Well, better late than never I suppose.
In recapping About a Boy, it seems as though I’ve spent a good portion of the past few weeks complaining about how the show was squandering the potential of its talented cast and creative team in favor of serviceable, yet familiar sitcom plotlines. By airing two back-to-back episodes as the show’s season finale, this week’s About a Boy feels a bit more akin to the hour-long format that Jason Katims and his crew are used to working in. The result is the most heartwarming, emotional installment of the show since the pilot episode and a phenomenal close to the season.
The first episode, “About A Hammer,” centers on a profound development in Will and Sam’s relationship. After her building is condemned due to one of the tenants being a horrendous hoarder, Sam asks Will if she can temporarily stay with him. While at first the prospect of hot, “9 ½ Weeks-style sex” anytime initially sounds appealing to Will, he soon fears that Sam is attempting to slowly, steadily move into his place (he dubs it “Laurie’d” after Andy’s controlling wife, who did something similar). He promptly turns to Marcus as a confidante and focuses his nervous energy on completing a treehouse for the two.
Meanwhile, Sam confesses to Fiona about an “unexpected” turn in her relationship with Will. Sam remains vague as to the nature of this issue but—between her abstaining from alcohol and developing a sudden hunger for avocados—Fiona deduces that Sam must be pregnant. Needless to say, if you’ve seen any sitcom over the past 40 years or so, you probably have some idea where this is going. Fiona jumps to a (albeit, understandable) conclusion when, in fact, Sam is referring to something else entirely. Luckily, even if you know where this plot is heading, the writers and actors really sell the turmoil that this misunderstanding causes. David Walton, in particular tackles Will’s conflicting emotions well. It also leads to one of the best exchanges of the night. A distressed Will asks Fiona, “is there any world in which I’m equipped for this?” After a long, perfectly timed beat, Fiona can only muster a measly, “eh…”
Eventually, after Marcus injures his thumb while building the treehouse, Will shows his capabilities as a father by not only cleaning and bandaging his wound but also talking him through the pain. Once again, it’s a bit of a predictable development, but it works because Walton really sells the material.
The plotline swiftly resolves itself with Sam revealing that, no, she’s not pregnant but has been offered a prestigious job… in New York.
“About a Rib Chute” picks up with a devastated Will escorting Sam to her flight. As the two bid their tearful goodbyes, Sam asks Will to move to New York with her. After weighing his options, Will agrees. The rest of the episode concerns his struggle to tell Fiona and Marcus the news. When Will eventually reveals this information to Fiona, her reaction proves to be one of the most curious comedic choices of the night. After initially entering what appears to be a fugue state, she launches into a song before just as quickly returning to consciousness and denying that anything out of the ordinary happened. In an episode filled with great interactions, this one joke comes across as curiously miscalculated and like something out of an entirely different series.
Despite promising Fiona he will tell Marcus, Will cannot bring himself to do it and the boy only learns about the move when a passing stranger inquires about subletting Will’s house. Here, Marcus’ dormant abandonment issues come boiling to the surface. He accuses Will of being no better than his father and tears apart their treehouse. In a show that has generally avoided any serious emotional display, Marcus angry reaction really hits a chord, unveiling the kind of raw emotion you actually might catch on a Parenthood-style show. In fact, even more so than Crosby Braverman’s cameo in “About a Poker Night,” this episode stands as the only time this season where About a Boy feels even remotely like it fits into the same universe as Parenthood.
Of course, Marcus forgives Will just in time to arrive at the venue where Will and his former bandmates have reunited for the night. As Marcus rushes into the concert, Will dedicates a cover of One Direction’s “What Makes You Beautiful” to Marcus—a callback to the song they both sang at the school talent show in the pilot episode. This promptly leads into a montage, depicting Will and Marcus’ interactions from across the season. Against all odds, this sequence avoids feeling overly saccharine and syrupy. Is it still corny? A little. But more in that Richard-Curtis-rom-com kind of way where you know it’s corny and well trodden, but dammit if it doesn’t make grown men complain that the room is “getting dusty.”
We promptly flashforward to an unspecified time in the near future. We see Marcus sitting in his repaired treehouse talking (via videochat) to Will, who sits on a roof with the beautiful New York skyline behind him. Will informs Marcus that he even installed a “rib chute” in the treehouse so that the boy can discreetly dispose of any remnant BBQ rib bones from his meat-averse mother. The two then say goodbye and Will takes a moment to enjoy the view from his new roof. It’s a fantastic image that ends a surprisingly strong episode.
Did About a Boy earn a finale this good? In some ways, yes; in others, no. The Will/Sam relationship never really felt developed enough to justify Will’s willingness to uproot his comfortable life to be with her. Yet, in spite of a few leaps, the ending does feel like an organic continuation of the stories that have come before it. Before this finale aired, NBC announced that it was renewing the show for a second season. Looking at the concluding scene, that doesn’t seem to be what the writers expected. Indeed, the final video chat scene between Will and Marcus feels like the kind of emotional satisfying coda one would put at the end of a series finale. And while it ends this brief season on a high note, it also brings up a fair amount of questions about how the writers plan to continue the story for next year.
There’s no question that the first season of About a Boy was an altogether mixed bag. Yet, through it all, I tried to have faith that creator Jason Katims and his writers would discover the right tone and elevate the somewhat standard material. Certainly, there were hints here and there of the show’s potential, but these final two episodes really demonstrate how great the series can be. Goes to show, much like George Michael once said, you gotta have faith.
Mark Rozeman is a Los Angeles-based freelance writer and regular contributor to Paste. You can follow him on Twitter.