NBC debuted its new comedy About a Boy on Saturday with a commercial-free preview following the Olympics. Is the adaptation worth checking out?
Based on the movie based on the book of the same name. Set in San Francisco, Will (David Walton) is a former musician living off royalties from a hit Christmas single from a few years back who has new next door neighbors: uptight/barely keeping it together Fiona (Minnie Driver) and her 11-year-old social outcast son Marcus (Benjamin Stockman). Will and Fiona instantly clash, but Marcus has taken a liking to the guy, and maybe everyone will learn something about themselves by interacting with each other.
The show has a strong pedigree. The book and movie have both had positive reactions from audiences. Jason Katims has an impressive resume—Friday Night Lights and Parenthood—which shows a willingness from NBC to hold on to a critically acclaimed series even if the audience isn’t quite there.
The writing and pacing for the most part are good. The dialogue isn’t cloying and the interactions between the characters are believable. Some of the situations in the pilot are somewhat contrived, such as Will trying to fake his way through a single parents’ support group, but overall there’s a good flow of story.
What Doesn’t Work (Yet)
Most of the casting decisions bother me. This is the fourth show Walton has starred in for NBC, the others being the short-lived Quarterlife, the short-lived Perfect Couples, and the short-lived Bent. His performance is somewhat wooden in the pilot as well as the Olympic-themed ads leading up to the show’s debut. Minnie Driver may be a get for the network, but the pilot didn’t give her character much to do, so hopefully she gets more fleshed out as the series progresses. Stockman is traipsing near “too wise for his age” territory, but I left the pilot with a favorable impression of the kid, which is required for this show to work.
The pilot may have tried to take too many shortcuts in dispensing with the material from the book and film. Al Madrigal plays Andy, who I guess is Will’s friend-with-kids? When he is introduced in the opening scene, he could have been a stranger on a cable car for all we knew. Though he and Will talk later, there is nothing to indicate what their relationship is.
I also found the resolution to the plot completely unearned. Marcus, in a misguided attempt at popularity, decided to perform an a capella version of One Direction’s “What Makes You Beautiful” (dedicated to his mom) at the school talent show. Will saves the day by providing backup vocals and some instrumentation and wins the crowd over—which makes no sense. This tying things in a bow is not unlike Modern Family’s closing narration of each episode, which is equally repellant.
The pilot isn’t great, but I’m curious to see how this progresses once the show finds its feet.
About a Boy airs Tuesdays on NBC at 9pm.