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Live and Giggling

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Live television these days has pretty much been handed over to a select few veterans, like the morning shows, sports, and most awards extravaganzas. LAist was jazzed a couple of years back for the live broadcast of ER, and we were even more jazzed this week for (and, okay, in the dorkiest fashion, during the days leading up to) the live season premiere of NBC's Will & Grace. W&G is, in our humble opinion, the last of a dying breed. Sitcoms just don't seem to have the staying power, and comedy has found an edgier niche over on the cable channels, because four letter words and the occasional bared breast just seem to spell funny in a way the networks can't handle. But back in 1998, a little sitcom that could--and did--blur the boundaries made its debut, and now, in its eighth and final season, ventured into the rarely chartered waters of live television.

Naturally a lot of fuss surrounded the episode. NBC went all out online, offering tech-tuned fans the chance to watch both the East Coast and West Coast versions online the following day (now only comparative highlights are available, and probably not for long), and during the show a live (but soundless) cam was streaming from the set, along with what amounted to a weak excuse for a live blog--great idea, but with lame results; it reads like someone from the show's blog-clueless cousin got tapped for the blogging gig. For this, we'll forgive them. After all, this show was beaming up live from virtually our own backyard...well, okay, a couple of miles down the way in Studio City.

The episode was naturally limited in scope, with little movement between sets and no costume changes. Karen (Megan Mullally) zipped through doors and over toes perched on a motorized scooter equipped with an ice bucket and champagne, which was the solution the writers came up with to keep Mullally off her left foot, which she injured at home just before her appearance singing the "Green Acres" theme with Donald Trump at the Emmys a couple of weeks ago. She kept a straight face the whole time, thanks to years of acting in the theatre. But while Grace (Debra Messing) and Jack (Sean Hayes) landed together, the giggles flew, making for the most interesting bits in the show, as we watched and wondered: "How far off can they go?" Sadly, not too far. We love outtakes, but we weren't getting any here. No mishaps, no majorly mangled lines.

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The plot was secondary because of the novelty of the format, but the big news that Stan Walker was alive was revealed to an unaccepting Karen. Despite the seriousness of the storyline, there were plenty of big jokes tucked in here and there, plus all of Jack's funny schtick that made Messing mess up, and another great turn by guest star Alec Baldwin as the mysterious Malcolm (his lines about the dripping ice cream sandwiches were a scream). Things get back to normal next week, as NBC airs the episodes the W&G gang put in the can ahead of the premiere, and we'll just have to see where this last season takes us. We'll be along for the ride. They don't do funny like this much of anywhere anymore.

Will & Grace
Thursdays, 8:30 p.m. on NBC