One of the elements that I loved most about Nick Hornby’s About a Boy and the subsequent Weitz Brothers film was the disregard for any sort of romance between the Will and Fiona character. A lesser story, I feel, would have had the standard, clichéd arc of an immature Will learning to become more responsible through Marcus and then ultimately ending up as his new father by falling in love with Fiona. Instead, the book/movie flat-out confirms that Will and Fiona would never work and even pokes fun at this tired trope at several points. (The fact that Fiona is suicidal further precludes such a relationship from happening in any sort of organic fashion.)
Five episodes in, and the show has addressed the Will-Fiona situation. Granted, “About a Plumber” ends with Will and Fiona strongly reiterating that they will “never” get together but—given the nature of television—I fear it may be only a matter of time before such a plotline materializes. Whereas the film and book could tell its own close-ended story, television requires writers to generate multiple hours of story each year. In that regard, making Will and Fiona a couple may turn out to be an inevitable process in trying to shake things up. (I certainly hope not, but I’m being realistic.)
The episode opens with Will and Marcus playing badminton in the backyard. Things quickly get weird, however, when Marcus starts talking about how great it will be when Will and Fiona get married. He even makes a Freudian slip by calling their game “dadminton.” A disturbed Will expresses his concerns to Fiona, who says that Marcus’ delusions are due to Will being far too much of a father figure towards him. Will counters that the two’s world is far too insular and very Bates Motel. Deciding that she indeed hasn’t dated in some time (along with a major push from Dakota), Fiona asks out her plumber, Lou (Will Sasso), on a date.
Marcus, naturally, is dismayed at this turn of events and goes to Will to get the straight truth on why he doesn’t want to marry his mother. In an attempt to be straightforward and blunt, Will says he’s simply not attracted to Fiona and proceeds to give Marcus the “birds and bees” talk. Things get more awkward when Marcus then hops on his bike and interrupts his mother’s date in an attempt to stop any “intercoursing” from happening.
“About a Plumber” once again gets some mileage from Marcus’ ever expanding roster of quirks. This time around, it’s shown he goes into a fugue state whenever someone decides to discuss sex with him. (Fiona calls it his “adorable coping mechanism.”) And though I can’t deny that him yelling “intercourse” in a crowded restaurant isn’t a somewhat effective example of cringe humor, it’s hard to deny its contrived “sitcom-ness.”
But, onto the positives. Unlike last week’s “About a Girl,” this episode benefits from having its adults actually act like something approaching real people. Of course, “real” is a highly relative word in the heightened sitcom world, but at least I understand the progression of behavior this time around. Because his character has been established as such, I get why Will would think telling Marcus about sex would be helpful, even if realistically any sane person should have known better.
The lone exception to this, of course, is Dakota, who continues to become more and more like a cartoon each week. Upon hearing that Fiona has not slept with another man since Marcus’ dad, a horrified Dakota instantly points downward and exclaims “things grow over.” She then intentionally breaks off Fiona’s faucet so that she’ll be forced to call Lou the plumber and ask him out. While I recognize that sitcoms need their outlandish characters, everything Dakota does feels as though it’s designed to trigger some laugh track that does not exist. Considering we already have Marcus and his peculiarities, do we really need another broad character?
While I can’t call “About a Plumber” a massive improvement, it does feel a bit more consistent than past episodes. I wonder, however, how long the writers can keep up a pace without leaning too hard on the show’s more contrived elements. Considering the small world of About a Boy, there’s no telling how many more stories they can squeeze out of this dynamic in a 13-episode season, let alone a full, 22-ish episode season, should they get renewed. It’s a tough nut to crack, for sure, and I’ll be watching with my fingers crossed.
Mark Rozeman is a Los Angeles-based freelance writer and regular contributor to Paste. You can follow him on Twitter.