Is it possible for a person set in their ways to change? Can it last or will they revert to their old failed habits when something goes wrong? That's part of the premise of "About a Boy," which had one man's quest to never grow up literally fall apart at the seams. Sure, the show's premiere episode literally took out crucial parts from the movie and book that it was based on, but it's overall charm could make viewers decide to stick around for more episodes.
"About a Boy" followed the perpetually irresponsible Will Freeman (David Walton) who hasn't a care in the world in years. He struck it rich a long time ago due to his part in writing a very successful song with his now-defunct band that has allowed him to live a life of leisure where he doesn't have to work for the rest of his life. With his financial situation completely secure, Will can spend his days chasing after every available woman in San Francisco that he wants to sleep with. Sadly, he made the mistake of chasing one into a group meeting for single parents where he made up a lie that he was a single father of a sickly boy named Jonah. Will was surprised when everyone believed his partially far fetched tale of a son that he never had, but he was even more shocked when a young boy suddenly did come into his life. Enter Marcus (Benjamin Stockham) who was a very unique 11 year old boy that had a very close relationship with his single mother Fiona (Minnie Driver), which earned him a number of bullies at his new middle school. Will and Marcus' friendship started to form the minute that Will saved him from being attacked by a group of bullies. After that, Marcus was always at Will's doorstep the minute he got home from school. In each other, they learned to grow up in different ways. Marcus had a friend/surrogate father figure to lean on and drench those some bullies with water hoses. Will was able to learn how to do something selflessly for someone for a change, even though he did use Marcus to pretend to be his fake son for a while to impress a woman. After a fight with Fiona, Will tried to avoid helping Marcus and decided to save him from public embarassment by singing a song that could get him laughed at during a school talent show. He used his friend Andy (Al Madrigal) to help save the day in a way that made Marcus look much cooler to his classmates than he intended. Will Marcus and Fiona feel the same way about his actions?
In terms of questions, the show's biggest one was whether it could make it past the first season and stand on its own merits. It has been done before with other NBC shows that were based on movies, such as "Friday Night Lights" and "Parenthood," but it's too early to tell here whether this show could be put in the same category as those popular programs. The show has succeeded in developing a strong dynamic between the three main characters, but it's the story part of the program that use some more development. The show's premiere episode didn't really take too many risks and seemed to be taking a lot of cues from its source material, the Nick Hornsby book and the movie, rather than stand on its own merits. Okay, the show did move the action from London to San Francisco and made the main character an American rather than British. For the most part, everything else is still the same overall for the time being. The only way that the show can make it to a second season is if the writers try not to focus on plots that have been done before for the time being and creating new scenarios for the characters to get into trouble with and learn from their mishaps. Let's hope that future episodes won't rush things too much and allow Walton's Will to revert to his old callous ways every so often to keep viewers guessing, and interested. That will likely happen sooner rather than later due to the show's comedic tone, because the writers can properly play Will's mistakes for laughs given the right plot and timing. Hopefully, that will keep the show going and viewers willing to not change the channel.
As for breakout performances, Walton, Stockham and Driver led the pack since the show's premiere focused solely on their characters. Walton's Will was designed to be the perpetual man child who truly had a heart of gold if he allowed himself to embrace that side of his personality. He managed to even make Will's worst behavior seem somewhat endearing at times. Walton had the makings of being a gifted comedic actor if he only chose a successful show to launch himself properly. He has been in more than a handful of shows that have failed to last very long for various reasons and circumstances. It would be nice to see Walton in a show that lasts longer than a season because he was a very good comedic actor who was willing to draw laughs at his own expense if necessary. Walton also excelled at having chemistry with most of his leading ladies, including Amanda Peet in "Bent" and now with Driver in this show. Walton's strongest scene came towards the end of the premiere when he finally told Driver that he was going to be a part of Marcus' life whether she liked it or not. The scene was the right balance of touching and humorous based on Walton's relaxed delivery, which also helped to set the tone for the rest of the episode's grand on-stage finale. Stockham's Marcus managed to give the show an extra level of charm and humanity as the character tried to navigate the complicated world of middle school. He embodied Marcus as a caring young man who was often taken advantage of for his innocence. It also worked because Stockham shared a solid rapport with both Driver and Walton that made his character a vital part of the series. Driver, on the other hand, had the more challenging role of trying to find humor in a not fully defined role as a depressed single mother. She managed to draw laughs by having Fiona go into a complete meltdown after Marcus invited Will over to his house for dinner, but viewers know little of the character beyond that. Fingers crossed that future episodes will help clear a lot of things up.
"About a Boy" showed a sneak preview on February 22nd and airs Tuesdays at 9:00 PM on NBC.
Verdict: Walton gives a charming performance, but the show's premiere was too much like the movie to truly stand on its own just yet. Later episodes will be the deciding factor of whether this show can stand the test of time.
TV Score: 2.5 out of 5 stars
1 Star (Mediocre)
2 Stars (Averagely Entertaining)
3 Stars (Decent Enough to Pass Muster)
4 Stars (Near Perfect)
5 Stars (Gold Standard)