'Will & Grace' teeters between nostalgia, irrelevance

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By Kevin McDonough

"Will & Grace" (9 p.m., NBC, TV-14) returns after more than a decade. And tonight's season opener is worse than I had feared. Flat and forced at the same time, it concentrates almost entirely on the quartet's reactions to last year's election. There isn't one genuine laugh in this contrived episode.

Next week's helping returns the story to New York, and the comedy seems to regain its footing. But, as expected, its sense of balance requires a throwback to the Y2K era.

For starters, the wild events of the premiere episode's adventures in our nation's capital go unmentioned. That reminds us of how much comedies, and their penchant for serial storytelling, have changed since "Will & Grace" left the air.

The second episode's better, funnier story involves Will and Jack meeting much younger men at a bar and having to deal with the fact that they have become the old guys.

Jack's reaction is all about appearances, sparking some deft physical comedy as he attempts to squeeze into outfits from another age. Will is more shocked by his would-be boyfriend's uncomplicated obliviousness to gay culture and history. When Will goes into full lecture mode, the young man assures him he knows all about "Stonehenge."

That's a clever line, but the "Will & Grace" writers seem a tad uncomfortable evoking the culture of a younger generation. The episode makes continual use of a tagline from "Designing Women." Will's young date rattles off a seemingly clever pickup line, "What's your 'Behind the Music,' your 'Unsolved Mystery,' your 'True Hollywood Story'?" Why would someone born in 1994, who's opinionated enough to shock Will with his declaration that Madonna seems "tired," refer to those cable shows from his toddlerhood?

The point is, "Will & Grace" left the air when YouTube was in its infancy and the advent of the iPhone was more than a year away. It's not just television that has changed since 2006. If the series reboot continues to fail to address that, it's not just Will and Jack who will seem old.

• "Will & Grace" isn't the only sign that some things never change. Several returning series arrive after violent cliffhangers. The hospital recovers from a fire on "Grey's Anatomy" (8 p.m. ABC, TV-14). Amy and Jonah recall their mid-tornado kiss on "Superstore" (8 p.m., NBC, TV-PG). The station house reels from the warehouse fire on "Chicago Fire" (10 p.m., NBC, TV-14). The gang reacts to the loss of Wes on "How to Get Away With Murder" (10 p.m., ABC, TV-14).

TONIGHT'S OTHER HIGHLIGHTS

• Gordon puts Crane on the spot on "Gotham" (8 p.m., Fox, TV-14).

• The Green Bay Packers host the Chicago Bears on "Thursday Night Football" (8:25 p.m., CBS, NFL, Amazon Prime).

• A divine intervention rocks the family on the sixth and final season premiere of "Mary, Mary" (9 p.m., WE, TV-14).

• Carol resents her daughter's mentor on "Great News" (9:30 p.m., NBC, TV-PG).

• A disabled ship requires rescue on "The Orville" (9 p.m., Fox, TV-14).

"Nathan for You" (10 p.m., Comedy Central, TV-14) begins its fourth season.

SERIES NOTES

Michael returns to the drawing board, over and over again, on "The Good Place" (8:30 p.m., NBC, TV-PG) * On two helpings of "Whose Line Is It Anyway?" (CW, TV-14), Grace Byers (9 p.m.), Kearran Giovanni (9:30 p.m., r).

LATE NIGHT

Craig Robinson is booked on "The Daily Show With Trevor Noah" (11 p.m., Comedy Central) * Kyle MacLachlan, Rob Schneider and Lisa Loeb appear on "Conan" (11 p.m., TBS) * Steve Martin, Mark Feuerstein and a performance by Steve Martin and the Steep Canyon Rangers are scheduled on "The Late Show With Stephen Colbert" (11:35 p.m., CBS) * Jimmy Fallon welcomes Harrison Ford, Rachel Maddow and Charli XCX on "The Tonight Show" (11:35 p.m., NBC) * Kaley Cuoco, David Muir and The XX appear on "Jimmy Kimmel Live" (11:35 p.m., ABC) * Jennifer Hudson, Jeff Garlin, Jesmyn Ward and Gregg Bissonette visit "Late Night With Seth Meyers" (12:35 a.m., NBC) * Don Johnson and Minnie Driver appear on "The Late Late Show With James Corden" (12:35 a.m., CBS).

© 2017, United Feature Syndicate