“Whatever you do, don’t let it get butt-fucky,” Will & Grace co-creator Max Mutchnick recalls filmmaker Joel Schumacher telling him before shooting the 1998 pilot for the trailblazing NBC sitcom, which was revived in 2017.
“At no point should your audience ever be thinking about butt-fucking,” Schumacher cautioned.
But after a same-sex shower scene wherein Jack and his fiancé are talking about their relationship while shaving each other’s balls during this season’s second episode, Will & Grace has plans to get, well, certainly more than shower shavey.
Mutchnick confirms to NewNowNext that an episode is in the works centering on “a top and a bottom story,” which he says is part of the sitcom’s mission “to get at all of these difficult subjects.” Considering the lack of gay sex depicted or discussed in comedies with LGBTQ characters while their straight counterparts indulge more freely in sexual situations, a criticism of current sitcoms such as Modern Family, an episode centering on gay-centric sexual positions could see the groundbreaking sitcom breaking even more new ground.
“We found a way to do this story and to tell it the right way and we’re going to,” Mutchnick says. “I feel like we’ve finally cracked [it], because these stories, they have to be entertaining first, they have to be funny, and they have to be enjoyable. And if there’s some message that is received through the backdoor—staying on subject—then we win, but that’s really not what we’re here to do. We are here to [entertain] the largest number of people we can every week.”
Seemingly, that’s been Modern Family’s approach, which, like Will & Grace, leaves the sexual innuendo to the heterosexual characters. In 2010, a passionate group of Modern Family fans launched a Facebook group calling for the show’s gay couple, Cam and Mitchell, to kiss. Though the campaign led to a televised kiss in the second season, their characters have been virtually non-sexual with each other ever since.
Could networks be refraining from LGBTQ intimacy to avoid history repeating itself? A 1994 episode of Roseanne called “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” wherein Roseanne Barr shared a kiss with actress Mariel Hemingway at a gay bar, caused ABC to pull the episode before eventually airing it with a parental advisory warning.
Granted, that was over two decades ago, but Eric McCormack, who plays Will, told PrideSource in a new interview that Will & Grace has always had to deal with same-sex intimacy “surreptitiously” because of its primetime slot and public network.
“The jokes we choose, either politically or sexually, we play them throughout the week, we figure it out before we get in front of that audience, because we want to be around and we want to continue to be a voice and an example,” he says.
Progress, he says, is knowing that his onscreen lovers are being played by more out actors, such as upcoming guest star Matt Bomer, than during the show’s early 2000s.
Still, he adds, “there will always be someone from the community saying, ’Well, why aren’t they in bed?’ And I’ll go, yeah, I know, but we still have the Ku Klux Klan. …It’s certainly changed in 20 years, but it’s still a country where people won’t get their cakes baked by a freakin’ baker.”
Advancements in LGBTQ issues and rights since the Will & Grace’s original 1998-2006 run may suggest that America is ready for gay sex on primetime TV, but Mutchnick still deems it taboo for many demographics, including the LGBTQ community.
“I still think that the audience has a tough time with that very real specific thing—sodomy is the black hole, if you will, of the entire gay experience, and it’s something that straight people and gay people are uncomfortable with,” he tells NewNowNext. “I don’t think that it’s easily written about or talked about or experienced for a number of reasons.”
“Historically, there’s a ton of shame tied up in it and that is now systemic,” he continues. “It’s gonna take a long time before we get to the point that we can find it palatable in mainstream love stories.”
In an interview with The Guardian earlier this year, Debra Messing, who plays Grace, reflected on the show’s original showing, telling the publication, “We were hyper-aware that we were walking a tightrope. We wanted to talk about Will and Jack’s sex lives, but it had to be done in a way that was non-threatening, in a way that would not make people uncomfortable and turn off the TV.”
McCormack, in the same interview, said the cast was rehearsing a bit about gay sex. He described it as a “conversation that two gay men have about what they like and what they don’t like,” he said, adding: “We actually can’t believe that the network is allowing us to do it.”