Sean Hayes became famous for playing the flamboyant gay character Jack on “Will & Grace.” Now he returns to NBC’s Thursday nights in a role that is a lot closer to the buttoned-down Will. In “Sean Saves the World,” Hayes plays a gay man who juggles parenting his 14-year-old daughter and working for a demanding boss.
Television has changed a lot from the first season of “Will & Grace” when featuring gay characters in major roles was controversial. Thanks to the popularity of shows like “Modern Family,” gay characters are common enough that they are no longer defined by their sexual orientation, according to Hayes. “It’s an afterthought just like any other character or minority now, which is how it should be. It’s even sad that it’s a question, really.”
Hayes describes “Sean Saves the World” as, “a post-gay show where there is a gay man at the center but it’s not about his being gay.” In fact, Hayes character, also named Sean, does not date or even interact with any other characters in the pilot. Other than a conversation with his daughter Ellie (Samantha Isler) about how he, as a gay man, managed to have sex with her mother, his sexual orientation is barely mentioned.
Instead, Sean’s concerns, according to showrunner Victor Fresco, are universal. “Sean has gone from a weekend dad to a full-time dad so he has to learn how to discipline his daughter. He’s not necessarily the fun weekend dad anymore. That is going to be a big piece of tension in the home. Then at work, Sean’s navigating a new piece in his life, which is a new boss who has just come into the company a couple weeks ago…. Then there’s also the tension coming from ‘I want to be in two places as once.’ This is something a single dad would feel…. Wherever we are, we feel like we should be someplace else.”
Another complicating factor in Sean’s life is his mother, played by comedy legend Linda Lavin of “Alice.” Lavin said the show’s writing inspired her to return to series television. “This is a place I want to be because I’m playing a character, a mother who is not the butt of a joke, who is not a simpleton or a joke herself, who has something to say, who is attractive and smart and challenging.”
According to Fresco, Sean’s ex-wife, who is off-camera in the pilot because she recently moved out of town, will remain an enigma. “We won’t meet her for a little while. We don’t have any plans to yet. Down the road, I feel like we have such a wonderful core cast. I just want to spend the real estate on our cast right now. But eventually I think there would be a good story there.”
Fresco also promised that eventually Sean will have a love life, though it will always be a secondary part of the show. “He will be dating. His focus on his relationship with his daughter is the big, new thing in his life. That’s where he’s going to be spending most of his time and energy.”
“Sean Saves the World” premieres Oct. 3 and will air Thursdays at 9/8c on NBC.