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story.lead_photo.caption NBC’s About a Boy stars (from left) Minnie Driver as Fiona, David Walton as Will and Benjamin Stockham as Marcus.

Trying to ride the Olympics ratings wave as long as possible, NBC will preview its latest comedy after the Sochi competition Saturday evening.

About a Boy premieres from 10:07 to 10:30 p.m. Beginning Tuesday, the series slides into its regular slot of 8 p.m. with the second episode.

This different kind of coming-of-age story has several good things going for it, not the least of which is the marvelous Minnie Driver (Good Will Hunting) as Fiona, the needy single mom who moves to San Francisco and next door to bachelor Will (David Walton) with her precocious 11-year-old son, Marcus (Benjamin Stockham).

There are two types of precocious kids on TV - the adorable ones you want to pick up and hug (see Raising Hope), and the mouthy, snot nosed brats you want to slap silly (Stewie on Family Guy).

Unfortunately, mouthy brats are a staple of TV comedy. It’s when the parents allow the behavior with impunity that it grates on me. There’s nothing worse, or more unfunny, than a little kid who’s 10 years old going on 30.

That’s not the case with About a Boy. Marcus is a sensitive boy who loves his mother. Being a newbie in town, he’s also picked on at school and chased home by a trio of bullies.

Will is a former band member who has plenty of free time and freedom thanks to the hefty royalties from his one hit song years ago.

Viewers may recognize Walton from his stints on the short-lived romantic comedies Bent (with Amanda Peet) and Perfect Couples (with Olivia Munn). The former lasted all of six episodes; the latter made it to 11.

Someone in Hollywood must believe in Walton because he keeps getting shows. He’s an amiable sitcom “type” - attractive (but not too handsome), witty, and gifted with comedic timing. He plays the sort of character with whom an audience can readily identify.

In About a Boy, Will is the poster boy for a Peter Pan complex. As all of his friends have gotten married and started families, Will remains carefree and a ladies man. In many ways, the series is about Will’s coming of age, not just Marcus’.

The series is based on the best-selling novel by Nick Hornby that was made into a 2002 movie with Hugh Grant as Will and Toni Collette as Fiona.

The series also has some impressive talent behind the camera. It’s written and produced by Jason Katims (Friday Night Lights, Parenthood), and directed by Jon Favreau (Iron Man, Revolution).

With all that expertise, let’s hope that Walton has finally found the successful sitcom formula. I’ve seen three episodes and was impressed by the chemistry between Walton and Stockham.

And Driver is especially adept as the neurotic, meditation-loving, frequently depressed Fiona.

The series begins with a series of misunderstandings that take place after Will discovers that women find single dads irresistible.

One thing leads to another and he ends up pretending Marcus is his son so that he can hook up with an attractive single mom played by GCB’s Leslie Bibb.

When staunchly vegan Fiona finds out (and that Will bribed Marcus with barbecue), she’s horrified.

Fiona: “You forced him to eat meat so you could have sex with her!”

Will: “It sounds bad when you say it like that.”

It’s not long before Will begins to enjoy having Marcus hang out at his place and the pair begin a symbiotic relationship that should be the stuff of comedy spiced with more poignant moments.

Note: The sexual aspects of the series are mostly suggestive (Bibb in her undies is about as ribald as the pilot gets), but it does earn a TVPG rating for dialogue and sexual situations.

Meanwhile … On the other side of the TV spectrum, Season 2 of the Victorian crime drama Ripper Street debuts on BBC America at 8 p.m. Saturday. There will be eight episodes.

A third season is doubtful since the BBC has pulled out of its half of production. There’s still hope if BBC America can find another production partner.

Season 2 begins in 1890. We can expect “more murder and mayhem” as the job of protecting London’s Whitechapel district becomes more difficult for Detective Inspector Edmund Reid (Matthew MacFayden) and his loyal deputies, Detective Sergeant Bennet Drake (Jerome Flynn) and Captain Homer Jackson (Adam Rothenberg).

Historical backdrops to episodes this season include Chinese immigration, the London match girls strike of 1888, electrical War of Currents, the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, and the Baring crisis.

Ripper Street is rated TV-14 for all the usual reasons - blood, language, gratuitous gore and buxom working girls of ill repute.

The TV Column appears Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday. Email:

Weekend, Pages 32 on 02/20/2014

Print Headline: Well-made About a Boy has engaging characters

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