NBC brings the acclaimed novel and film ABOUT A BOY to the small screen this week with a sitcom of the same name, previewing Saturday night after the Olympics. Having not seen or read that work, this review is solely about the “Pilot” of the new series itself. It’s the tale of two males, one old, one young, who form an unlikely friendship that helps them both to grow as individuals. And it’s totally not creepy.
David Walton (New Girl, Perfect Couples, Bent) stars as Will, a successful composer of a Christmas song who lives alone in a nice house in San Francisco. He has a friend, Andy (Al Madrigal, The Daily Show), but Andy has his own family, leaving Will alone most days to chase women and meander through life like an overgrown child. It’s a little pathetic. OK, maybe more than a little.
Then Marcus (Benjamin Stockham, 1600 Penn) moves in next door. Marcus is overly sheltered by his vegan mother, Fiona (Minnie Driver, The Riches, Good Will Hunting). Will’s a good son, dedicated to cheering her up with a song, as Fiona suffers from depression, even though she won’t let him eat ribs. Of course, a boy like this will be bullied, and is soon on the run from classmates who’d like to pound him to a pulp.
This has the makings of a mutually beneficial relationship. Marcus could use a male role model who can teach him how to loosen up and be cool, as well as protect him from bad boys, and Will needs to grow up, taking on a role as a mentor, and actually letting someone really get to know him. They also quickly appear to be layered individuals, both guys managing to keep what could very easily be stereotypical parts away from cartoonish territory.
The “Pilot” takes us through their first meeting, introducing the characters, providing illustrations of their starting points, and still manages to squeeze in a pivotal moment for their relationship. It does feel a lot like a full-length film condensed down to twenty minutes, which means the pacing is a little faster than it should be, and scenes pass by in a whiz.
That being said, ABOUT A BOY does do a great job of letting the emotion shine through. A montage makes the bond feel real, despite the brief screen time, and Walton and Stockham have amazing chemistry. Both being parts of failed series on multiple occasions before this one, ABOUT A BOY may just be the right vehicle to help them succeed.
There are definitely some cheesy parts in this first episode. For one thing, Marcus isn’t nearly as good a singer as the show pretends, and Will is a bit more devious than most viewers might be willing to overlook. Not to mention, Fiona is uptight enough to insist Will not grill meat unless the wind is blowing in a southeasterly direction. Ridiculous. The hope, though, is that this cast is good enough that the audience will see the talent in the writing, direction, and performances, and give it a second chance.
Even at its weakest points, I connected to ABOUT A BOY. There is something really authentic and joyous in the tone, something magnetic that should draw people to it. Don’t let the late, mid-season start fool you; ABOUT A BOY is better than pretty much any other new broadcast network sitcom this year, in my opinion, with the possible exception of The Crazy Ones. I can’t speak to the long-term viability of the premise yet, but Walton and Stockham have sold me on the project, and I’ve already happily set a season pass.
If nothing else, I’m really curious to see if the writers can keep Dakota (Leslie Bibb, GCB) around as a believable recurring character who might eventualy see past Will’s heinous lies. She seems poised to return at this point.
For fans of PARENTHOOD, which also airs on NBC, Will may seem familiar. That’s because the character already appeared in a January episode, meaning this series had a crossover before it even premiered! Pretty impressive.
Catch ABOUT A BOY late this Saturday night on NBC.