At first glance, Jason Katims' About a Boy could very well be just be another line item on the increasingly long list of recent TV series adapted from books or movies, which are currently multiplying like rabbits. Nick Hornby's 1998 novel about an emotionally stunted man and the young boy who comes into his life and subsequently forces him to grow up was already adapted into a successful movie starring Hugh Grant in 2002, so it might seem a bit redundant to revisit the same story for TV in 2014, but if anyone can make it work—and possibly make it work better than either of its sources—it's Katims.
Katims was the head writer and executive producer of Friday Night Lights, which was also a book and a movie before the Taylors ruined our lives in the best possible way. He's currently the creator and executive producer of Parenthood, yet another adaptation—even if in name only—of a popular movie from the 1980s. And don't think I've forgotten that he developed Roswell from the Roswell High books in the early '00s, because no one forgets Michael Guerin. Katims is an old pro at this by now, and his ability to blend humor and heart is what I think will make About a Boy work, even if the series isn't quite where it could or maybe should be yet.
David Walton—who most recently starred in NBC's short-lived comedy Bent and recurred on New Girl as Jess's boyfriend Dr. Sam—plays Will, the immature cad at the heart of the story. He's currently single, unemployed, and living in San Francisco, supporting himself with the royalties from a one-hit-wonder song he wrote a long time ago and now hates with a passion. His main hobby is complaining about how all of his friends are grown up and married with kids, while he's still lying to and manipulating women so they'll have sex with him. In the pilot, when a young boy named Marcus (Benjamin Stockham) and his high-strung single mother Fiona (Minnie Driver) moved in next door, Will immediately raised an eyebrow at the pair. But that didn't stop him from enlisting Marcus in his quest to sleep with a woman named Dakota (guest-star Leslie Bibb), which he did by plying Marcus with some delicious ribs (Fiona is a vegan). As the episode progressed, Will eventually—albeit begrudgingly—came around to the idea of befriending Marcus, even going so far as to join him on stage in the middle school talent show to perform a One Direction song. Will realized that Marcus and Fiona aren't all bad, and vice versa, and everybody lived mostly happily ever after.
About a Boy's pilot was perfectly fine. The show comes from a strong showrunner, and the cast is solid. But I've had the luxury of screening the first three episodes, and here's what's plaguing the series at the outset: In its current form, About a Boy is simply too predictable to exist as a TV show in 2014. Right now, it appears that each week, we'll see Will start an episode as a likable-but-sarcastic asshole. Then we'll see him eff something up and learn an important lesson about not being an asshole, only to relapse in the very next episode. It doesn't matter how charming Walton is as Will, or how great Stockham is as the precocious child next door; for most viewers, such an obvious formula is going to get old. If you're content with a series that follows the same pattern every week—and many people are; that's what makes procedurals so successful—About a Boy is probably worth checking out right from the get-go. But it might be awhile before we see any tangible character growth.
Katims has promised that, as the series progresses, we'll see both Will and Marcus, not to mention Fiona, evolve as a result their newfound friendship. It's just that I have yet to see any signs of growth, and that worries me. The good news is that it's a relatively simple problem to fix; Katims is a talented man working with talented actors, and if he puts in the effort to develop About a Boy's characters so they don't feel quite so "lather, rinse, repeat" every week, then he just might unearth the heartwarming comedy he clearly wants to make.
In the meantime, he's got some strong elements to work with. Minnie Driver adds life to a Fiona who's much more integrated into the story than the original character was in the book or the movie. Stockham is believable as an impressionable kid who sometimes has a better grasp on reality than the adults in his life. And Will is way more likable than you'd think, given what a flake he can be (though that might just be David Walton's presence in general?). I actually thought Will's sarcastic schtick was one of the more successful parts of the pilot; it wobbled when it delved too deep into saccharine territory after Will realized (and tried to right) his mistakes.
But, I genuinely like what Katims is trying to do with About a Boy, and I'm interested in the relationship between Will and Marcus. I'm of the opinion that comedies are better when they come with a bit of heart—that's why I'm still chugging along with How I Met Your Mother, and why Parks and Recreation is one of my favorite shows—and there's a lot of potential for that here. If About a Boy can find a way to switch up its format from week-to-week while picking up the pace on its character development, it has a shot at success. But it's gotta move fast, or it's not going to last long enough to try.
What'd you think of the series premiere? Will you be back for Episode 2?