‘About a Boy’ series shows promise

By Rich Heldenfels
Beacon Journal popular culture writer

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(From left) Benjamin Stockham as Marcus, Minnie Driver as Fiona, David Walton as Will in the new NBC series About a Boy. (John Russo/NBC)

Nick Hornby’s novel About a Boy keeps finding new lives. It inspired a well-received movie of the same name starring Hugh Grant, and now NBC has adapted and Americanized a series version.

The network aims to the use the Olympics to launch the series, putting the About a Boy premiere at 11 p.m. Saturday before the show moves to its regular 9 p.m. Wednesday time slot on Feb. 25.

It’s worth a look. More farcical than its print and big-screen predecessors, the series version nonetheless has its charms. Jason Katims (Friday Night Lights, Parenthood) is producer and series creator, Jon Favreau directed the pilot and, in the three episodes I have seen, the cast is as endearing as the characters are offbeat. And there’s a really good soundtrack.

David Walton, a veteran of several unsuccessful sitcoms, stars as Will Freeman, a man who — thanks to the ongoing royalties from a hit Christmas song — leads a carefree, non-working life, much of which is devoted to chasing women. His pursuits are met with disapproval by his new neighbor, Fiona (Minnie Driver), who has an 11-year-old son, Marcus (Benjamin Stockham).

Since Fiona has spent much of her life on a globetrotting search for fulfillment, Marcus would never be voted Most Likely To Fit In at any school. Will sees ways he can help Marcus, while Marcus has his uses for Will — and, gradually, they begin to form a friendship.

Not that it is an entirely warm or easy connection. Will is for the most part a stranger to responsibility, which aggravates not only Fiona but Will’s friend Andy (Al Madrigal), a stay-at-home dad who at once envies Will and recognizes what is missing from Will’s life.

And one of the virtues of the show — besides it being pretty funny — is that it sees storytelling possibilities beyond Will/Fiona/Marcus. One episode is mostly about Will, Andy and Andy’s children. The show does at times stroll down familiar sitcom paths, and seems to be working out its tone, especially where Fiona is concerned.

But, as a fan of the book and the movie, I approached the show warily and still found myself drawn into this reconfiguration of the basic material. And I was laughing more than I ever expected.

Rich Heldenfels writes about popular culture for the Beacon Journal and Ohio.com, including the HeldenFiles Online blog, www.ohio.com/blogs/heldenfiles. He is also on Twitter (@RHeldenfelsABJ) and Facebook. You can contact him at 330-996-3582 or rheldenfels@thebeaconjournal.com.


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