As a huge fan of Jason Katims’ work on both NBC’s “Friday Night Lights,” for which he won an Emmy for best writing in a drama series, and “Parenthood,” which he created, I knew it was a no brainer that I’d give his new series, also on NBC, “About a Boy” a shot.
I was interested to see how Katims would adjust from extremely realistic family-oriented dramas to a 30-minute comedy. And, while “About a Boy” doesn’t necessarily show early signs of being all-time great television as “Friday Night Lights” and “Parenthood” were/are it already appears to bring some nice realism to the television comedy genre. It’s too be seen how naturalistic situations in a comedy are taken in by the television audience, but early on it’s been the best received new comedy of the season on NBC, and maybe the only one that will survive for a second season.
“About a Boy” follows Katims’ habit of adapting feature films into television series (although Peter Berg technically brought ‘FNL’ to TV). However, since I have not seen/read the source material for this one, Chris and Paul Weitz’s 2002 film starring Hugh Grant or Nick Hornby’s 1998 novel, I can’t discuss the differences and similarities between the two. For many television viewers the fact that this is an adaptation honestly won’t matter anyway.
The television series features an ex-band star Will Freeman (David Walton), a late 20s/early 30s man who doesn’t want to settle down and be trapped by the family life like his best friend Andy (Al Madrigal) has been. In the show’s pilot, a high strung, hippie-like single mother Fiona (Minnie Driver) moves in next door with her 11-year old boy Marcus (Benjamin Stockham). Will and Marcus strike up a unique friendship when Will tries to pass Marcus off as his own son to impress a single mother (guest star Leslie Bibb). Things obviously go array, and thankfully quickly, but a bond has been struck between the two that Will reluctantly gives in to when Marcus is embarrassing himself at a school talent show in the pilot.
The characters of Will and Fiona are polar opposites. This leads too much of the show’s humor as Marcus is very impressionable and Will is the kind of role model that the boy probably needs to learn to live a little and just be a kid from, but will butt heads with his mother time after time.
For those fans of Katims’ other current NBC show “Parenthood,” Walton’s portrayal of Will is very similar to how Dax Shepard’s Crosby Braverman was early on in that series. In fact, Will and Crosby are friends in the show’s environment, and will be crossing over at least once (Will appeared briefly on an episode of “Parenthood” this season before “About a Boy” premiered). Walton is an actor that has previously mostly annoyed me in the bits and pieces I’ve seen him in, mostly as a guest star in other sitcoms, but here he seems to have found a character that he can totally immerse himself into and is likable rather than annoying.
The most striking thing about the early episodes of “About a Boy” is the performance of young Benjamin Stockham as Marcus. The 13-year old actor has been acting for half of his life, but this is his biggest role by far and he’s proven to be one of the most talented child actors I’ve ever seen. I find most child actors (or maybe it’s the characters they play) to be annoying, but Stockham’s character is both entertaining and interesting, which is an absolute must for the series as he’s essentially one of the show’s two leads.
“About a Boy” has its hilarious moments, but its real selling point is the naturalism in the relationships between Will and Marcus and Will and Fiona. The word ‘cute’ would be the best word to sum up what “About a Boy” has been in its first few episodes and will likely continue to be. There are definitely funnier comedies on television, but this one has the makings of one that could turn out to be one of the most likable based on its characters, particular the Will and Marcus relationship, and their interactions with each other.
“About a Boy” can be seen locally on KARK Conway Corp. channel 4 on Tuesdays at 8 p.m.