Screens: Warner Bros / ITV

Battle Of The Blinkered Moms

Two gay guys, two big talks with their mothers. Did Will & Grace or Vicious do it better?

It's one thing for a gay man in a vibrant, cosmopolitan city to be out and proud to the friends, peers, or entourage he sees every day. It's quite another for him to be out to his mother, as both Stuart Bixby and Jack McFarland can attest. But after their mothers were accidentally invited to social events they didn't want said mothers to attend, both of them did, in the end, manage to tell their mothers the truth about themselves, many years apart. The question is, which show's producers wrote it better?

Who Did It First?

While Stuart came out to his mother Mildred in the first-season finale of ViciousWill & Grace's coming-out occurred in its Season 2 Thanksgiving episode, which aired on November 25, 1999.

Winner: Will & Grace.

Who Did It Funnier?

The introduction of Mildred was kind of a funny surprise in itself; given that every episode begins with Stuart talking to her on/trying to get her off the phone, I figured she was going to be the Maris/Vera of Vicious: frequently mentioned but never seen. (I guess that slot now belongs to the dog.) But for all the talk about the huge blunder Ash has made in inviting her to Stuart and Freddie's anniversary party, Mildred's not actually in the episode that much; reacting to Stuart's announcement by fainting takes her offscreen for a good quarter of the episode. That said, the funniest element of her role lies in the fact that she's as mean as Stuart's partner Freddie; it's pretty clear that, like so many of us, Stuart's sought to recreate the environment of his childhood in his adult relationship.

On Will & Grace, even though everyone agrees that Jack should take this opportunity to come out to his mother, Judith, before he can get around to it there's a whole farce storyline revolving around Jack and Grace, his bitter ex-girlfriend as far as Judith knows -- complicated further by Karen and her insistence that Jack's fake relationship should have been with her. Then, after Jack finally tells Judith that he's gay, there's more funny to be wrought from Judith's unburdening herself of a lie of her own: the man who raised Jack isn't actually his biological father, and she's not entirely sure who is. (It was someone in a Nixon mask at an orgy, because of course it was.)

Winner: Will & Grace.

Who Made It More Believable?

Given what a huge queen Jack is, it's somewhat difficult to accept that Judith could have raised him in the '70s and '80s and not realized what his deal actually is. I can't say it better than Karen does: "What is she, headless?" But Stuart is both much older and British; it's reasonable that Mildred wouldn't have picked up on the clues. Yes, even the clue that he's been living with a man for almost fifty years. London is expensive!

Winner: Vicious.

Whose Stakes Were Higher?

This is tough: though Jack drops several hints in passing about how close he and Judith are, and have been since his overly attached childhood, there's little evidence that they're actually in each other's lives much; indeed, this was the one and only episode of the series that Judith's even in. On the other hand, though Stuart and his mother talk on the phone at least once in every episode of Vicious, let's be real: Mildred's going to die soon. It's remarkable that she even lived to the end of the episode. So even if she hadn't accepted his relationship, it probably wouldn't have made much difference to him.

Winner: Will & Grace.

Whose Outcome Was More Satisfying?

Judith's disclosure about Jack's parentage is certainly more dramatic, but that she's fine with his being gay is not a big deal; on some level she's probably always known ("You always were very fond of the nursery rhyme, 'Rub-a-Dub-Dub, Three Men In A Tub'"). But Mildred resists hearing what Stuart and Freddie are trying to tell her for a while -- after coming to from her faint, she pretends not to remember what occasioned it -- before surprising everyone with what amounts to a shrug. It means more for someone that old, and that nasty, to respond with love basically accepting indifference.

Winner: Vicious.

Verdict

While Vicious's coming-out story is very funny, it's also very true to the show's premise, keeping the focus on the two series leads and their bitchy comments to and about Mildred. Will & Grace makes room for all the characters to participate, including Judith. And, off to the side of the A-plot, the episode gave Grace a chance to suck the filling out of a pie with a straw. (Remember when we didn't all hate Debra Messing? It feels like a long time ago because it was!)

Winner: Will & Grace.

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