The Will & Grace trailer dropped this week — a musical reunion of stars Debra Messing, Eric McCormack, Sean Hayes, and Megan Mullally. In the clip, Messing, as a version of herself, expresses doubts about rebooting the beloved comedy over a decade after its finale. "I'm scared," she tells McCormack, when asked about the reason for her hesitation.
She needn't have worried. Fans quickly made the clip go viral — it has over 21 million views on Facebook alone — and expressed their ardent enthusiasm and love and need for the revival.
"The moment Eric cranked up the lights, and the faint theme music came on, I just felt tears flowing down my face. It's finally time. We're all ready. Let's go!!!!!" wrote Mark Lee.
"I couldn't avoid crying... I'm so happy you guys are doing this for us... thank you!!!" added João Vitor Costa.
"You will never understand what this show ment to me when i was young and came out i love this show ..hehe it helped me to grow up to be a karen walker," said Mark Hartso-Duchessnikolai.
At the time of this article's posting, over 17,000 people had commented with their appreciation and an exponential number of exclamation marks. But what is the root of this emotional reaction?
Judging by the comments, the foremost reason — as the writers of the clip realize — is nostalgia. Depicted in the trailer, this is the emotion that ultimately sways Messing to rejoin the production, after McCormack brings her back to the Will & Grace set.
"Scared? This is our home," he says, while removing coverings from furniture and pointing out the apartment's oddities and decor. The theme song plays softly in the background, also triggering fond memories.
Messing essentially becomes an avatar for the fan, who also recalls the positive experience of watching the show in its heyday: the stories and laughs it provided as well as the remembrances of viewings with family or friends.
In general, television is trending toward revivals for this very reason. Netflix was the most aggressive to employ this tactic, bringing back Gilmore Girls, Arrested Development, and Full House in order to capitalize on a pre-ready fan base hungry for escapist fare. This trend is making the move to network television, whose numbers have been falling due to the changing media landscape. In addition to NBC reviving Will & Grace, ABC recently announced it was bringing back Roseanne.
Nostalgia is a powerful and tricky emotion. It allows us to access the pleasures of the past, without recalling the negative in equal measure. When Will & Grace first aired, it spanned 9/11, the Iraq War, and the majority of the Bush administration. For liberal viewers, in particular, the show became a safe harbor in a turbulent political time.
Those times have come once again. Donald Trump's election to the presidency has upended the established order, thrown the government into turmoil with a string of scandals, and left many members of vulnerable communities concerned about the future. Will & Grace returns in a time when many, especially LGBT folks, really need to laugh and distract themselves from the worries of the day.
And not enough can be said about the benefits of having a hit show on network television with lead characters who are gay and bisexual. Vice President Joe Biden, while announcing his support for marriage equality on NBC's Meet the Press in 2012, famously said, "I think Will & Grace probably did more to educate the American public [on LGBT issues] than almost anything anybody has ever done so far." His statement was a testament to the ability of the media to move hearts and minds.
The election has shown that for all the progress of the LGBT rights movement, America still needs to be educated about LGBT issues. Attacks on marriage equality are ongoing. "Religious freedom" still threatens LGBT rights. And transgender people are fighting for their right just to use the bathroom. Will & Grace's greatest gift was it showed the world that LGBT people are human and are defined by far more than our sexual orientation or identity. It's a gift we need now more than ever.
Swaying the opinions of conservatives isn't the only potential benefit of Will & Grace. LGBT youth, who are disproportionately affected by bullying, also need to see that they are valued, that their stories have worth, and that there is a world and a future out there where they are welcome. Thanks to Will & Grace, a new generation can learn that yes, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. And honey, it gets better.
DANIEL REYNOLDS is an editor at The Advocate. Follow him on Twitter @dnlreynolds.