It is in fact one of my all-time favorite comedy movies and in my opinion has been Hugh Grant’s best work – after his bumbling nice guys in Notting Hill and Four Weddings and Funeral but before he became an actual cad in Bridget Jones.
Grant plays Will Freeman, an immature commitment-phobe in his late thirties who suddenly finds himself coerced into befriending a bullied twelve year old boy (Hoult).
This scene is an excellent example of Grant’s talent as Will transitions from indignant to bewildered in a matter of minutes.
As you can imagine when I heard NBC was making an American TV version, I was quite concerned, nay, dubious about the venture. I wouldn’t have bothered watching but curiosity got the better of me. I had to know what they had done to this witty yet poignant coming-of-age story.
In the television series, Will is played by David Walton who, according to his IMDB profile, has worked on at least seven other TV shows in the past decade. However, since I’ve never watched Cracking Up, Perfect Couples or The New Girl, he qualifies as a newcomer to me – and a rather handsome newcomer at that.
Minnie Driver portrays Fiona, mother of Marcus (the boy in About a Boy). Interestingly enough, producers have opted to have her use her own English accent. This choice was made despite the fact that I know Minnie can do an authentic American dialect and her son, played by Benjamin Stockham, is clearly an American kid. Maybe they’ll touch on this discrepancy later?
I like Driver very much and was happy to see her cast; however one of the best parts of the film is the wonderfully quirky Fiona played by Toni Collette. Both Minnie and Toni are attractive ladies, yet in the film Toni forgoes vanity to portray Fiona as a depressive earth mother, while Minnie is a meditating vegan with some fairly cute clothes.
Let’s move on to the show itself. The first thing to note is that the opening episode basically tells the entire story of the film, with quite a bit of detail left out of course.
For example, film Will decides he likes dating single mums because they are appreciative of the attention and sex but, in the end, are too busy for a real relationship; thus relieving him of the nasty task of breaking up with them. He seeks out a local support group with the hilarious acronym SPAT (Single Parents Alone Together) where he makes up a story about having a toddler named Ned.
Through this group he meets Suzie who invites him along to a SPAT picnic where he first encounters Marcus whose mother Fiona is feeling under the weather (suicidal) and can’t attend the event.
The TV version finds Will trying to pick up a cello player he spots on the street who is late for her Single Parents Talk Circle (boring). He pretends to have plans to attend as well and invents an older child Jonah who has just survived a life threatening illness.
Will later runs into Marcus and Fiona who happen to be moving in next door. He subsequently convinces Marcus to pose as his son to keep his lie to Dakota, the cello mom, a secret. This actually combines the Suzie and the Rachel (Weisz) stories from the movie into one.
For those of you who are familiar with the film, the payoff scene takes place at the school talent show where Marcus performs a song in order to cheer up his mother. In both the TV and movie version Marcus is spared total humiliation by Will joining him on stage as his musical accompanist.
My primary complaint about this is the TV version is too Hollywood. They use a smoke machine for heaven’s sake. What you’re supposed to feel good about is that Will comes to Marcus’ rescue, not that the crowd goes wild and everyone thinks this awkward boy singing a One Direction tune is way cooler now.
So my main question is where will About a Boy: the TV series go from here now that they’ve exhausted the main plot points of the film?
I suppose in coming episodes they could explore the crush Marcus has on an older girl at school or touch more on Fiona’s depression, but I don’t see them going as far as the suicide attempt depicted in the movie. Marcus’ dad could also be introduced as he was in the delightful Christmas scene of the film.
One thing I’m pretty sure about is that cello Dakota is not intended to be Will’s long-term love interest. I’m afraid instead, the writers plan to build sexual tension between Will and Fiona, an element that refreshingly was never part of the movie.
Will I watch future episodes of this series? Perhaps, just to see where they take it. A high bar has been set by the film and its actors so maybe if I lower my expectations it could be a pleasant diversion type of sitcom, but certainly not must-see TV.
If you’d like to form your own opinion about NBC’s About a Boy, it airs on Tuesday nights at 9 pm ET.
Carmen is an American wife and mother of two college students who live away from home. With her yellow lab Malcolm by her side, she watches and writes about British television for her own blog Everything I Know about the UK I Learned from the BBC. Read more of Carmen’s posts here.