Tuesday, August 19, 2014
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Olympic push for NBC's 'About a Boy'

"About a Boy," based on Nick Hornby´s 1998 novel, stars Benjamin Stockham (left) as young Marcus and David Walton as the largely irresponsible, but ever-improving, Will.
"About a Boy," based on Nick Hornby's 1998 novel, stars Benjamin Stockham (left) as young Marcus and David Walton as the largely irresponsible, but ever-improving, Will. Jordin Althaus/NBC
"About a Boy," based on Nick Hornby´s 1998 novel, stars Benjamin Stockham (left) as young Marcus and David Walton as the largely irresponsible, but ever-improving, Will. Gallery: Olympic push for NBC's 'About a Boy'

NBC is giving a last-gasp Olympic push to the sitcom About a Boy with a special preview at the end of the final night of competition in Sochi (11 p.m. Saturday). Next week, the series will assume its regular slot, Tuesdays at 9 p.m.

The show is a sweetened, Americanized version of the 2002 film of the same name starring Hugh Grant, which was itself adapted from Nick Hornby's 1998 novel.

Will (David Walton) is a superficial skirt-chaser in San Francisco. The royalties from a Christmas novelty song he wrote a decade ago allow him to live in permanent chill mode.

Then a weepy, vegan single mother (Minnie Driver) moves in next door with her wide-eyed 11-year-old, Marcus (Benjamin Stockham).

An alliance between Will and Marcus formed out of mutual exploitation gradually turns genuine. Over and over again, like Groundhog Day. The dynamic is reset at the start of each early episode - Will is an immature hedonist. By the end of each half-hour, he is forced to stand up and act like a man for Marcus' sake.

This is not your standard sitcom; it relies more on plot and sentiment. In fact, About a Boy seems willing to go to contrived lengths to warm the cockles of your heart. But because it comes from a superb TV producer, Jason Katims (Friday Night Lights), the show gets a stay of judgment coming out of the chute. If anyone can figure out a way to make this work, Katims will.

But it won't be easy. His lead, Walton, is one of those actors whom TV casting directors have proved more fond of than audiences have.

Starting Tuesday, About a Boy will serve as the lead-in for Growing Up Fisher (9:30 p.m. on NBC10), a must-avoid.

The premise is that the Fishers are getting divorced. This allows Joyce (Jenna Elfman of 1600 Penn) to go through her second adolescence, which means dressing like Madonna in Desperately Seeking Susan, and Mel (J.K. Simmons of The Closer) to finally "come out" as blind.

That's right, for the last 20 years, Mel, a sightless lawyer, has been been fooling his clients, friends, and neighbors into thinking he could see normally.

He accomplishes this with some subtle coaching from his brother (Bill Fagerbakke of Coach) and his annoyingly precocious 11-year-old son, Henry (Eli Baker). But mostly he does it by refusing to make any concessions to his blindness.

In the opening scene (and all the promos), Mel takes a chain saw to a towering tree in his yard. In the pilot, he also teaches his daughter, Katie (Ava Deluca-Verley), to parallel park.

The show makes a point of stressing that it's "inspired by a true story" - the childhood of executive producer D.J. Nash. But that doesn't make it any less painful to watch.

Basing a sitcom on a physical disability is a narrow line to tread, as Michael J. Fox discovered this season. On Growing Up Fisher, you don't root for Mel nearly as much as you wince for him.

And the chronology seems muddled. The story is framed as a flashback of the adult Henry (with Jason Bateman providing the narration). Yet Joyce is smoking e-cigarettes and going to see Arcade Fire. Does that mean Henry is in 2045?

It's clear that Growing Up Fisher is going for a warm Wonder Years vibe. But the premise is a nearly insurmountable challenge.

 


TV REVIEW

About a Boy

11 p.m. Saturday on NBC10 (moves to 9 p.m. Tuesday)

Growing Up Fisher

9:30 p.m. Tuesday on NBC10


dhiltbrand@phillynews.com

215-854-4552

@daveondemand_tv

David Hiltbrand Inquirer TV Critic
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