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There’s something about what Jason Katims does that’s so goddamn winning. The success of such a formula — equal parts funny, charming, and earnest mixed in with a bit of TV magic — can be seen in some of his other small screen hits, like Parenthood and Friday Night Lights. He has a knack for putting organic stakes in his series that both inform the character growth and development, but also naturally give rise to interesting stories. Unfortunately there’s not much beyond the patina that shines through on his latest effort, NBC’s About A Boy. The charmingly cast series, though rife with potential, falls flat in its first three episodes.
Which obviously isn’t to say that it can’t be a grower rather than a shower, but it’s got some work ahead of it. The series, starring the incredibly likable David Walton, The Daily Show’s Al Madrigal, and Minnie Driver alongside a scene-stealing Benjamin Stockham, for all its acting wealth, lacks any real heart and soul to keep it together.
Which isn’t to say that there aren’t plenty of the puzzle pieces necessary to make it come together, it’s just… in the three episodes we screened, they didn't. You could see that they were close, but a bevy of small things were sort of just "off." David Walton is delightfully charming as the Will Freeman/Hugh Grant character. He’s put in a lot of work on other series and, frankly, deserves to find a starring vehicle that finally takes him to the next level. He’s endearing and charming, but all three episodes have been Groundhog's Day in terms of behavior. If the show is about a boy named Will — and, if it's planning to stay true to the movie: about his emotional growth as much as the young kid he begrudgingly befriends — it needs to be more than Marcus doing the growing.
The show has done fairly well establishing the relationship between Will and Marcus (Stockham); the two share many a moment on screen together and the comedy found between the two is endearing. To say nothing of how off-the-walls adorable Stockham is in pretty much anything (We interviewed him last year on the set of 1600 Penn and he was just as energetic and — saying this undoubtedly makes me sound like a grandmother, but — stinkin' cute he is in real life). It would be great to see more of how Marcus interprets and feels about Will's life and choices.
And, goddamnit, you have Minnie Driver on this show! Yet there’s an inability to both place and humanize her character Fiona (Marcus’ mother). In both the film and the Nick Hornsby source material, the mother’s story is a decidedly darker one. The TV counterpart, however, has diminished all of that, resulting in no real sense of complexity. Instead of a person we have a tropey shell (uptight single mother, guitar-strumming vegan that meditates) with a case of the womp womps. You can’t help but feel like there’s a real opportunity here for Katims to do what he does best and whip up a really interesting, fun, and dynamic character worthy of Driver's myriad talents. To not shy away from going there a little bit, and confront the stigmas head on and turn them on their heads. Certainly the territory is tricky to navigate, but he’s done it before. We’ve seen it on Roswell, FNL, and Parenthood.
Once the emotional tone of the series is set, there’s a good chance the show’s other characters will fall into place, resulting in a slightly more streamlined and unified tone. We love Madrigal in general and as best friend Andy he's fun: though we need to see how and why he and Will are friends because at the moment I, at least, still don't see it. He and his wife on the show, Bridesmaids co-writer and terrified flight passenger Annie Mumolo, could stand a bit more investigation. We want to like you About A Boy, we do, but you've got some work to do. All the pieces the show is playing with are good ones: now it’s just a matter of making it fit — we’re going to wait and see if it ends up striking that winning combination.
About A Boy will preview during the Olympics at 10:30PM Saturday, February 22nd before moving to its regular time period on Tuesday, February 25th at 9PM ET/PT.