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Will & Grace

Tison Pugh

Queer Studies, Television Studies, Popular Culture

TV Milestones Series

Published: September 2023
ISBN: 9780814349069
Pages: 136 Size: 5 x 7
Illustrations: 20 b&w photos
Published: September 2023
ISBN: 9780814349076

The sitcom Will & Grace (1998–2006, 2017–20) shifted the media landscape and its treatment of queer themes by starring an openly gay protagonist, Will Truman, on primetime network television. Will, along with his best friend Grace Adler and their constant companions Jack McFarland and Karen Walker, engaged in many stereotypical sitcom shenanigans imbued with decidedly queer twists. Despite the series’ groundbreaking nature, its accuracy and responsibility in representing gay men—and of queer culture in general—has been questioned throughout its initial run and reboot. Author Tison Pugh places the sitcom in its historical context of the late 1990s and early 2000s, considering how it contributed to contemporary debates concerning queer life.
Will & Grace returned in the Trump era, offering viewers another chance to enjoy the companionship of these quirky yet relatable characters as they grappled with seismic shifts in the nation’s political climate. Pugh demonstrates that while heralding a new age of queer representation, characters across the series were homogenized through upper-class whiteness to normalize queerness for a mainstream US audience. In negotiating protocols of network television and the desires of audiences both gay and straight, this trailblazing series remains simultaneously haunted by and liberated from longstanding queer stereotypes.

Tison Pugh is Pegasus Professor of English at the University of Central Florida and is the author or editor of over twenty volumes. His most recent titles include Queer Oz: L. Frank Baum’s Trans Tales and Other Astounding Adventures in Sex and Gender and On the Queerness of Early English Drama: Sex in the Subjunctive. His book The Queer Fantasies of the American Family Sitcom won the 2019 Popular Culture Association John Leo and Dana Heller Award for the Best Work in LGBTQ Studies.

"Will & Grace is a thorough overview of the cultural tensions inherent in gay representation in the ’90s sitcom and in the revival. It is refreshingly open to the possibilities of visual and performative queerness that persist in the series, despite the cultural and generic constraints it faced."

– Becca Cragin, Department of Popular Culture, Bowling Green State University

"As the twentieth century recedes in the rearview mirror, it becomes difficult to convey the impact of past media milestones in shaping the present. Pugh provides an insightful, comprehensive, and nuanced account that will ensure that the importance ofWill & Grace is understood and remembered."

– Larry Gross, author of Up from Invisibility: Lesbians, Gay Men, and the Media in America

"Pugh persuasively proves that Will & Gracedeserves its reputation as a classic sitcom and a milestone for LGBTQ+ representation."

– Library Journal