Tuesday, February 25, 2014

About a Boy 1x01 "Pilot" (About Unlikely Friendship and One Direction)

Original Airdate: February 25, 2014

For all of the love I have for Hugh Grant (and I DO have a lot of love for him in Love Actually and Two Weeks Notice and Music and Lyrics), I have never watched the movie About a Boy. I don't know why, to be frank, but I just know that I have never seen the film. But when I heard that NBC would be reworking the film and the book that it was based on into a television comedy series, I was intrigued. My interest was piqued further when I realized that the main character - Will - would be played by David Walton, who I had fallen in love with during his guest stint on New Girl last season. Perhaps knowing little to nothing about the movie plot and the book plot aided me in my viewing of the pilot. It's difficult when a network decides to turn something that was so beloved as a movie into a television series. Inevitably, certain elements of the film or the book will either be abandoned, lost in translation, or otherwise watered down in order to accommodate an audience that the network must presume is unfamiliar with the source material. I think that in some ways, it's better to be unfamiliar with a movie or book that becomes adapted, that way it lessens the inevitable disappointment or comparison to the original.

As someone who has never seen the original About a Boy, I was relatively pleased with NBC's adaptation. There are a few kinks that need to be worked out in order to make the series a success, but overall I thought the half-hour comedy pilot was endearing. It is the only mid-season series that interested me enough to actually catch the pilot online (sorry Believe and that comedy series about the blind dad) and interested me enough to prompt a review. So below, I decided to switch things up. Instead of rattling off a play-by-play of the episode, I thought I would note what elements of the series worked, which did not work, and which need to be improved upon in order to make this series great.

