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‘Will & Grace’ review: After 11 years, it’s like they never left

Eric McCormack, left, Debra Messing, Sean Hayes and

Eric McCormack, left, Debra Messing, Sean Hayes and Megan Mullally are back on "Will & Grace." Credit: NBC / Chris Haston

***

THE SERIES “Will & Grace”

WHEN | WHERE Premieres Thursday at 9 p.m. on NBC/4

WHAT IT’S ABOUT This 16-episode revival is billed as the ninth season — the eighth ended 11 years ago — and returns the core cast, each still doing pretty much what each was doing all those years ago. Will Truman (Eric McCormack) is still an unattached lawyer; Jack McFarland (Sean Hayes) is still career shopping; Karen Walker (Megan Mullally) still likes her gin; Grace Adler (Debra Messing) still lives with her beloved Will. Expect plenty of cameos this season, and curtain calls, too.

MY SAY Like any savvy show-biz pro, the team behind “Will & Grace” also knows the value of a warmup act. Theirs just happened to arrive a little bit early. In mid-September last year, a nine-minute “W&G” reunion special streamed on YouTube, ostensibly to promote the original series’ arrival on iTunes. But ostensible or not, this immodest, high-gloss and particularly amusing one-off led directly to Thursday’s reboot.

As NBC and fans learned at the same time, the cast had “seasoned” instead of “aged.” They still had that ol’ zing. The gay jokes didn’t induce winces. Karen didn’t induce them, either. Grace sang. Will fretted. Jack waffled. Just like old times. The skit was meant to promote voting and even came with a hashtag — #votehoney. But come on (honey!). It was really meant to promote future employment (theirs).

Mission accomplished, and then some (a second season has already been ordered). But if you were one of the seven million who liked those nine viral minutes, you’ll be perfectly happily with the 21 minutes arriving this week. Rarely if ever has a reboot stepped so cleanly out of hyperbarically sealed time machine as this one. Nothing seems to have changed, and no one, either. Continuity seams have been expertly disguised by “W&G’s” legendary director, James Burrows, who will helm each of the 16 episodes. Each of the cast was trained on the New York stage, and this group can still find its way around a TV set blindfolded.

Creators Max Mutchnick and David Kohan have written the same lines with the same payoffs that got the same laughs all those years ago — updated naturally with period details circa 2017. The Trump White House jokes arrive by the third episode and — spoiler alert — a Russian/English dictionary, fidget spinner and bag of Cheetos have roles to play there. By the second episode, the passage of time is addressed, or as Jack characterizes the dating pool, “They’re young and hot and we’re old and not.”

Thursday’s opener is the post-warmup warm-up to the rest of the season. Reintroductions are made. Grace’s ex, Leo (Harry Connick Jr.), returns for a curtain call. Those long-ago familiar rhythms are reborn. The show conspicuously ignores the bittersweet eighth-season May 18, 2006, finale, when Will and Grace became parents, then split up, and then got back together (sort of). “W&G 2.0” clearly wants you to believe that the two-parter never happened, and in at least once sense it hasn’t: Hulu, which recently began streaming all eight seasons, has lopped off those final two episodes as if they never happened at all.

For all its evident skill, there’s still probably one or two things this reboot won’t or can’t do. Those days when a sitting vice president called this the most important gay icon in cultural history are long, long over. This reboot almost revels in vintage gay humor. Nor will it likely attract a new (or young) crowd.

But that’s OK. This one’s for the fans and the fans alone. They’ll be pleased.

BOTTOM LINE Just like old times — make that exactly like old times. “Will & Grace” is back without missing a beat, or updating one, either.

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