Tag Archives: Minnie Driver

NBC’s About a Boy rates about a 7

Benjamin Stockham and David Walton star in 'About a Boy' Saturday on NBC.

Precocious young Marcus (Benjamin Stockham, left) finds an improbable mentor in his new neighbor Will (David Walton) in the new NBC sitcom ‘About a Boy,’ which premieres late Saturday night.

About a Boy, a new NBC sitcom premiering Saturday after the network’s primetime Olympics coverage before moving into its regular Tuesday berth next week, first saw life as a 1998 novel by British author Nick Hornby, which was adapted into a hit movie comedy in 2002. That film starred Hugh Grant as Will Freeman, an idly rich, emotionally stunted Londoner who finds himself after reluctantly befriending 12-year-old Marcus Brewer (Nicholas Hoult), the precocious yet socially inept son of Fiona (Toni Collette), a neurotic single mom.
For the new NBC series, executive producer Jason Katims (Parenthood) has shaved a year off Marcus’ age and moved the action and characters to San Francisco. When we first meet Will (David Walton, Bent), a songwriter who lives very comfortably off the royalties of a blockbuster Christmas tune he wrote, he’s trolling a support group for single parents, seeking easy prey for his erotic exploits. His quarry at the moment is Dakota (Leslie Bibb of GCB in a recurring guest role), a lovely but somewhat ditsy cellist who easily falls for Will’s cynical lie that he has a young son who is stricken with leukemia.
Will’s discovery that women find vulnerable single dads irresistible coincides with the arrival of new neighbors, Fiona Brewer (Minnie Driver) and her 11-year-old son, Marcus (Benjamin Stockham, 1600 Penn). Soon, the two males strike up a deal: Marcus will pretend to be Will’s doomed son and Will will let the boy hang out at his next-door apartment, playing games and chowing down on the meat his staunchly vegan mom forbids.
NBC sent out three episodes for preview, but after watching them, I still have only a hazy idea about the three principal characters. In the film, Grant and Hoult were able to build a convincing relationship arc as Marcus begins to develop new confidence and self-esteem from spending time with Will, who in turn truly starts to connect with his improbable young friend. Despite good performances and chemistry from the two male leads, the TV show is notably less successful in this regard.
Walton, who has been flirting with TV stardom for years now, has the kind of delicate touch that allows him to walk the fine line between genuine cad and harmless mischief-maker, but the writing does him very few favors. Will’s degree of jerkiness – indeed, his core personality – keeps shifting from episode to episode, sometimes even from scene to scene. In one episode, he improbably agrees to babysit for his best friend (Al Madrigal) and his emasculating wife (Anne Mumolo) and, in the span of that two-hour gig, transforms himself from clueless confirmed bachelor into a Child Whisperer who tenderly tells one of his young charges that he loves her.
The character writing for Marcus is likewise erratic. There’s a genuinely funny moment early on when the boy catches Will in a delicate situation and realizes his adult neighbor needs Marcus to cover for Will’s lie. Marcus quickly plays along, then leans in and whispers to Will, “I own you.” That suggests a level of savviness that we rarely see elsewhere in what Marcus says and does.
It’s poor Driver, though, who needs a full-blown character makeover. This Fiona is a spiritual sister to Susan Mayer, the bottomlessly needy single mom played by Teri Hatcher on Desperate Housewives. She fancies herself an attentive mother, yet is anything but that, with a parenting style that seems to focus on what Marcus isn’t allowed to do. In a scene in the pilot, Will is happily grilling a steak on his backyard barbecue when Fiona interrupts him to demand that (a) Will turn down his (moderately loud) music so she can meditate outside instead of simply going indoors and (b) refrain from using his grill anytime the prevailing breeze might blow the meat aromas into her yard and offend her pristine vegan sensibilities. That’s self-absorption on a fairly epic scale.
I don’t mean to suggest that About a Boy is a terrible show, but at least for now, it’s neither as funny nor as emotionally resonant as it could and should be. Walton and young Master Stockham, though, have a nicely relaxed mojo that may keep me watching and pulling for them, at least for the moment.
NBC About-a-Boy

New on DVD: Two ‘Masterpiece’ classics from Acorn

They say that politics makes strange bedfellows, and two noteworthy new releases today from Acorn Media Group – The Politician’s Wife and The First Churchills – both revolve around marriages that are tested by affairs of state.
The Politician’s Wife, which first aired on PBS’ Masterpiece Theatre in 1996, stars Juliet Stevenson as devoted political wife Flora Matlock, whose world is turned upside-down when news breaks that her husband, conservative family values Member of Parliament Duncan Matlock (Trevor Eve), once had an affair with a professional escort (Minnie Driver). Duncan swears on his life that it was a meaningless one-time fling with an admirer who had stalked him and caught him in a weak moment and, as his male colleagues, including Flora’s father (Frederick Treves), circle the wagons around Duncan, she agrees to stand by her man. That’s before she receives an anonymous envelope containing a cassette tape that captures an incredibly steamy phone-sex session between Duncan and his “stalker,” clearly indicating that the affair had been mutual and ongoing.
Humiliated and seething, Flora puts on a good face and outwardly offers plenty of spousal support, but privately, with the assistance of one of Duncan’s disenchanted staff members (Anton Lesser), she resolves to expose her husband’s shenanigans – which, she soon discovers, extend far beyond simple marital infidelity.
Today, 15 years after its original U.S. premiere, The Politician’s Wife may sound shopworn and over-familiar, partly due to scandal fatigue in real-life American politics and also because the basic premise has fueled several TV movies and the hit CBS series The Good Wife. But The Politician’s Wife is in a class by itself, thanks to Stevenson’s subtle yet searing performance in the title role, as well as Paula Milne’s adult teleplay (both Milne and Stevenson won several awards, and the miniseries itself snagged an International Emmy as best drama series).
A few additional notes: Although Driver’s name and likeness figure prominently on the DVD cover, her role actually is quite small. Also, while there is some mild female nudity, the frank language, particularly in those phone-sex sessions (yes, there are several), keeps this production firmly in the adult entertainment category. All three episodes, complete with optional subtitles for the hearing impaired, are affordably packaged on a single DVD.
Also released today, The First Churchills, which launched the series premiere of Masterpiece Theatre back in 1971, chronicles the marriage of John and Sarah Churchill, who wed for love and endured extensive turbulence starting in the court of King Charles II and stretching through five decades of sometimes violent regime changes in 17th- and 18th-century England. Susan Hampshire won an Emmy for her strong work as Sarah, whose wit and ingenuity captured the attention of many power players, but whose fundamental tactlessness eventually wrecked her decades-long friendship with Queen Anne (Margaret Tyzack) and, ultimately, the political fortunes of her own husband (John Neville).
The 12 episodes are featured on three beautifully engineered discs with a visual clarity that often, unfortunately, calls attention to the unsubtle makeup and the flimsy sets that occasionally shake when a door is slammed that were typical in British television productions of that vintage. After you watch the series, be sure not to miss the also-included 20-minute interview with Hampshire made some years later, in which the actress delightfully dishes plenty of behind-the-scenes dirt, including the fact that she was hired as a last-minute replacement for Judi Dench, a casting change that put Neville’s nose royally out of joint. All episodes also contain subtitles for the hearing-impaired, and you’re likely to need them at least occasionally given the heavy foreign accents some of the cast members employ for their characters.