Back in the day, TV sitcoms would occasionally serve up a “very special” episode that found the characters delving into unexpectedly serious topics.
When done well — say, Edith Bunker nearly getting raped on “All in the Family” or when Alex Keaton’s uncle (played by Tom Hanks) is revealed to be an alcoholic in “Family Ties” — these episodes could blend comedy and drama in a way that could be devastating.
We can add Thursday’s episode of “Will & Grace” to that list, and for those who have yet to watch, be warned that SPOILERS ARE AHEAD.
In the episode, titled “Grace’s Secret”, Grace reluctantly joins her father (guest star Robert Klein) on a road trip, with plans to pay a visit to the cemetery where her mother is buried. Her father’s lifelong best friend, Harry, is buried in the same cemetery.
“I’ll visit Mom’s grave, but not Harry’s,” Grace tells her dad
“Oh, this Harry thing again,” he replies, and we soon learn why, with Messing delivering an emotional performance as she tells her dad the secret she’s been keeping since Harry sexually assaulted her when she was 15.
Discussing the episode with Variety, “Will & Grace” co-creator Max Mutchnick explains the inspiration for the episode came from “everything going on in the world. It was having a president that absolutely has no respect for women by and large — certainly women that have been assaulted and then watching the Bill Cosby story unfold. That one-two punch really had us writing this episode.”
While Messing is renowned for her physical comedy chops, the show’s other co-creator, David Kohan points out that the actress took the subject matter and her performance very seriously.
“The input she had was input as an actress and as someone going through something in the scene,” says Kohan. “But more than anything, and what she kept saying is, ‘All I want to do is honour the work. I just want to honour the story and the words.’ So it’s not like she was sitting there saying, ‘I think this should have happened and I think that should have happened.’ She got the script and she said, ‘I understand this. This is something I can play.'”
Adds Mutchnick: “This wasn’t Debra’s story… but that said it’s every woman’s story who has this story to tell. So she could interpret it and feel good about giving life to it.”