What worked in the About a Boy pilot:
  • David Walton. As Will, David Walton is absolutely perfect. He's charming and suave and definitely a little bit of a player. I really loved David Walton on New Girl as the charming and delightful Dr. Sam. And from the little bit that I do know about the original About a Boy, I know that Will is supposed to be irresponsible and in a perpetual state of childhood, essentially, which is why he connects so much with Marcus, an actual child. Here's what I really love about David Walton as this character (besides his face. I really like David Walton's face): there's this redemptive side to him. He's not an entirely BAD guy; he's just a bit selfish. Unlike Jeff Winger who really had to learn to love the study group in Community, Will really takes an interest and an investment in Marcus early on in the pilot. He allows him to enter his home when he sees the child is getting chased by bullies. Later on, he even helps Marcus spray them with garden hoses. He's a bit of a playboy, sure, but Will is a genuinely good guy. He doesn't understand why his friends grew up and moved on to marriages and families and he doesn't feel remotely ready for a family of his own, but I think deep down he actually WANTS that. He wants someone to look up to him and to see him as a hero. He wants to protect Marcus even though he barely knows the kid, because he's a decent person. And I enjoy the fact that I'm not going to have to spend half a season wondering whether or not Will actually cares about his new neighbor. David Walton is a fantastic Will because you can see the compassion and regret and the care he has for Marcus in every single scene. I love that, for all of his faults, Will is a likable character. He's more of an anti-hero at this point, but he did some pretty heroic things in the pilot and I think that audiences are definitely going to find him endearing. I know that I did. 
  • The presence of Will's friend. I really enjoyed that we got introduced to Will's friend early in the series, though I admittedly was very confused as to who Will was talking to at the beginning of the episode (I presumed it to be a total stranger). Nevertheless, I like the interjection of Andy and his family into this story. I think it's intensely important to contrast Will's current lifestyle with one that is more "functional" and developed. I love that Andy was the voice of reason for Will, and though his spiel to his best friend was riddled with some clichés (and Will's characterization is also kind of a cliché - he's a "quitter" and bails on relationships and bands and friends the moment things get too difficult or intense), I enjoyed that he was there to speak truth into Will.
  • Benjamin Stockham. I absolutely love Benjamin Stockham as Marcus. I think he's adorable, endearing, and perfectly portrayed. What makes Marcus such a delightful character is how much he a) cares about others and b) wants to be accepted. Not only does Benjamin care a lot about his mother (he cares a lot about her and just wants her to be happy), but he also cares about people who - seemingly - don't care for him much back. He tells Will that if the man asked him to pretend to be his son again, he would do it. He's such a selfless little kid that it's so endearing. He wants to much to be accepted, too, which is a universal feeling but also one that is associated with kids. What's great about Marcus though is that he doesn't stop trying to be accepted. He signs up for a school talent show not to prove anything, but to make his mother smile. Will is the one who saves the day by performing with him in order to save the child from embarrassment. Marcus is a brave kid and Benjamin does such a delightful job in the pilot in portraying both the timid and brave sides of the boy. I really loved him and can't wait to see how he grows this character.
  • One Direction's "What Makes You Beautiful"/the show's cute factor. Oh, come on. You know this was insanely adorable. In fact, I'll mention the comedic aspect later on but this is what truly endeared my heart to the show: the cute ("aww") factor. While the pilot wasn't really ripe with jokes or funny lines, it was full of heart. And everyone who knows me knows that heart is one of the most important things that I look for in a comedy. Comedic timing and punch lines can always be added into the mix later on, but it's really difficult to pull heart from a series if none exists. I'm really pleased that, thus far, About a Boy has the potential for some great heart.
What didn't work in the About a Boy pilot:
  • The pacing. I think that the one thing that threw me most about the pilot for About a Boy was the rushed pacing of everything. It felt like the writers and producers were trying too hard to throw a lot into the twenty-some minute debut that some parts ended up feeling a bit more rushed than necessary (I would have liked to see Will contemplate a bit more before jumping to rescue Marcus and the ending of the episode was very off-putting in terms of how abruptly it ended). Hopefully since this was just the pilot and pilots are often very rushed and crammed, the rest of the series will be a bit more free in terms of pacing.
  • The clichés/side characters. While I know that it was important to introduce us to Will's selfish, lying lifestyle of meeting women, I didn't really care about Dakota or her two daughters. And I knew that, eventually, since this is a sitcom and sitcoms are often chock full of clichés, the ruse of Marcus pretending to be Will's son would be up. And while I saw this coming, I still was a bit disappointed in the predictability of it all. Andy's speech to Will on the beach, too, was a bit predictable in the clichés, but I tolerated it because it gave us an introduction to Andy as a character and the role he plays in Will's life.
What needs to be improved upon:
  • Fiona. Right now, Fiona is the flattest of the characters. I know others have noted that her characterization is significantly deviated from the book and movie (apparently she's supposed to be suicidal, not just depressed). I don't mind this watered down nature. Let's be honest: if the series was on HBO or Showtime or FX, they could delve deeper into the dark aspects of the comedy. But it's not meant to be a dark comedy, I believe, and I can't really think of any network sitcoms that deal with the darkness of suicide/suicidal thoughts. About a Boy is meant to be light-hearted and that's completely okay. However, I found Fiona to be the most uninteresting character at the moment and a flat one -- she's a helicopter mom who is a "typical" hippie in terms of her nature and attitude. I know that she will get fleshed out in the future (or at least I hope she does), because the pilot managed to portray her as a stereotype, rather than a real character. I like Minnie Driver and I think she can do amazing things with this role, but I hope she's grown more in future episodes.
  • The comedy. As I noted above, I didn't really find the pilot of About a Boy to be funny. There were some chuckle-worthy moments early on, but the episode was more heavily focused on the characters and the aww-factor than anything else. And while I do love the element of heart that this series seems intent on bringing, I also like my comedies to be funny. And I know that David Walton has the potential to be hilarious, given his dry and sarcastic delivery of lines and facial expressions. I hope that the series never compromises the heart for the sake of the laughter, but I WOULD like to see some more comedic moments from the series in the future. I'd like to laugh at least a few times or be able to tweet some funny one-liners to make the series feel more well-rounded.
So there you have it, folks. While I noted a lot of excellent elements about About a Boy above, there are also some elements that the show could do without/improve upon in order to make it better for future episodes. Obviously, this post is based on the pilot alone (and it's really difficult to judge a series based solely on the pilot, mind you), but I thought I would jot down some of my immediate thoughts. The series' pilot is pretty delightful, albeit a bit lopsided. But I have faith that if the writers and producers manage to improve the comedy and some of the characterization while removing as many clichés and weak pacing as possible, it has the potential to be a hit.


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