I was halfway there to liking "About A Boy," the new NBC comedy, before I'd even seen it. After all, the original movie was a charmer, based on the Nick Hornby book and featuring Hugh Grant as Will, playing against type as a self-absorbed trust-fund louse, Nicholas Hoult as Marcus, the lonely misfit boy, and the wonderful Toni Collette as Fiona, Marcus's suicidal mother.
You know where I'm going with this, right?
Just for starters: If the character of Marcus doesn't work, the entire thing doesn't work. Instead of the schlubby utter vulerability of Nicholas Hoult (who's all grown up now and engaged to Jennifer Lawrence, so there), it becomes just another formulaic sitcom. And by God, that's what NBC has given us: Benjamin Stockham as a cutesy, "aren't I adorable?" child actor whose wardrobe is used to make him eccentric -- instead of his acting. And of course he's not only smarter than all the adults, he's Wise Beyond His Years.
This being the United States (as was so eloquently explained by Matt LaBlanc in "Episodes"), the producers ignored the complete lack of chemistry between Will and Fiona in the original production because if Will and Fiona don't ever get together, how will we make the storyline stretch far enough and produce enough episodes to get into syndication? The thing is, that was the beauty of the original movie: It really was about the relationship between Will and Marcus, with Will's concern about Fiona only for Marcus's sake.
Enter Minnie Driver/Fiona, one of my favorite actresses -- until now. Does she look depressed? No, she does not. Is she gratingly annoying when she informs Will she is a vegan, and will he kindly not allow the smoke from his ribs to blow into her yard? Yes, she is.
Toni Collett's Fiona was fabulous because, well, she wasn't like a stock sitcom character. When she was depressed, she looked like someone who really might take an overdose of sleeping pills. And Hoult's Marcus was a neurotic, worried little kid who carried the weight of his mother's depression with him, not a mini-Tom Cruise waiting to throw on some Raybans and bust some moves.
David Walton as Will is, well, a serviceable archetype, completely lacking the affect of upperclass ennui. One important, possibly fatal change to the plot: Will's wealth is earned by writing a Christmas song, instead of inherited.
Nick Hornby wrote two of the episodes. I hope they weren't the ones I saw.
The whole thing was produced by Jon Favreau, and it will probably make him pots of money. And if nothing else, I'm all for keeping Minnie Driver employed.
About A Boy, starring Minnie Driver, David Walton and Benjamin Stockham. Tuesdays 9/8c on NBC.