As an episode of television, “About a House for Sale” acts as an ideal illustration of About a Boy’s emotional extremes. It’s a half-hour that features not just a goofy riff on The Dating Game, but also an emotional farewell scene, a mistaken pedophile gag, and the breakdown of one of the show’s major relationships. It’s all a bit jarring, to say the least.
As the episode opens, Will is supposed to be packing up his bags and preparing to drive his stuff cross-country to be with Sam. Naturally, however, he’s putting this off in an attempt to find Marcus a proper friend to fill the void he’ll be leaving. Upon finding that none of Marcus’ peers are up to his maturity level, Will tries to recruit several of his friends (including Andy) to serve as the boy’s de facto adult male friend. Thus, we are treated to the aforementioned The Dating Game parody, whereby Will stacks a wall of boxes between Marcus and the three “contestants” and throws out various scenarios for them to solve (example: Marcus asks to borrow your car for a date—do you give it to him? Answer: No. You order him a limo so he has a better chance of scoring).
The shenanigans come to halt when Sam surprises Will by coming in a bit early. She’s upset that he hasn’t started packing and questions whether he even wants to move. At this point, Will reveals his intentions, which are half-rooted in genuine care for Marcus, and partly a projection of his own loneliness. As established in the previous episode, Will has not made any friends in New York and the isolation has really gotten to him. Knowing what the feeling is like, he wants to make sure that Marcus doesn’t have to experience what he has experienced. It’s a touching sentiment that, unfortunately, is immediately followed by Marcus overhearing their conversation and subsequently posting a really questionable ad on the Internet, in an attempt to find a young New York-based companion for the adult Will. This leads to the police arriving at Will’s goodbye party and investigating him for possible sexual misconduct, a one-off gag that, though somewhat amusing, really feels out of step with everything around it.
It’s at this point that the episode reaches its centerpiece—as all the main and recurring characters from the past season sit around, Will offers a toast, thanking them for being the best family he could possibly ask for. It’s a definite pull-on-your-heartstrings moment that can’t help but be a bit undermined by the fact that he will be returning to them in the next five minutes. And, indeed, Sam later ends up pulling the moving car over and telling Will that she couldn’t live with herself if she removed him from such an environment.
It’s an awkward situation for the writers to find themselves in, since—faced with the strong possibility of cancellation—they choose to end last season with Will starting life over in New York. With a new season looming ahead, we know Will and Sam’s relationship would have a ticking clock element, so none of this comes as a complete surprise. And yet, it also makes it hard to really become emotionally invested in Will’s goodbye, since we know it will be very temporary. This knowledge certainly doesn’t kill those scenes, but there is an unmistakable disconnect.
The end of “About a House for Sale,” in many ways, feels like it should be the ending to a season (or at least a mid-season turning point) rather than the second episode into one. Again, it’s far from the writers’ fault, but it does mean that the episode is attempting to do a lot in its allotted 22-minute timespan. Inevitably, as good as these concluding emotional beats are, there’s a rushed quality to them that might not have been the case if they were given more room to breath. And though “About a House for Sale” ends with the status quo returned, one would be hard-pressed to say there wasn’t some awkward maneuvering to get there.
Mark Rozeman is a Los Angeles-based freelance writer and regular contributor to Paste. You can follow him on Twitter.