whole season’s worth of shows in front of them and a social current that changes directions faster than Jack can vogue.

‘Will & Grace’

Where: NBC

When: 9 p.m. Thursday

Rating: TV-14-DL (may be unsuitable for children under the age of 14 with advisories for suggestive dialogue and coarse language)

lorraine.ali@latimes.com

@lorraineali

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