Karen Walker and the Bisexual Straight Woman

on

Good Lord, Jack. If I gave in to every persuasive argument, I’d be in some

crazy three-way marriage with Maury Povich and Connie Chung!" —

Karen (Megan Mullaly) on Will & Grace

Now about to enter its sixth season on NBC this fall, the hit sitcom Will & Grace has won numerous awards over the last five seasons and is consistently

among the top-rated shows on network television. But when it premiered in 1998,

few believed Will & Grace would even survive, let alone flourish, because

it revolves around the friendship between a gay man (played by Eric McCormack)

and his straight female friend (played by Debra Messing), with Will’s gay friend

Jack (played by Sean Hayes) and Grace’s secretary/friend Karen Walker (played

by Megan Mullaly) rounding out the cast.

Although Will & Grace are the characters around which the series

officially revolves, the two secondary characters have become so popular over

the years that they have developed a cult following of their own, with many

Will & Grace fans referring to the show as The Jack and Karen

Show
instead.

Karen is a wealthy, spoiled socialite with a shopping fetish and a very distinctive

high-pitched voice, the kind of woman "who thinks an act of kindness is

letting her step-kid have the fruit out of her whiskey sour," as her housekeeper

described her (Season 2, Episode 15). Sometimes annoying, often frustrating,

and usually hilarious, Karen is a character most fans either love or hate.

Karen is also not exactly heterosexual &#8212 or as Mullaly describes her, she "goes

both ways" (the actress, who recently became engaged to a man, has also

described herself this way). Although for the first few seasons Karen was married

to a wealthy older man (Stanley Walker), Karen’s attraction to women was hinted

at early on in the series through comments like this one (Season 2, Episode

20):

JACK: Yeah. Oh, look! There he is. There’s Bill. Isn’t

he dreamy?

KAREN: Yeah, he’s a slice of ice-cream cake. Now when do

I get to French-kiss a girl? Come on, when? When?

Karen’s unambiguous sexual comments about women became more frequent in later

seasons, as in this exchange (Season 5, Episode 16):

KAREN (to Grace): You should let me help you more, honey.

I know a few things, and I care about you. Hmm? Now let’s get back in there.

C’mon, we got a room full of lovely ladies. Let’s put on some music and get

those tops off.

GRACE: You do know that it’s not that kind of girls’ night?

KAREN: We’ll see.

Karen continuously makes half-joking attempts to seduce Grace, and finds reasons

for the two women to kiss at least once every season, as she did in Episode

3 of the fifth season when she convinced Grace to show her how Grace’s boyfriend

Leo kisses:

KAREN: Honey, what is the problem? It was just a kiss.

GRACE: Oh, no, no, no. You don’t understand. It was a really

good kiss.

KAREN: [SCOFFS] Sh-yeah! Show me.

GRACE: No.

KAREN: Show me.

GRACE: No.

KAREN: Come on. We’re both stoned.

GRACE: Forget it.

KAREN: Shut up and show me.

[GRACE GRABS KAREN AND KISSES HER LIKE LEO DID EARLIER]

KAREN: Yeah, you’re screwed.

At fourteen seconds long, this kiss still holds the title of the longest kiss

between two women on network television. The show even made a rare reference

to bisexuality in Season 5, when Madonna made a guest appearance as Karen’s

new roommate and accused Karen of having a "weird bisexual vibe."

But despite plenty of opportunities to explore Karen’s bisexuality as more

than just a running gag, the writers have so far insisted on keeping it to one-liners

and innuendo. This may be in part because her comments about dating and relationships,

like this one in Episode 19 of Season 5, also betray a decidedly heterosexual

world-view:

KAREN: Well, deal me in. I’ve got a lifetime membership

to the losers club. I’ve been dumped by one-ton billionaires, heads of state,

and every member of Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young, but I’m not naming names.

What’s so great about another person, huh? All they do is manhandle your boobs

and eat all the ham.

Although she avoids gender-specific pronouns in this statement, the "person"

she is referring to in the question "What’s so great about another person?"

is clearly male, as indicated by the qualifier "all they do is manhandle

your boobs and eat all the hams" (which would never be generally understood

to be describing a woman).

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