By Zac Baker
We all live through awkward preteen and teenage years and have the emotional scars to show for it. Reliving those times is something very few people would choose to do, but the first season of NBC’s “About a Boy” not only made reliving that era of life tolerable, it kept you coming back for more each week. Season two, which premiered on Oct. 14, is aiming to do the same.
“About a Boy,” a comedy based on a novel and a movie with the same name, premiered earlier this year and introduced viewers to carefree Will Freeman (David Walton), a songwriter living in San Francisco. A delightfully off-beat mother named Fiona Bowa (Minnie Driver) and her equally off-beat 11 year old, Marcus (Benjamin Stockham), move in next door and shake up Will’s cheery bachelor life. An unlikely bond between Will and Marcus forms, as does an occasionally awkward, but generally positive friendship with Fiona.
What really defined season one was Stockham’s charm as Marcus and Driver’s bizarre parenting and life skills as Fiona. He was hopelessly awkward because of his nontraditional upbringing, but impossibly likable and good-natured. She was strange enough to always be interesting and comical, but sensible enough to be a good mother.
The first encounter viewers have with Marcus and Fiona in the season two premier does not disappoint: they are reenacting Marcus’s birth, umbilical cord and all. It sounds vulgar, but it is quintessential Bowa family and extremely funny.
The remainder of the episode really focuses on Will, and is less hilarious—not bad, but not as funny as expected. Will moved to New York with his girlfriend at the end of last season, and things become complicated with her in the season two opener when he needs to spend a few days in San Francisco to help out a friend. The premier focuses more on Will’s dilemma, which is realistic and reasonably interesting, but not tremendously engaging.
It is clear that season two is really going to make Will do hard things and develop him into more than an affable, unmotivated guy-next-door. He is a good person, but skated through the last 10 years of his life on royalty checks from past hits. Sam, his girlfriend, already made one passing comment about him actually “doing something” for a change, so it is not hard to guess what kinds of challenges Will is going to face this season.
That being the case, the writers should not neglect Marcus and his constant struggles. There was a bullying plot element Marcus dealt with (or did not deal with, really) in the episode, but it was not well-developed, nor critical to the story. And while Will’s progression as a human being is good, the success of the show really hinges on whether the preteen boy will keep delivering the massive doses of discomfort and laughter like he did in season one. After all, the show is called “About a Boy,” not “About a Man.”
If the theme of the show changes, it certainly will not be for a lack of talent. Stockham has shown us he is capable of delivering the humor that drew audiences in. A shift in direction will depend on the direction the writers choose to develop the characters.
Episode one of the new season was respectable. There were familiar faces, new conflicts to sort out, and a number of great jokes—it is worth tuning in and really giving the season time to unfold. But the longevity of the season and the entire show will hinge on how the writers choose to use Stockham in relation to his quirky mom and immature neighbor, instead of the other way around. ♦
“About a Boy” airs on Tuesdays at 9:30 p.m. on NBC.