NBC’s ‘About a Boy’ could never fit drama peg into sitcom hole

Among last week’s cancellation announcements, NBC announced About a Boy, Jason Katims’ adaptation of the movie based on Nick Hornby’s novel, would not be returning for a third season. The news wasn’t surprising considering the series’ low ratings on a network that was grasping for a hit comedy. (See One Big Happy.) Save for People are Talking, the peacock’s fall lineup has only dramas and variety shows in the immediate future.

Unlike the network’s other comedies from the past two years, About a Boy wasn’t dead before the pilot aired. It was based on a well-received 2002 movie with plenty of material ripe for exploration. The show also had the power of Jason Katims, who produced the excellent Friday Night Lights and brought the surprisingly successful adaptation of Parenthood to television. Throw in a very likable cast that included David Walton (New Girl), Minnie Driver (Grosse Pointe Blank) and Al Madrigal (The Daily Show), and there was a lot to like in this show about male-arrested development.

Yet despite all these winning ingredients, About a Boy never reached the heights of Katims’ past work. With the show coming to an end, we should look back at what fulfilled this promise and where it fell short.

About a Boy - Season 1

The Good

Up to this point, Walton — who played Will, the wealthy songwriter sitting in arrested development as his best friends got married and had kids — has run the gamut when it comes to NBC shows. Most notably, he starred in Quarterlife, the canceled ensemble piece that attempted to combine similar issues with internet age. Walton clearly has this type of character down and while there is an inherent douchy-ness in his performance, he wielded it as if he was Jamie Lannister, pre-sans sword hand.

In the series’ first great episode, “About a Godfather,” he also showed his emotional range, babysitting the children of his best friend, Andy. Will’s role, and in turn Walton’s performance, only got better with the introduction of Sam (Adrianne Palicki, Friday Night Lights) as a romantic interest. With this and Will’s newfound father-figure role, Walton captured the character’s arc very well. I hope he eventually finds a hit.

One of the reasons I follow Katims’ shows is because of the way he commits to their world. This goes beyond About a Boy‘s inclusion of Parenthood‘s Crosby (Dax Shepard). Just as Parenthood and Friday Night Lights had no problems calling back to small moments from past episodes, About a Boy recalled events not just from the previous week, but also two, three and four episodes back without feeling the need to hammer on them as if they were major plot points. These small moments rewarded audiences that stuck with those shows by building them into a living, breathing world — something usually lost on network sitcoms and dramas.

AboutBoy_cast

The Bad

As I mentioned, the build-up to and execution of the first season finale was the show at its best. Part of that was due to serving as a series finale — which Katims’ shows have been forced into multiple times, only to have to regroup for the next season. This has worked out excellently, as with the end of Friday Night Lights’ third season and the start of its fourth.

About a Boy did the same with its first season ending with Will living with Sam in New York, only to restart when an unexpected renewal came. The series spent the next two episodes getting him back to San Francisco, returning to the show’s original dynamic and eliminating Sam, one of the show’s best characters. This was a poorly executed attempt, resulting in the show forcing itself into its half-hour sitcom format.

That was probably the biggest challenge for the show, despite the half-hour episodes and One Direction-laden marketing. About a Boy‘s sense of humor was closer to that of the movie and Katims’ hour-long dramas, rather than a wacky sitcom tone.

In movies and TV dramas, storylines resolve themselves over a season. In sitcoms, stories play out in single episodes and the show resets after every 30 minutes. About a Boy never found its stride having to fit that format, with highs and lows akin to a show finding its footing during its first season. Katims worked to fit season-long stories into a show more like a typical sitcom, but couldn’t make it work as a consistent whole.

NBC’s cancellation doesn’t bode well for sitcoms like About a BoySports Night proved 17 years ago that it’s difficult for a sitcom to break the genre mold. Katims’ dramas have always found their comedic elements seamlessly, but it doesn’t work the other way around. Walton, Driver and all of the show’s actors did everything they could to make About a Boy work. And for many episodes, they succeeded.

Katims just finished a new single-camera pilot (directed by Ant-Man‘s Peyton Reed) for a show titled Ellen More or Less, which wasn’t part of NBC’s upfront presentation. But it wouldn’t be surprising to find the show in position for a mid-season replacement on the network’s schedule. Hopefully, that project finds a larger audience and greater success than About a Boy, which also premiered around the same time of year.

About Tyler Lyon

When Tyler isn't thinking about the lack of a Canadian presence in D2: The Mighty Ducks, whether Princess Leia can now be considered a Disney Princess or discovering 8-bit classics on his 3DS, he's cheering on the Cubs, Bulls, Bears, Blackhawks, and Hawkeyes.

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