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About A Boy Signals A Change of Pace for Struggling Comedy Line-Up

By on June 19, 2013
Benjamin Stockham and David Walton in About A Boy — © NBC

Benjamin Stockham and David Walton in About A Boy — © NBC

About A Boy is a new NBC single camera comedy adapted from the Nick Hornby novel and the 2002 movie of the same name. We watch as stereotypical playboy Will (David Walton, Bent) gradually puts on his big boy pants with the help of Marcus, an 11-year-old boy who moves in next door.

At the start of the pilot we know three things about the series’ resident man-child Will Freeman. First, he really likes women. Second, he really likes meat. Third, he really doesn’t like kids. We happen to witness all three of these things in the opening scene for the first – but not last – time. While riding a streetcar through San Francisco, beautiful cellist and single mom Dakota (Leslie Bibb, GCB) catches Will’s eye. He hops off to try and woo her, but ends up talking his way into a lie.

Unknowingly he agrees to attend a single parents support group where we watch him very clearly wing it about his imaginary son, Jonah. Dakota buys the act though and we next see them making dirty laundry piles in Will’s bedroom. They don’t get far before she’s called away by her daughter’s school, so they exchange numbers on the sidewalk instead of swapping more spit. Abruptly enter Fiona Brewer (Minnie Driver, Good Will Hunting) and her son Marcus (Benjamin Stockham, 1600 Penn).

Fiona is wound pretty tight, but Marcus has a charming directness that can’t be ignored. While the boy takes easily to Will, Fiona would much rather forget he exists. This is after Will introduces himself half-dressed and at half-mast. That bad footing is something both adults carry around with them and clutch tightly to their side through the entire pilot. Their squabbles range from wafting meat smoke to mistakenly labeled “tofu” ribs, and neither seems mature enough to wave the white flag. But where Will and Fiona fail to mend hurt feelings, Marcus succeeds.

Marcus doesn’t oblige the unspoken rules of neighborly spats and one day shows up on Will’s back doorstep seeking a safe haven from school bullies. The temporary hideout accidentally envelops Marcus in Will’s single father lie when Dakota stops by for dinner. Upon seeing Marcus, she assumes he is Will’s son. Marcus goes along with it, but in return he wants some unusual compensation. He makes Will agree to dinner. The orange pop and rib-filled event unexpectedly bonds the two and we witness the beginnings of a boyishly simple and sweet relationship.

Pictured (L-R): Benjamin Stockham as Marcus, David Walton as Will — Photo: Jordin Althaus/NBC

All seems to be going well until Fiona discovers Will is using Marcus. She drops the lie bomb in the middle of a “play-date” between Jonah and Dakota’s daughters. Not only does it sever relations between him and Dakota, but Will allows his relationship with Marcus to end in a scene  certainly written to fill your throat with thumps. The young boy has some kind of hold on the playboy though and Will decides that maybe on his list of likes and dislikes, he got one thing wrong.

There were times where the pilot felt clumsy and rushed, especially with the development of Marcus and Will’s relationship. There were also times watching the half hour comedy could feel a bit tedious. The humor, however, never misses its mark. Walton and Driver nail the hostile and hilarious nature of the diametrically opposed neighbors. The final minutes particularly stand out as they encapsulate the novel and movie’s very essence, providing just the right mix of heartfelt, clever, and funny.

This is a very literal change of pace for NBC’s comedy programming, but the strength and chemistry of the series’ three leads gives the show an air of screen gold similar to that of its written and film predecessors. The series may appeal to those who enjoy the sensitive humor of Parenthood, but not those desiring something like NBC’s recently canceled comedic fare. That’s not too surprising though as NBC has been struggling with how to revive their comedy line-up and a new approach is a natural way to do that. Lucky for NBC, About A Boy feels like the comedy turn around its been looking for.

About A Boy also stars Anjelah N. Johnson (MADtv) and Al Madrigal (The Daily Show). The pilot was written by Jason Katims (Friday Night Lights, Parenthood) and directed by Jon Favreau (Iron Man, Revolution). Katims and Favreau also serve as executive producers alongside Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, Liza Chasin, Robert De Niro, and Jane Rosenthal. The series is set for a mid-season launch on Tuesdays at 9/8c.