The problem with turning a romantic comedy movie into a TV show is the inability to have a climax, figuratively or otherwise. Beyond that disclaimer, “About a Boy” is an utterly charming pilot, and almost certainly the most endearing half-hour NBC has developed in some time. Of course, considerable praise was also heaped on “Bent” – the last pairing of the network and “Boy” star David Walton. Like Lorimar and a young George Clooney, someone is smart enough to keep throwing Walton sitcoms against the wall — this time propelled, fleetingly, by a post-Olympic introduction — figuring sooner or later one will stick.
Actually, Walton is playing virtually the same character he did in “Bent” — an easy-going, good-looking Peter Pan type, Will, who has resisted commitment and succumbed to temptation whenever possible. He’s a likable rogue, although not as happy in his carefree ways as his mildly envious married pals (in this case, “The Daily Show’s” Al Madrigal) might think.
Enter 11-year-old Marcus (Benjamin Stockham), who moves in next door with his vegan, meditating Earth goddess mother, Fiona (Minnie Driver). She takes an instant disliking to Will, who doesn’t appreciate it when Fiona asks that he only grill meat outdoors on day when she’s not downwind of the aroma.
Having concocted an absurd lie about his leukemia-stricken son trying to bed an attractive single mom (Leslie Bibb), Will enlists Marcus to help pull off the ruse, gradually bonding with the kid, which includes protecting him from bullies and exposing him to the wonders of barbecue ribs.
Written by the ever-reliable Jason Katims in a rare foray into the half-hour world and directed by Jon Favreau, the show breezes through a whole lot of material in very little time, exuding a warmth that plays better when it feels organic and not forced (unlike a lot of today’s “sitcoms with heart”). Much of that has to do with Walton, but also little touches, like the man and boy bonding over the movie “Rudy.”
Again, there’s nothing new in the idea of a kid getting a lesson in manhood from a man who’s little more than a grown-up child himself, but there’s a reason why it’s such a well-worn theme — from Nick Hornby’s novel to the Hugh Grant movie. As constructed, moreover, whatever modest name recognition the title provides, nobody will need to be familiar with a 12-year-old rom-com to quickly catch on to the premise.
If there’s a small cautionary note, it’s that the second and third episodes aren’t quite as good as the pilot, although the latter — when Will, who can’t remember the names of his friend’s kids, agrees to baby-sit them — does produce some laugh-out-loud moments.
In practical terms, whether that will translate into “About a Boy” being a comedy self-starter in its regular Tuesday slot — and that’s going to be necessary, what with the much less appealing if outwardly similar “Growing Up Fisher” as its companion — remains to be seen. The Olympics are a huge platform, yes, but tell that to “Animal Practice.”
Still, based on first impressions, this “Boy” deserves a chance to grow older, if not necessarily up.