February 22, 2014



ABOUT A BOY:  Tuesday 9PM on NBC (Preview Tonight at 11:05PM) – If Nothing Else is On…

ABOUT A BOY, which NBC will preview tonight at the close of Olympics coverage ahead of its regular timeslot premiere on Tuesday, has a daunting pedigree.  It’s based on the excellent 2002 Paul Weitz/Chris Weitz feature film that starred Hugh Grant in one of his signature roles, perhaps his best performance ever, leading a cast that also included Toni Collette and Rachel Weisz; the film was in turn based on Nick Hornby’s even better (deeper, richer) novel.  On top of that, the TV version is written by Jason Katims, the man behind two of NBC’s best dramas (AKA “only good dramas”) of the past decade, Friday Night Lights and Parenthood, and the pilot is directed by Jon Favreau.

The pilot, it has to be said, doesn’t live up to those auspices.  Partly that’s because it makes the all-too-common mistake for a TV show based on a movie of trying to cram too much of the feature film story into a roughly 20 minute pilot, making everything seem rushed and underdeveloped.  More fundamentally, though, as the movie watered down some of the eccentricity and dark humor of the novel, the TV version makes the material even lighter and and less memorable.  The central situation in all incarnations is more or less the same:  Will Freeman (David Walton in the Hugh Grant role) is an unfocused, flip, self-indulgent guy with enough guaranteed income, thanks to the endless stream of royalties from an annoying Christmas song (written by his father in the novel and movie, by Will himself for TV), that he’ll never need to earn a living.  Marcus Brewer (Benjamin Stockham taking over for Nicholas Hoult) is the strange little neighbor boy, son of self-righteous, depressed, vegan Fiona (Minnie Driver for Toni Collette).  Will had already discovered the usefulness of pretending to be a divorced dad as he pursues single moms for uncomplicated sex, and when Marcus takes refuge with Will one day when he’s on the run from bullies, Will incorporates him into the sham.  Gradually, though, the two of them genuinely bond, each of them helping the other grow up.

The key word in the relationship between Will and Marcus is “gradually,” as both of them have hard crusts, and the novel and movie take their time in turning the pair into BFFs; in the movie, Will doesn’t acknowledge that he really cares about Marcus until the ending, set at a school talent show where Marcus is about to make a fool of himself (none of which is in the book).  Katims incorporates that talent show climax into the pilot, and since that sequence alone takes up most of the last act, it gives him about 15 minutes to introduce the leads and have them meet and get to know each other, which has the effect of making them almost immediate buddies.  The result is that both Will and Marcus are far less interesting and ornery than they’ve been before.  Will, especially as played by Walton (he’s played variations of this part too many times over the last few years, in sitcoms from 100 Questions to Perfect Couples to Bent to New Girl), is just a typical glib sitcom womanizer, with little of the genuine cynicism, misanthropy and self-disgust of the character on the page or big screen, and Marcus is no more than an ordinary schoolboy dweeb.  Fiona, suicidal in the earlier versions, is merely a crank who’s annoyed by the smoke from Will’s barbecue.

About A Boy is breezy and smooth enough, and it has some charm, but there’s little about it to suggest the impact or the original voice of the prior versions.   That doesn’t mean this is where the show is fated to remain:  Parenthood, under Katims, improved steadily over the course of its first season, and didn’t really hit its stride until Season 2, finding its own style and dynamic over time.  (With The Voice as a lead-in on Tuesdays and soft sitcom competition on FOX and ABC, Boy will have every opportunity to thrive over the rest of the season.)  Perhaps now that the pilot has exhausted the broad strokes of the novel and film, Katims will be able to take the material in his own direction.  That’s certainly something to hope for; it would be a shame if this much talent and potential ended up squandered.


About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."