So, guess what guys? Money can’t buy happiness.
Yup, that’s essentially the central thesis for this week’s About a Boy, which takes an unfortunate step back in quality from the past few weeks’ installments. Whereas “About a Poker Night” found the writers attempting to shake things up and give each character some breathing room to flourish outside of their designated roles, “About a Slopmaster” represents a return to show’s more traditional (and duller) antics.
The whole kit and kaboodle begins when Will receives his routine royalty check for “Runaway Sleigh.” It’s here, in front of Marcus and Fiona, that he begins to gloat about the joys of having money. Will’s infectious zest for wealth inevitably rubs off on Marcus, much to the disturbance of his mother. And so, in order to teach him the value of a dollar, she arranges so that Marcus is cast as the lowly, disease-carrying slopmaster in his new class project—a mini-society modeled after “Dickensian” England. Though initially disappointed, Marcus soon finds a way to take advantage of his situation when he finds the template for the town’s fictional currency on his mother’s laptop and proceeds to print out hundreds of dollars in fake bills.
Meanwhile, we see Will also putting his money to less than valiant uses when he pays off a hospital receptionist to switch around Sam’s schedule so the two can spend a few afternoon hours together. Naturally, when Sam discovers that Will has essentially “bought” time with her, she’s less than thrilled. But, as always, Will finds some redemption at the end when he realizes Marcus has been counterfeiting money. He runs to the boy’s school and here delivers the episode’s lessons about how money can’t satisfy the emotional void in your life. Honestly, it feels like the writers were given a basic logline of, “Will discovers money isn’t the answer to everything…” and then delivered the most basic version of this story under the threat of a quick deadline.
There are a few more issues I have with this half-hour but let’s start with Dr. Sam. I mentioned in earlier reviews how Adrianne Palicki’s Sam was a nice change of pace from Will’s previous hook-up, the cartoonish Dakota. While I still appreciate that the writers haven’t’ taken Sam to that extreme, I now feel as though similar issues involving underdevelopment are becoming readily apparent. First, we are meant to buy that, after only a single date, Will is completely smitten with this woman. Thus, instead of seeing the chemistry that would lead Will to such a state, we’re merely being told about it in an exchange with Andy. To be fair, Walton and Palicki do succeed at having a fun, flirty dynamic, but the writing never quite matches the performances. Sam is given the kind of banter where, in order to prove she’s a cool, unusual girl, she frequently spills her strong opinions on sports and, in particular, Kobe Bryant (because no girl ever cares about sports). This resembles less of a full-blown characterization and more a shorthand version of one.
What further irks me is the fact that, for no apparent reason except Palicki has a few more guest slots, Sam forgives Will for his deceit, despite having no good reason to do so. After being established as a strong-willed, busy doctor who, let’s face it, looks like Adrianne Palicki, I can’t help but feel like Sam could do much better than a guy who pathologically lies to her (even if he does look like David Walton).
More than any character issues, however, the episode also just doesn’t really inspire many laughs. If pressed, I don’t think I could summon up a gag that even made me chuckle. This is a half-hour where perhaps the most memorable gag was Annie Mumolo’s Laurie acting super-drunk at Will’s impromptu party, which only really served to remind me the much funnier drunk-on-an-airplane scene from Bridesmaid, a film Mumolo co-wrote.
“About a Slopmaster” isn’t a bad episode, but it certainly comes across as much more formulaic and rushed, giving it a largely disposable feel. With only five more episodes left until its first season concludes, About a Boy has yet to follow-up on the disarming charm of its pilot. Without the original source material as its anchor, the show seems to be largely stuck in a limbo, trying different approaches and throwing in several archetypal sitcom scenarios to see what sticks. Honestly, at this point, I would love NBC to just reverse whatever initial decision they made and turn this into an hour-long show, thus allowing for more character development and more complex tone in the vein of Parenthood. Certainly, with episodes like this, About a Boy plays for me like a weird editing experiment wherein the big moments of an hour-long dramedy have been stitched together—meanwhile, all the nuance and connecting tissues have been stripped away.
Mark Rozeman is a Los Angeles-based freelance writer and regular contributor to Paste. You can follow him on Twitter.