by Jody Goodman
The very first memory I have of a sitcom becoming a “norm” in my life is when I was in elementary school. My mom purchased a small television to keep in the kitchen so that she could listen to the local news while she made dinner. My family always convened to our typical bar stools around the kitchen counter at 6:00 pm every evening for supper, as my parents always called it. As my sister and I set the kitchen counter, the local news turned into Wheel of Fortune, and by the time we were ready to eat, Home Improvement was on. Tim Taylor and his family joined mine for supper every evening for as long as I can remember. We all loved laughing along with the Taylor family, and it remains one of my favorite sitcoms to this day. Since that time, I’ve always had a sitcom that was a routine part of my life, like watching Frasier before bed, or episodes of Reba during my lunch break at school. While I loved all of these, there is one sitcom that stands out to me as something that was trying to make a statement, not just entertain. A friend of mine introduced me to Will & Grace in high school, and I remember thinking that this was the first time that I was being exposed to something truly different. I grew up in a devoutly religious area of Texas, right on the edge of the Bible Belt. While I love where I grew up, it is very middle class, white, and conservative, putting the Texas Panhandle in a bit of a bubble compared to the rest of the state, not to mention the rest of the country. My world was very small, and it never really occurred to me that life was any different anywhere else. I believe that watching Will & Grace with my friends in high school was a vehicle to helping all of us realize that we could form a set of beliefs that were separate and different from those of our parents. Looking back now, I don’t think that Will & Grace was shocking by any means, but it is the first time that something I was watching was directly contradicting stereotypes I had heard, specifically about homosexuality. It normalized humans as a race, instead of dividing everyone according to their specific label pertaining to religion, race, sexuality, etc. Today, Will & Grace is criticized for perpetuating tired stereotypes and not being intersectional enough with the LGBTQ community that exists outside of just the “G.” While these things may be true, I’m also not sure that we would have been able to arrive at a place where people can even form those criticisms if the show had never existed in the first place. It’s really interesting to look at the beginning of this show, which aired very shortly after Ellen’s sitcom was cancelled following her brave decision to publicly come out. The Defense of Marriage Act was signed by Bill Clinton just two years previously. Fast forward to 2012, and America sees Joe Biden crediting Will & Grace with doing more to advance the cause of the gay population that anything else. Whether that’s accurate or not, Biden went on to become the highest-ranking government official of that time to publicly endorse marriage equality, which in turn forced Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton to come out in support as well. The Supreme Court decision to legalize same sex marriage followed just a few years after that. More than anything, Will & Grace taught me about the kind of person I wanted to become during those formative years of my life. It taught me that being kind, supportive, open minded, and a true friend was the most important thing. It seems that – particularly in today’s climate – a lot of people forget that we are all humans, despite our political party, sexual orientation, or religion. I’m grateful for sitcoms like Will & Grace that use their platform to not just entertain, but to educate and shift public opinion as well.