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Series finale had will, but lacked grace

Reprinted from late editions of yesterday's Globe.

Thursday night, ''Will & Grace" said a big fat goodbye. Seriously, the last episode of the series was sadly bloated and oversize, like Debra Messing in the fat suit during the opening dream sequence. For every minute of strong material, there were at least five of flab. By the time Sean Hayes's Jack and Megan Mullally's Karen sang ''Unforgettable" in what was a non sequitur of a scene, it was as if they were vamping to fill time.

The idea behind the hourlong episode wasn't bad. For eight seasons, ''Will & Grace" explored a friendship that was so close it was both magical and suffocating. So it was touchingly bittersweet to see Will (Eric McCormack) and Grace (Messing) break up after a fight and proceed to build happy, independent lives with their partners. As the episode extended into the future, Grace and Leo (Harry Connick Jr.) remarry and raise Lila, and Will and Vince (Bobby Cannavale) have a son, Ben. Gradually, Will and Grace become amicable again, and finally they develop a healthier intimacy as their grown children approach marriage to each other. Will and Grace are destined to be friends, even after years of alienation.

The series ended where it began, with the older Will and Grace on the phone faux flirting with each other and making an ''ER" joke (nice stroke, NBC). Of course, for a show that loved to make light of sexual orientation, the finale might have been more fun with one slight change -- if Lila were a Larry -- but, well, what are you gonna do?

But everything outside of the resolution of Will and Grace was a disappointment, right down to the final scene, in which the older Will, Grace, Jack, and Karen meet at a bar and toast their friendship. It was a cursory farewell, and the musical accompaniment -- Queen's ''You're My Best Friend" -- was neither moving nor funny. The moment did not do justice to the years of great work that preceded it.

And the Jack and Karen material, usually such perverse fun, was so flip Thursday night that it never seemed to land. Karen lost her money, Jack sold himself to Beverly Leslie and later inherited his money, they lived together in twisted domestic bliss. The story line was as bland as Connick Jr.'s acting, which was particularly wooden Thursday night.

It's always hard to wrap up a long-running sitcom in a single episode. Closure goes against the very nature of a TV series, which is to go on and on. And the actors and writers are usually emotionally unprepared to deliver a satisfying ending, since they're sad about ending a chapter in their own lives.

''Everybody Loves Raymond" is one of the rare success stories, since its finale took a low-key just-another-day approach, and it only lasted for half an hour. Unfortunately, ''Will & Grace" did not follow that example. Like ''Seinfeld" and ''Friends," both of which ended unsatisfactorily, it strained to be significant.

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