I’m Selina, Awards Circuit’s queer Girl Friday for all things LGBTQIA+ on TV! Each week I take on television’s biggest stories through the rainbow lenses- and this week kept things all in the family. As per usual, Thursday night took center stage with “Will & Grace” and “How To Get Away With Murder,” both of which took on families you’re born into vs. families of choice.
“Will & Grace” addressed the vulnerabilities of a queer childhood and the importance of the older LGBQTIA+ community. Jack’s grandson Skip, child of Jack’s estranged son Elliot, turns up at Will’s apartment to everyone’s surprise. Jack and Elliot had fallen out after he moved to Texas and married a straight-laced, homophobic southern belle. Skip found out about his effervescent grandfather and ran off to meet him when his family took a trip to NYC, and seems to be the spitting image of Jack, “sleepover position” and all.
It becomes clear very quickly that Skip is a happy gay kid who loves Lady Gaga and fabulous women (aka, Karen in all her bouffant glory). But things turn awkward when Skip’s parents show up and Skip reveals he’s being carted off to a gay conversion camp in upstate New York. Will and Jack are visibly shaken by the news, concerned for the bubbly child who’s been convinced he needs to be “fixed.” *cue heartbreak*
So, obviously, Will and Jack take on their newfound roles as proud gay grandpas, rushing up to the camp where Jane Lynch and Andrew Rannells are found singing sassy songs about boys only liking girls, a picture of Mike Pence tacked up behind them. The irony of Lynch and Rannells pretending to be a couple knows no bounds, with Rannells adding high kicks to his song about God and showing off a shock collar people *used* to use to control same-sex attraction. (The bit was funny but slightly horrifying- we may have lost some of the physical abuse in camps like this, but the mental abuse? Nah.)
Jack pulls Skip aside, giving him of the kindest speeches his character has ever delivered. Jack tells Skip he doesn’t need to be fixed and gives him a glimpse at his future as a gay man; it’s filled with dinner parties and the family you choose. When Skip wonders how he’ll hang on until adulthood, Jack holds his face in his hands and promises to be there as much as he can, but when he’s can’t be, Skip should remember his face in this moment, telling him he is EXACTLY who he’s supposed to be. I’m not crying, you’re crying…okay fine I’m crying and reaching for the ice cream.
Ultimately, Skip’s dad fights back against his wife and takes Skip out of the camp, shaken by Jack’s speech and determined to stand by his kid. But Jack’s speech was, for me, the true peak of the episode, showing support and love to the most vulnerable in our community. “Will & Grace” just gave LGBTQIA+ kids the pep talk they need in a hate-filled 2017 and I’m in love with it.
On the dramatic side of things, Connor’s relationship to his own family came to the forefront in “How To Get Away With Murder.” The wayward man’s fathers, Jerry and Ted, descend on the couple for a friendly visit as they try to figure out what’s going on with Jerry’s son. Connor can’t stand to be in the same room with his father, while Jerry seems to be in awe of him.
It’s soon revealed that Connor came out at the age of 12, while his father was still in the closet and married to Connor’s mom. His bravery and self-assuredness– “If you don’t accept me, I’m going to run away and move to the West Village to be with my people!”– move Jerry to come out himself, destroying Connor’s home life in the process. It’s safe to say that Connor has made his own way in the world from birth and even found a safe place to land with Oliver and his friends. Unlike “Will & Grace’s” heartfelt take on chosen families, this one’s held together by murder secrecy pacts and subsequent trauma, but po-tay-to, po-tah-to, am I right?
Meanwhile, Oliver strikes up a kinship with Ted over margaritas and Walsh men stories, but Jerry isn’t impressed. In a blowout fight with his son, Jerry tells him that Oliver isn’t the one for him, insisting he’s “faking happiness” with his boyfriend and telling him to find someone who fits “the real [Connor].” While the fight shakes Connor, it seems more like Jerry has always lived vicariously through his son. He obviously envies the younger Walsh’s ability to live life without shame, something many old LGBTQIA+ people were robbed of.
Is Jerry’s warning an accurate assessment of his son (the melodramatic undertones seem to indicate it is), or yet another example of Jerry’s envy for his son’s life? And why did he really come to visit his estranged son- was it for Connor’s tuition refund, an attempt to claw back into his life, or something darker? Despite his “chosen” family’s topsy-turvy path, Connor clearly chooses them over his family by biology.
Chosen families are a stronghold for the queer community, where so many have been shunned by their biological relatives. Both “Will & Grace” and “How To Get Away With Murder” took on the topic of chosen families in ways that highlighted family dynamics across the board. I, for one, reveled in both episodes. But now it’s your turn- what did you think of Connor and Jerry’s fight? What was the most poignant moment of “Will & Grace” for you? Sound off in the comments below.