For years, it seemed, TV comedies were all about clever comebacks and snide put-downs. A few friendlier shows made it on the air, but more often than not, nice couldnt get arrested amid shows like 2 Broke Girls, Two and a Half Men and Anger Management.
This weekend, NBC will offer early premieres of two new sitcoms after its Olympics broadcasts, and while they vary in quality, both shows aim to be nice as well as funny.
The better of the two is About a Boy, previewing Saturday and based on Nick Hornbys novel, which was adapted for a Hugh Grant film. The shows pilot is so good, its a hard act to follow: The second and third episodes are merely really good.
David Walton plays Will Freeman, a sexy single guy living in San Francisco and not doing very much these days except chasing women, thanks to his having made a bunch of money a few years earlier through his now-defunct band.
His new next-door neighbor couldnt be less of a free spirit. She is a single mom named Fiona (Minnie Driver) who has an 11-year-old son named Marcus (the astounding Benjamin Stockham) and enforces a whole retinue of New Age child-rearing principles. Fiona and Will clash almost immediately, but Marcus is in need not so much of a father figure as someone wholl just let him be a kid.
The last thing Will wants is to get too close to anything that feels like settled family life; of course, soon enough hes learning perhaps even more about real life from Marcus than Marcus is learning from him.
The show was created by Jason Katims (Parenthood), who brings a writers sense of character to the script. The show is funny, warm and bloody irresistible because of the care taken with creating characters who are multidimensional, vulnerable and credible.
The performances by Driver and Walton, as well as Al Madrigal as Wills best married friend, are terrific. But the real heart of the show is Stockham. He was funny in the short-lived 1600 Penn, but what he does here with the character of Marcus is so good, youd be tempted to think hes a small-size grown-up were it not for the extraordinary believability in his performance. Of course Will finds it impossible to resist taking him under his wing: Youll find him pretty irresistible as well.
Growing Up Fisher
A kid is also at the center of Growing Up Fisher, a moderately entertaining show about a kid named Henry whose parents are splitting up. Narrated Wonder Years-style by Jason Bateman, the show has lots of warm and fuzzy moments as Henry (Eli Baker) worries that his blind dad, Mel (J.K. Simmons, The Closer), wont need him as much anymore if he has to divide his time between his dad and his mom, Joyce (Jenna Elfman, Dharma and Greg).
Meanwhile, Henrys teenage sister (Ava Deluca-Verley, Southland) suddenly finds herself saddled with her new bestie, Joyce, who is trying to relive her own teenage years.
Growing Up Fisher was created by DJ Nash, based on his own childhood experiences, and it does have a ring of authenticity. But it also has some problems.
The biggest issue is Elfman. Shes a funny, appealing actress, but despite the fact that Mel and Joyce are splitting up, its hard to believe there was ever any real chemistry between the characters because theres very little between the actors.
Simmons is one of the most versatile actors in film and TV, but recent attempts to find the right comedy vehicle for him have missed the mark. Hes fine in Fisher, but his skills arent enough to make the ensemble more cohesive.
At least Growing Up Fisher and, to an even greater extent, About a Boy prove that funny can also be nice.