I was very hard on last week’s episode “About Total Exuberance,” saying this episode failed to expand on Will and Marcus’ relationship using material not in the film and no funny material to back it up. “About a Godfather” does the opposite and while the jokes only land slightly better than the previous outing, the episode finds dramatic resonance in expanding on a largely comic scene from the film.
In the scene in question features Andy and his wife Laurie (Annie Mumolo) asking Will to serve as Godfather to their youngest. Will of course rejects the offer whole-heartedly. I had forgotten about this scene from the film and was happy to be reminded that there was more for Jason Katims and crew to mine. The scene is played much more seriously here. Rather than play it for laughs its more clearly rooted in Will being selfish rather than him thinking it’s a bad idea. Will’s selfishness continues later when he kidnaps Andy for their scheduled bowling night despite being needed at home.
Will takes Marcus instead in their only scene together which works to the episodes benefit. At this point, we have seen two episodes focused on the two of them, one worked and one didn’t so it’s nice to get a break from their time together. This scene also has one of the episodes two laugh-out-loud moments in where Marcus adopts Wills attitude of Andy “bailing” on bowling night. Though eventually Marcus and Fiona convince will to make things right with his friend.
Where the episode really shines is in the final sequence where Will babysits Andy’s kids while the parents have some “alone time,” (not what you might think). Apart from an excellent line in the unknown merits of using a baby bottle to drink beer, this sequence is played for pathos and has a genuinely sweet scene where Katims shows the strengths of his other shows.
I hope the show doesn’t shy away from the drama in the future just because it’s a half-hour comedy. The source material is more drama than comedy and if the show continues to embrace that, it will become one of the better on TV.
“About Total Exuberance” is the worst-case scenario of the struggles of turning a drama into a comedy. Jason Katims successfully did the opposite with “Parenthood” but I can’t help but think that was due to getting more time to work with than if that show was a pure sit-com. We are only one episode past the very promising pilot so it is very easy for the show to pick up again but tonight doesn’t live up to that standard.
After Will and his evening guest discover that Marcus has been sneaking into his apartment through an old dumb waiter, Fiona convinces him to babysit while she goes off to a job interview. During their play date, Will’s best friend Andy, tells him that they’ve been invited to charity fundraiser hosted by Lil Jon. In an attempt to fill obligation and desire, Will brings Marcus to the party.
Once they go to said party, the episode exposes it’s main flaw – that Will is an asshole. A complete turnaround after the pilot would be well below the Katims standard but whereas there was little moments of redemption sprinkled over selfishness. All that is saved for the final three minutes when Will motivates Marcus to literally take the plunge for a chance at catharsis and when it’s revealed that Fiona got the job thanks to Will’s advice that lying would be better than the truth – though I think we can all agree that including a “sabbatical period” on resume isn’t a job-grabber. Fiona and Marcus’ cartoonish performance of “I’m Yours,” only added to the groans.
Rather than re-tell the story from the pilot – which i know is common for second episodes – it would be much more interesting for a faster approach to building their relationship which is essential in a shortened eleven-episode season. Katims’ previous shows have successfully taken existing characters and made them much more compelling. They can’t all be first round picks. Hopefully it picks up from here.
Pilot’s are tough. Half-hour comedy pilots are tougher. Even more difficult, are half-hour comedy pilots based on a dramatic film. If anyone is up to the challenge though, its creator/showrunner Jason Katims who has become the go-to movie-to-series producer with both “Friday Night Lights” and “Parenthood” oh his resume. He set’s solid groundwork for “About a Boy,” despite changing genres.
The biggest challenge for the pilot is cramming the plot of the film into 25 minutes and hits most of the broad beats of the film. Will (David Walton lies his way into a single-parents support group and hooks-up with attendee Dakota (Leslie Bibb), meets his new neighbor Fiona (Minnie Driver) and her sheltered son Marcus (Benjamin Stockham) and has Marcus pose as his son to validate his story for Dakota.
I apologize for spoiling the majority of the episode but all these beats are taken from the film and book which I don’t anticipate the rest of the show resembling – especially if it get’s a second season. Like “Parenthood,” it looks as though “About a Boy” will focus on what happens to the characters after the plot of the movie which makes it hard to give a definitive judgement on the series but there’s a lot more going on than one would expect.
The key relationship in this story is that of Will and Marcus. We have to believe not only that Marcus would find Will incredibly cool but that Will would want to become a father figure for Marcus. The former is rather easy. Will is rich – albeit for writing a hit Christmas single – is successful with women and can eat barbecue ribs whenever he wants. Marcus is a tougher case. He’s a “good kid” and is willing to pose as Will’s cancer-surviving son to score points with Dakota but that’s about it. Maybe sympathy is enough for now but we need to see him give Will life perspective.
It looks like we’ll get plenty of time for that though. According to the show’s IMDb page, Bibb only appears in the pilot episode of the nine-episode season. Maybe she was only supposed to be a one-time surrogate for female viewers but based on her having Rachel’s (Rachel Weisz in the film) position in the talent show audience – not to mention Katims’ reputation for bringing back characters – I have a feeling we’ll see her back in a hypothetical second season. As far as Will’s personal growth goes, I am concerned the addition of Al Madrigal as Will’s married with two kids best friend Andy who is the source of wisdom in this week’s episode.
All these questions mean that the pilot episode of “About a Boy” is..well…a pilot. It’s far from perfect but what is there has promise and I wouldn’t trust anyone more than Katims to fulfill those promises and then some.