Male bonding: Marcus Bowa (Benjamin Stockham), a boy who's half a man, and Will Freeman (David Walton), a man who's half a boy, strike up an unlikely friendship in the TV remake of About A Boy.
A book, then a film and now a TV adaptation — About A Boy just never gets old.
I AM a sucker for father-son storylines. Whether it’s the prodigal son who got lost along the way or the remorseful father who’s looking to make things right, or both, father-son relationship troubles don’t go away with a bouquet of roses or a box of chocolates. They’re often complicated, hard to comprehend and, OK, I might have some unresolved daddy issues myself.
About A Boy – based on the 1998 Nick Hornby novel of the same title (which also inspired the 2002 hit British film starring Hugh Grant and Nicholas Hoult) – centres on the unlikely relationship between unemployed thirtysomething man-child Will Freeman (David Walton) and the socially- inept-but-wise-beyond-his-years 11-year-old Marcus Bowa (Benjamin Stockham).
Living off royalties he made from writing a hit song, Will pretty much does nothing with his life except prance around in his preppy cardigans and slim-fit jeans. Well, he also goes to pool parties and hits on women and – if he’s really feeling up to it – he organises poker night. What a tough life.
All that changes when a new family, comprising single mother Fiona Bowa (Minnie Driver) and her son Marcus, moves in next door. After weaving a convincing but entirely fictional sob story about raising a leukaemia-ridden son to impress a leggy blonde he met at the neighbourhood single parent support group (don’t ask), Will begs Marcus to pretend to be his son. In exchange, the boy gets to hang out with him at his bachelor pad.
And just like that, the two forge a bond.
I didn’t like the beginning of the series actually. Firstly, the two become friends within the span of the pilot episode alone – much too quickly for their friendship to appear believable, in my opinion. In the film adaptation, even the lead characters’ backgrounds and idiosyncrasies are properly established before they meet.
Secondly, the circumstances in the novel and film are more pressing; the cold, unfeeling Will starts to empathise with the boy’s pain after his mother attempts suicide. The series ignores this darker aspect that would have given their friendship a bit more weight.
So if you’re wondering if the series stays true to the source material, don’t get your hopes up. While there are some similarities (like the opening scene at the support group, or the one where Will helps chase off the bullies picking on Marcus with a water hose), it largely heads off in its own direction. Understandably so, given that it is a TV series played out over 13 half-hour episodes.
I found that if I just took the show for what it is instead of dwelling on the book and film, I actually enjoyed it.
For one, it’s incredibly funny (especially since the show is quite clear in its intent to be a sitcom). Seeing the often clueless Will (am I the only one who thinks he perpetually looks like he just got out of bed?) bamboozled by the precocious, smart-alecky Marcus’ wit is just the beginning of the laughs.
What’s even funnier is watching Driver play the fidgety, overprotective mother. She’s this lovely hippie vegan who fusses over every little detail about Marcus’ life and can get very dramatic when things don’t go her way – I’m talking break-out-in-song dramatic! Oh, and watch out for moments where she tears into Will for getting her son in trouble. With her British accent, it’s hilarious.
The show has a lot of heart, too, particularly when Will starts to care. In Episode Two, for instance, Will, who is tasked with babysitting Marcus, can’t resist an invitation to a pool party and brings him along. He neglects Marcus the entire time there and the frustrated boy (who has a fear of heights) finds himself all the way up on the diving board, shaking like a leaf.
Will makes the climb up and in front of everyone, apologises for his behaviour and encourages Marcus to face his fears. I’ll admit I got a little choked up here. The heart of the message is still retained, whatever the medium or shape the story takes: a boy inspires a man to grow up, a man inspires a boy to be one.
The show has been renewed for a second season, and while I’m glad, I can’t help but question its longevity. How many times can Will swing back and forth between being a self-centred slacker and repentant father figure before it gets tiresome?
Plus, to be practical, Stockham won’t be a child for long. In fact, he is already 14 now. What happens then? Can the show still be ... about a boy?
About A Boy airs Thursdays at 1pm on Diva (Astro Ch 702).