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With his work on Friday Night Lights and Parenthood, producer Jason Katims has established himself as a man who knows how to tug at an audience's heartstrings like none other. With this adaptation of Nick Hornby's novel, Katims steps out of his comfort zone by creating his first sitcom. The result leaves something to be desired.
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Like Hornby's novel and the 2002 Oscar-nominated film adaptation, About a Boy follows layabout manchild Will (David Walton). Living fat off the royalties from a Christmas song he wrote with his band years ago, Will doesn't have a job or really any obligations at all. However, as he's gotten older, all of his friends have left him behind—getting married, starting families. Enter Marcus (Benjamin Stockham), the son of his new next-door neighbor Fiona (Minnie Driver). A hopeless outcast at school, Marcus latches onto Will instantly. The bachelor initially resists, then quickly grows close to the boy and forges and unlikely friendship.
About a Boy's first episode is essentially a 23-minute version of the Hugh Grant film transplanted from London to the Bay Area and, with the exception of Driver, who retains her English accent, recast with Americans. While this means that the episode moves along at a good clip, it also means that it constantly draws negative comparisons to its predecessor and, as the series progresses, it never really lives up to its source material.
Will's relationship with Marcus should be, at its heart, sweet. However, without investing any time in Will's development or dealing with regrets he might have for taking advantage of Marcus (which he does, frequently), it often comes off as seedy. Driver's Fiona is woefully underserved by the show, which seems more interested in mocking her for being a vegan than investing in her struggle with depression, which was a touching and funny aspect of the film. The Daily Show's Al Madrigal fills out the cast as Will's lone adult friend (though Walton's drive-by appearance on Parenthood established that Dax Shepard's Crosby is also a buddy), who often has the unpleasant and surprisingly unfunny task of pointing out what a jerk Will is.
Reaching back to his days as a writer on My So-Called Life, Katims has frequently excelled at developing emotional connections between the audience and his characters, but there's a shocking lack of heart in About a Boy. Without his trademark sense of compassion, the show is just a weak comedy about a middle-aged man's inappropriate relationship with a child.