‘Will & Grace’ Tackles Gay Conversion Camps Thoughtfully and Powerfully

Will & Grace’s revival has so far been mostly fluff. There was the premiere, which offered a light take on the election of Donald Trump and cramped in as many political jokes as possible. There was the second episode, wherein Will Truman (Eric McCormack) and Jack MacFarland (Sean Hayes) had to grapple with their daddy status. And then there was Grace Adler (Debra Messing) reuniting with ex-husband Leo Markus (Harry Connick Jr.) in last week’s installment. All lovely, all fine; nothing so far has quite risen to the level of great TV.

Until Thursday night’s episode, that is.

“Grandpa Jack” sees a very small surprise show up on Will’s doorstep for Jack: Skip (Jet Jurgensmeyer). Skip, a sweet, feminine boy with a love of Lady Gaga, is the son of Elliot (Michael Angarano), Jack’s biological son. That indeed makes Jack his grandfather, and despite some initial horror, he quickly warms to the ways he and Skip are similar.

Unfortunately, a newly conservative Elliot and his wife don’t see it the same way. They’re in New York to send Skip to Camp Straighten Arrow, a gay conversion therapy camp. These camps are still terrifyingly present in the United States (our vice president has been repeatedly accused of supporting them!). Jack and Will are rightfully horrified that Skip is being sent there. So, on a mission, they head to the camp to try and help Skip though as Will knows, as Elliot’s sperm donor, Jack’s short on legal rights.

There’s a funny bit involving the camp itself, including Will taunting the camp counselors and making fun of the “straight” man (played with gusto by Andrew Rannells). And Jack and Elliot have a verbal sparring match, wherein Will & Grace wisely doesn’t bow to Elliot’s attempts at false equivalence. (No, Elliot, Jack not liking that you’re conservative is not discriminatory.) But the story really hits its emotional peak when Jack sits down with Skip to have a heart to heart.

“It’s hard being me sometimes,” Skip tells Jack, in a particularly heartbreaking bit of delivery by Jurgensmeyer. When Jack insists he’s going to be there for Skip as much as he can, it’s equally powerful work from Hayes (who turns in a career-best performance in this episode).

Perhaps most effectively, Skip pushes back on Jack’s “it gets better” advice, echoing criticisms of the movement that have existed since its inception. “I don’t see how,” he says plainly and bluntly.

“When you get older, you’ll understand that there’s the family you were born into, and the family that you choose,” Jack says. “And the family I chose? Well, it doesn’t get any better than that.”

The entire scene is beautifully rendered, and gives a surprisingly heartfelt and genuine take on conversion therapy camps that never loses the funny charm of Will & Grace. By centering Jack’s plot on his relationship with Skip and allowing Will to more directly argue against conversion camps in his own scenes, the show manages to both keep an emotional center and get political.

Will & Grace may sometimes feel old, but in this case in particular, a multicam sitcom NBC gave us the exact take on a real danger to LGBTQ kids in America we need.


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