Sitcoms, once the bastion of episodic storytelling in pop culture, have undergone a strange shift in recent years. As TV as a whole has changed, so has the sitcom structure. Tough network sitcoms remain, at their core, interchangeable from week-to-week, the fandom of shows like Community and Parks and Rec fed by how those central characters have evolved and developed over the years. As a sitcom in the latest Golden Age of Television, About a Boy’s biggest challenges involve how to create an ever-churning story engine with established characters while also making sure it’s plotlines or character dynamics do not grow repetitive and stale.
The basic gist of About a Boy’s first season seems to be predicated on a single question: can Will become a genuinely good person? “About a Kiss” attempts to answer that query in the form of T.J., one of Will’s douchebag-y friends who harbors an eye for Fiona. T.J. represents the Will we met back in the pilot episode—a self-absorbed man-child with an interest in women that extends little beyond the superficial. By effectively shutting T.J. down, Will is also denying the former part of him that, when put in a similar situation, might have done the same. By episode’s end, we are meant to believe that this changed Will is someone who deserves to share a passionate kiss with Dr. Sam.
Will’s indignation over T.J. and Fiona’s flirtations appears to serve two functions. One, as previously mentioned, it’s intended to show a bit of Will’s emotional growth over the past few episodes. Having grown to care about his weird, hippie neighbor, he doesn’t wish for her to hook up with someone who would merely be using her.
Two, and I do hope I’m misreading the situation, the show is gently dipping its toe into the possibility of a Will-Fiona relationship. Sure, Will (rather loudly) proclaims during the episode’s climax that his concern with Fiona’s well-being comes from a strictly platonic place. Plus, this is the episode where he finally wins back Sam’s romantic affections. And yet, though they are played as major farce, moments like Will gawking at Fiona’s cleavage and “confessing” his love for her in an ill-conceived attempt at getting T.J. to back down can certainly be used as early hints should the show ever choose to go that direction.
Then there’s the Sam situation. Once again, it’s hard for me to wrap my brain around Will and Sam’s ending kiss. Much like in last week’s episode, very little of what Will does in “About a Kiss” seems to earn this moment, even under the forgiving light of reductive sitcom conventions. Whereas I once hoped Sam would represent a female character with some sense of urgency, it looks as though she now exists merely as a love interest whose hot-and-cold approach zigs and zags based on plot necessity.
Then there’s the Marcus subplot. Between this episode and “About a Poker Night,” it increasingly looks as though the heavy Will-Fiona plotlines will be accompanied by a “Marcus ventures to a new location” subplot. This time, he finds himself being babysat by two teenage girls who attempt to hook him up with their younger sister, Katie. By all accounts, Katie appears to be the female equivalent of Marcus—gawky, prone to peculiar outbursts and cursed with a deadly peanut allergy. A game of Truth or Dare ultimately leads to her to lock lips with Marcus, the second kiss of the night. It’s a sweet if rudimentary subplot that also manages to end with a nice capper. “My first kiss,” an awestruck Marcus responds following the aforementioned incident. “My third,” Katie counters nonchalantly before walking away.
Let me end this review with a bit of a prediction. Based on how often Marcus’ peanut allergy has been continually introduced into the narrative as a joke, my suspicion is that the show’s May finale will involve Marcus accidentally ingesting a peanut. His subsequent reaction (and, let’s say, hospitalization) will then put Will in a possession of great reflection as he suddenly recognizes the great ways in which Marcus and Fiona have influenced his life. Again, this is purely conjecture, but it’s the kind of story I could envision the series going with.
Even if this doesn’t prove to be the season-ending plotline, the finale should logically address this issue in some meaningful way. Looking back over what we’ve seen so far, however, it becomes hard to pinpoint where the influence has occurred. Will’s more unselfish decisions over the past few installments have seemed to come not as a result of anything done by Marcus but simply because it was that episode’s final act.
Does this show still have the capacity to be great? I choose to believe so. Does it still have some ways to go? Unfortunately, yes. In spite of my reservations regarding its qualities, however, I will be there right at the end cheering it on. Why? Well, frankly the show’s just so darn cheerable—even at its weakest moments.
Mark Rozeman is a Los Angeles-based freelance writer and regular contributor to Paste. You can follow him on Twitter.