Last week, in my ever-growing comparisons of About a Boy to its previous incarnations, I brought up the reasons why I objected to any sort of romance between Will and Fiona. This week, let me speak to the opposite side of that assertion by discussing a pairing I actually liked. In both the book and film, Will eventually ends up romancing a single mother named Rachel (played by Rachel Weisz in the film). It is his affection towards her, not Fiona, that ultimately helps complete his transformation into an honest person. He even tells her the truth about Marcus not being his real son in an attempt to be open with her.
This week, the writers introduce Will to Dr. Samantha Lake (Adrianne Palicki), who could very well prove to be the first legitimately meaningful relationship for the character, as well as the first major stand-in for the Rachel character. (The two’s hair even matches.)
In any case, I find her much more preferable to Dakota. Not because I have anything against Leslie Bibb, mind you, but simply because I found that character to be more of a one-note joke than a human being. That being said, Samantha doesn’t exactly break any barriers. As written, she’s the archetypal career woman (in this case, doctor) we’ve seen some form of before. She’s attractive, charming, checks all the points in our hero’s “dream girl” list but doesn’t have time for romance. (In another world, she would have been a great How I Met Your Mother character.)
The relationship works, however, mostly due to the charming chemistry that Will and Samantha share. Even the most crackling of dialogue can fall flat if the right actors aren’t there to deliver and, for the most part, the two successfully sell this courtship. It certainly helps that Samantha is played by Palicki, aka Tyra Collette from Friday Night Lights. And, if I haven’t made this clear already, anything that reminds me of Friday Night Lights is a good thing.
But, this being About a Boy, there can never be relationships without some form of deception. This time around, Will misrepresents himself to Samantha as an established songwriter who has penned hits for the like of Michael Bublé and the band Rivvrs (who get a major shout-out in the episode for some reason).
Meanwhile, as Will and Samantha’s relationship develops, Marcus finds himself trapped in his own home. Going back a bit, Will initially meets Samantha after Marcus accidentally drops a knife on his foot and must be taken to her hospital. Cursed with a overbearing mother, Marcus is stuck dealing with the inevitable repercussions of his injury. Not only must he constantly update Fiona via his cell phone (in one of the episode’s funnier moments, we watch as Marcus is forced to narrate his journey to the house door), but his mother has gone so far as to set up Skype in the kitchen so that she can constantly keep an eye on him from work.
Despite being on house arrest, Marcus still manages to interact with Will. This becomes especially important after Samantha finally catches Will in his lie, leaving Will heartbroken. It’s here, in Will and Marcus’ heart-to-heart, that the boy articulates the episode’s bit of emotional insight by informing Will that he’s a great guy, despite the horrible decisions he makes. “You’re totally flawed—kind of a mess, really,” he states. “But we all are, one way or another.” In other words, it looks like this week Marcus has officially entered into the wise-beyond-their-years category of sitcom kids.
And so, in the ultimate display of honesty, Will arrives at Samantha’s hospital and, plays her (and an entire waiting room full of drunk, sick patients) the embarrassingly cheesy Christmas single that has bought him his luxurious life. And, yes, it’s about as earworm-y as you’d expect. The patients in the waiting room even start singing along. Corny? Oh most definitely. Yet, much like the more saccharine moments of Parenthood, it’s hard to really find too much to complain about.
Much like last week’s “About a Plumber,” “About a Bublé” finds the show in a slightly healthier space. That’s not to say there aren’t some serious issues. Just as with previous episodes, there are entire scenes here that just feel far too well-trodden. Take for example the scene where Samantha—in an attempt to test Will’s claims of being a working songwriter—asks to hear a new song. We then watch as Will improvises a basic melody and begins babbling lyrics based on items in his immediate surrounding. That’s a joke that’s been done (much better I might add) in both a most recent episode of Key & Peele and an older episode of Family Guy.
Yes, About a Boy has shown some growth in recent times, but it’s still got some growing pains to deal with. To quote Marcus’ evaluation of Will, however, there may be a lot of flaws and the show occasionally may get messy, but I have faith that there’s something good in there.
Mark Rozeman is a Los Angeles-based freelance writer and regular contributor to Paste. You can follow him on Twitter.