(Think Sean Hayes’ Jack from “Will and Grace,” except more shrill.) Joe, meanwhile, is the straight man in every sense of the term, the straitlaced, put-upon hero perpetually exasperated by his friend’s zany antics.
Take the latest dubious example, the new CBS sitcom “Partners,” which premiered last week to deservedly tepid ratings and mostly negative reviews.
The giveaway is right there in the tag line: “From the Emmy-winning creators of ‘Will & Grace.’” The series follows gay Louis (Michael Urie) and straight Joe (David Krumholtz), lifelong buds and business partners, whose platonic intimacy is forever getting in the way of their romantic relationships.
It’s “Will & Grace” with a gender reassignment — an attempt by creators David Kohan and Max Mutchnick to explore what it might mean, in our post-metrosexual era, for two men to find emotional sustenance from a person of the opposite sexual orientation. In practice, “Partners” is little more than mud in the eye of any viewer searching out more complex representations of gay people on television.
Louis (Michael Urie) is a walking (or, perhaps more accurately, swishing) compendium of queer clichés: He likes Broadway musicals, interior decorating and gesticulating wildly as he tosses off his arch zingers.
The male characters were handsome and healthy, urbane and witty – certainly nothing that might make straight America squeamish.
The series’ commercial success (for four of its eight seasons, it was among the top 20 ranked shows in the country) seemed to parallel a larger mainstream acceptance of homosexuality.Many have since argued that it in fact that acceptance.Was it social progress that Kohan and Mutchnick’s creation engendered, or did they develop a built-in set of limitations on how homosexuality might be represented on TV?Premiering in fall 1998, a couple of years after writer Andrew Sullivan famously declared the plague of AIDS to be over, “Will & Grace” was greeted with mostly respectful reviews that praised its comedy, but cast a few alarms (“Homosexuality as one big gimmicky thing,” wrote Entertainment Weekly’s Ken Tucker).Gay lawyer Will (Eric Mc Cormack) and his irrepressible pal Jack (Sean Hayes) were not the suffering souls of television movies like “An Early Frost” (1985) or the closet cases from nighttime like “Dynasty,” whose homosexuality was employed as just another shocking cliffhanger twist.Their tart-tongued female friends, Grace (Debra Messing) and Karen (Megan Mullally), didn’t pity or condescend to them, the way, say, Claire Danes’ Angela Chase so often seemed to do to Wilson Cruz’s Rickie Vasquez on “My So-Called Life.”Instead “Will & Grace” boldly insisted that gayness need not be understood in terms of tragedy or scandal or suicidal misery; it put the back in gay.