When “Will & Grace” returns for the second season of its revival, it will open up the world of its core characters, not only by expanding their relationships through new romantic partners, but also by expanding their political views.
“It was very insular by design [last season]; we wanted to figure out who these characters were almost 12 years later and wanted to give our fans time with the foursome because we’re kind of at our best when it’s just the four of us,” series star Debra Messing tells Variety. “But we did an entire season of that, and so now each one of us has exciting things going on.”
Messing will be heavily entrenched in the season’s politics, as Grace is running for president of the New York Society of Design and is “taking it very seriously,” Messing says.
“She’s basically [treating] it as if she’s running for mayor of New York City,” she explains. “And that’s really fun because across America women, more than ever in our history, are pumped up and inspired and jumping into the ring, so to speak, in terms of politics, and this is our way of reflecting back what is going on in the world.”
Rather than draw inspiration for candidate Grace from any of the women who’ve run for office, Messing says she is pulling from “Grace 1.0.” “There was an episode that we did where Grace was running for the [co-op] board, and she was very, very into it and competitive and so I’m just thinking about that Grace, just 12 years later,” she says.
Karen (Megan Mullally) is also going to take an issue head-on. The Trump supporter — who even sponsored part of the wall he wants to build between Mexico and the United States — will head to the border for an episode to visit that piece of the wall. It’s “right between [pieces sponsored by] Scott Baio and Mark Wahlberg,” Mullally shares.
And there she will meet a woman trying to cross the border. “Karen doesn’t understand what the big deal is, and this woman’s had a horrible time in Mexico with gangs and all kinds of other unpleasant things,” Mullally says. “I was really impressed with [the script]; I think it really addresses immigration in an interesting way.”
“I always liked that [Will and Jack] were such different men — such different gay men — that sometimes Jack was embarrassing to Will and sometimes Will was just too uptight for Jack,” McCormack says. “They love each other…and if we’re going to explore something political in gay culture…those things are educational in a way.
“If you approach this show in an aggressive way to try and teach people something, the show fails,” Hayes adds. “I think where [we] succeed in spades is being true and honest to each one of these characters and what they’re going through. The by-product may be that a lesson is learned but not the other way around.”
But he says he thinks the most powerful thing about the show is that it never makes “apologies for who we are and we exist in the world like any other human being does.”
“It’s sad that we have to keep driving that particular message home in the country that we live in, but we do, and we’ll keep explaining to people how we all bleed the same,” he says.
A lot is changing for all four core characters this season on the personal level, as well.
Karen finally made the tough decision to leave her husband at the end of last season, and now she will be going through a divorce, which Mullally says “gives her more layers to play.”
“There’s a little more variation in tone from moment to moment, [rather] than always being super silly and falling down,” she says. “Getting a divorce is sad for Karen at the beginning, but it’s great for Karen in the end. … Her whole life was Stan — so it shakes her up and makes her have to change and go in different directions.”
Jack (Hayes) got engaged at the end of last season, which means he is now planning a wedding. “Jack is kind of getting the thing that Will always wanted, and that’s a really interesting area to mine, and I’m sure there will be some jealousy on Will’s part, but Jack’s also jealous of Will’s life in a way because he’s successful,” Hayes says.
Grace has a new boyfriend in Noah (guest star David Schwimmer), who calls himself “The West Side Curmudgeon.” “He’s a complex guy — very, very different from any character you’ve ever seen on our show before,” Messing says.
Although Messing acknowledges that “every time a love interest comes into Will & Grace’s life it obviously disrupts and challenges our dynamic,” Will (McCormack) is supportive and “seems to like” Noah.
“They’re not in their 20s anymore,” McCormack says. “Will wants her to find love and be happy. But Eric is afraid, quite honestly of doing a show where all four of us have boyfriends. That’s a different show.”
Will won’t be without love interests either — including guest star Matt Bomer and a still-to-be-cast character Will meets while in his new job as a teacher.
“These are single people who have money and they live in New York, and they’re attractive, and they’re all looking for love, so you’re going to do that,” he says, “but it’s a hard thing — as we learned over eight years — to keep the focus of the show and at the same time give all of the characters new things.”
For McCormack, the key to “Will & Grace’s” success has been “remembering the formula a little bit.”
“We’ve been spoiled with amazing guest stars … and we always love it, but there’s always, for me, a protective element of it,” he says. “I want to make sure the four characters don’t lose track of each other.”
In fact, one of his favorite episodes, at least so far, is one of the simplest ones.
“We did a show two weeks ago [where] Grace and Will [were] looking at the letters he had written to her before he came out to her and then the letters after. We were just sitting on the couch looking at letters, but it was funny and it was moving, and we got to be both of those things,” McCormack says.
“I think what I learned last year was we just have to protect the integrity of these characters. That wasn’t actually a new thing. Every year we learned it was very easy to spin it out into something crazy, and we’ll always have a little crazy on our show, but at the heart of it, it’s these four.”
“Will & Grace’s” new season premieres Oct. 4 on NBC.