The Season 1 episode, “William, Tell” of Will & Grace is one for the books. It was the sixth episode of the series, showing audiences early on the humor that the show was capable of—not to mention Grace’s (Debra Messing) neurotic tendencies.
It’s personally my favorite episode out of both the original and the revival. I think it’s a perfect example of slapstick humor, Grace’s occasional neuroticism, and Grace and Will’s (Eric McCormack) relationship as a whole. It blends these three things together in perfect comedic harmony that it deserves an accolade all its own.
I always related to Grace. Like her, I love clothes, design (as a hobby), and consider myself a fellow creative. Sometimes watching her unveils the world for me, helping me make sense of myself and certain situations, especially as I’ve become an adult. I never really watched Will & Grace until I was in college, and it was then that I became attached, seeing what I had missed out on.
“William, Tell” finds Will’s and Grace’s friendship tested because Will didn’t let Grace in on the fact that he’d had a summer fling, and Grace becomes insecure. Grace, being Grace, jumps to all kinds of conclusions in too big a hurry to make much sense out of it, but we know Grace well enough to follow her line of thought. She enlists the aid of Jack (Sean Hayes) to get to the bottom of things. In a way, Jack eggs her on, which only makes her anxiety worse.
To understand the hilarity of the episode, let’s go back to the beginning, shall we?
It all starts when Jack and Grace are discussing who knows Will better. When Jack reveals that Will had an affair the previous summer with a man he referred to as a “client,” Grace becomes obsessed. She concocts all kinds of scenarios in her head, driving herself crazy, as she begins to wonder what else Will may be hiding from her. She prides herself on knowing everything about Will, so having been oblivious to his affair rattles her cage significantly.
Meanwhile, Will is approached by Karen (Megan Mullally), who is considering divorcing her rich husband. Karen wishes to keep her potential divorce a secret, so Will says nothing. The fact that he’s being secretive only adds to Grace’s fears.
Believing Karen to be on vacation, Grace hires Jack to help with her business for the time being, and ends up relying on him for more than just work. He hilariously tries on some drapes at Grace’s office, but he comes in handy to help Grace tear apart the apartment for any clue as to what Will is up to. Grace wonders if Will’s sick or doing drugs, the latter of which she’s hurt over, commenting “without me.” Though she wouldn’t do drugs, she claims, she’d at least like to be asked.
The two uncover Will’s date book, where they discover where he’s having dinner that night, with someone named “K.” Grace decides to crash the dinner to find out who “K” is. She’s not allowed through, so she remains in the waiting area, much to her consternation. She can only see Will, as Karen’s gone to the bathroom to reapply make-up. She calls him from her cell phone, but when her phone fails, she uses the restaurant’s. She hilariously puts him on hold to take a reservation, and then startles Will by describing what he’s doing, leaving Will to wonder exactly where she is.
Will finally gets an employee to let Grace through, and she discovers Karen. Back at the apartment, Grace is feeling bad and foolish, as Will makes a mockery of her by describing in sarcastic detail what he’s done since he’s seen her last. That’s when Grace confesses why she did what she did: she was afraid Will was going to tell her he was gay again. Meaning, she was afraid Will would have some other big news that would change her life forever. This leads to a reassurance between the two, their friendship restored and the world right again.
That’s the episode, in a nutshell.
Slapstick Humor & Witty Dialogue
The best example of slapstick humor in the episode is watching Grace march forward towards Will’s table at the restaurant, still holding onto the phone, which an employee jerks away from her, sending Grace reeling backwards for a second before she recovers. Grace’s entire performance deserves an award given her wackiness and frenetic energy.
She claims to know all about “K,” then digresses to admit she doesn’t know anything about them and pleads with Will to tell her. Will tries to get her to leave him be, claiming to be in the middle of dinner, but she points out he’s already on coffee, which gets him to exclaim, “Where are you!?”
Her response is to irk him, claiming it’s a secret, and how does that make him feel? Will amps up the comedy, replying “like a sorority girl in a bad slasher movie, where are you!?”
Grace lays on thickly a creepy voice as she responds that “the call is coming from inside the house”, where Will finally spots her and she gives a prominent wave, her face holding an expression of annoyance and frustration.
Will urges her to go home, and she stubbornly refuses. Will asks an employee if he’d mind “having that crazed redhead removed”, adding to himself, “listen to me, I’m Ricky Ricardo” to which the employee says, “I’ll take care of it, Mr. Ricardo” before Will changes his mind and asks the man to let Grace through.
These three characters all had witty dialogues and great one-liners. The humor is impressive and carries a note of slapstick in both dialogue and physical actions. That’s one of the best things about this episode in its entirety. Grace had a similar moment with Jack as they briefly discussed if Grace would crash Will’s dinner. The scene in the restaurant, however, remains my favorite.
Grace lets her imagination and emotions get the best of her this episode, but she’s human. Humans are prone to do such a thing from time to time. Though you feel for Grace, you can’t help but laugh at her plight. She’s frantic to get a straight answer out of Will, who refuses to tell her about “K” until Karen herself appears, divulging the big secret. Grace has already assumed the worst, so seeing Karen leaves her breathless for a moment as she realizes how foolish her fear was, and how she’d spun everything out of proportion in her mind.
In a way, Grace lost touch with reality. She throws facts and logic out the window. She knows Will, and if he were sick or needed one of her lungs (which she promises to give him if he promises her no more secrets), he’d tell her. It doesn’t occur to her that Will has a good reason for protecting the identity of “K,” and that it has nothing to do with Grace or keeping secrets from her.
Jack somewhat fed Grace’s anxiety, which only made things worse. In that kind of situation, Grace needed someone to calm her down, not amplify her stress levels. Though, if Jack wasn’t Jack, Grace wouldn’t have been led by her agitation and tracked Will to the restaurant, where we had one of the best scenes in Will & Grace history.
Grace, in her anxious pursuit, echoes all of us. Don’t we all have moments like this where we need confirmation of the truth, and turn into private investigators, come to the wrong conclusions, and spin everything out of proportion based on assumption and what could be considered some form of lunacy? When you look back, you tend to laugh at yourself, and that’s probably what Grace did. We all have our moments of imperfection, and watching it onscreen, we can imagine ourselves doing something similar if we were placed in Grace’s shoes, which makes it that much more hilarious and relatable.
Friendship Above All
All that said, Grace had a good reason for freaking out. She was terrified that Will’s secret meant a major life-change. The last time that happened, Will broke up their relationship by confessing he was gay, and it forever changed Grace’s life. For the longest time, she struggled with the hurt and pain of that realization, and she didn’t want to go through that again.
Despite going through that, she and Will remain the best of friends, and are great roommates. She doesn’t want to lose him or their friendship. She feels that one secret may break them up again, or perhaps that one secret may lead to another. In any case, she doesn’t want a secret to come between them. As Grace says to Will, “keeping secrets is not in our rule book.”
Will’s and Grace’s friendship is one of the main foundations of the show. They’ve been through so much together and know each other so well. For example, Will knows what wheat does to Grace, just as Grace knows Will likes to keep things neat. Nothing is really off-limits between the two, their bond strong and unbreakable. That’s one of the things viewers love most about this show. The fact that these two are the best of friends and love each other like family means a lot, not just to Will and Grace, but to their audience.