Surprise! The return of ‘Will & Grace’ is really funny

<b>Review • </b>The new version debuts Thursday on NBC.

Will & Grace” is back, and it’s pretty much like it never went away.

The new version of the show, which debuts Thursday at 8 p.m. on NBC/Ch. 5, is just the old version of the show. Minus a few episodes you’ll have to forget about.

In the first couple of minutes of Thursday’s episode, the 2006 series finale is explained away. I won’t spoil it for you, except to say that that whole thing where Grace gets married and raises a daughter, Will and his partner (husband?) raise a son, and, eventually, those two kids get married never happened. Never will happen.

That was more or less a fantasy,” said creator/executive producer David Kohan.

And creator/executive producer Max Mutchnick said the show “never would have gone in the that direction” of the whole Will and Grace-become-parents thing “if we weren’t ending the show.”

Now they’ve unended it.

Kohan said that when they began planning the revival, they focused on what they missed about the show. And what they missed was “the dynamic” among Will (Eric McCormack), Grace (Debra Messing), Jack (Sean Hayes) and Karen (Megan Mullally) “more than we missed the possibility of seeing what their lives would be like as parents.”

That finale “gave the show and all four characters a happy ending, but happy endings aren’t really funny,” said McCormack. “Then we just took out that little part at the end, but the rest of it is all us.”

Well, they took out more than just the finale. The revival erases the eight episodes before that, too … but, by the time they aired, the ratings had fallen off dramatically so most viewers probably didn’t see those episodes anyway.

What matters is the new installments. And, having seen the first three, they’re surprisingly good. They hark back to the first season of “Will & Grace” way back in 1998, when the show was fresh and funny.

No spoilers here, but the first new episode finds the principals pretty much exactly where they were 19 years ago. In 1998, Grace had just left her fiancé at the altar and moved in with Will; in 2017, Grace has just gotten divorced from Leo (for a second time) and moved back in with Will.

(BTW, Harry Connick Jr. makes a guest appearance as Leo in the third episode.)

Jack is still living across the hall, and he’s still a flamboyant free spirit who thinks he’s going to be a star. And Karen is still working for Grace (well, not really working); she’s still rich, self-centered and abusing various controlled substances.

They are exactly the same flawed, funny people they used to be. There’s been no personal growth whatsoever because this is a comedy.

(Chris Haston/NBC) Eric McCormack as Will Truman, Debra Messing as Grace Adler, Sean Hayes as Jack McFarland and Megan Mullally as Karen Walker in “Will & Grace.”

The comedy is still topical, but the topics have changed. Karen, not surprisingly, voted for her pal Donald Trump; Will and Grace, not surprisingly, are appalled by Trump and all he stands for.

All four characters end up in the White House in Thursday’s premiere.

I think this show has always been relevant,” Hayes said. “And under the umbrella of relevancy is everything. So it’s politics. It’s social issues. It’s sex.”

Popular culture,” Mullally interjected.

And while it’s more common today to see a show featuring two gay men than it was in 1998, gay issues are still a big part of the narrative.

I don’t think gay issues are dated at all,” Hayes said. “I think the fight goes on and will go on for a long time, just like a lot of other issues.”

I don’t think you can have a transgender ban in the military and say that gay issues are dated,” McCormack added. “It’s pretty current.”

It’s a bit awkward in the first episode to see Will and Jack acting like young gay men when, well, they’re no longer young. (They’re playing younger, but McCormack is 54 and Hayes is 47.) But that’s addressed in the second episode, which is funnier than the first.

The three episodes screened for critics aren’t perfect, and they’re not original. But they are pretty funny.

And that makes “Will & Grace” one of the best sitcoms debuting — re-debuting? — this fall.