When you’re really good at something, it’s easy to have an ego. Jason Katims is really good at taking films, like Friday Night Lights and Parenthood, and turning them into successful shows for NBC.
Luckily, Katims’ ego is in check and he’s moved over to the lighter side with the new comedy About a Boy, based on the 2002 film (which in turn was based on the Nick Hornby novel) about a man-child and the actual child he befriends next door. EW was at a special screening of two upcoming episodes of the series with Katims and stars David Walton and Minnie Driver. The trio talked about exciting guest stars for both FNL and Arrested Development fans, what else to expect for the remainder of the first season, and the creative benefits of working on television versus film.
“One of the things that I was excited about in the potential of the show from the beginning was that we could do a show that was really funny, but would also have heart and unexpectedly emotional moments,” said Katims. “You definitely laugh, you definitely feel connected to these people. You love them. But you definitely have the potential to be moved by them as well.” Any fan of Katims, who won an Emmy for writing the series finale of Friday Night Lights in 2011, knows that he is great at creating tearjerker moments, so venturing to the half-hour sitcom world was a change for Katims. A highlight of the season for him, though, is an episode where Emmy winner Tony Hale (Veep) will guest star as the ex of Minnie Driver’s character Fiona the father of her son Marcus (Benjamin Stockholm), the “boy” the show is about. Katims calls the episode one of the funniest and emotionally moving of the season as the show tries to balance the humor and drama of everyday life.
“How rare is that? You never get to do that,” Driver said. “If you cast actors who have an interest in and an ability towards shifting those worlds, you should be able to go to a really heartfelt place with people and then turn back and tell a joke. Jason and the writers have set up a place where you can do that.” Driver loves that single mother Fiona is flawed, and she can personally relate. “It’s not interesting playing someone who’s perfect and pretty and all put together.” Herself a single mom, Driver is well-aware of the helpless feeling that you can get by being an overprotective parent. “You have to stop yourself. I’ve had to stop myself on the playground from going over and saying, ‘Hey — knock it off. He’s nice!’” Driver says that the flaws in her character are different than the flaws in man-child Will, played by Walton, but that they learn from each other, and that’s why they make a good pair. But definitely not a romantic one.
“It doesn’t seem right at the moment,” said Walton, referring to a possible love connection between the neighbors. But Katims sees the potential in the future, if he is lucky enough again for a multiple-season run. “From a writer’s perspective, it gives you the potential to tell the story really slowly. Maybe there’s a moment in episode 10, let’s say — in fact there is, not a romantic moment but a moment, a connection. If you had seen the pilot or the first few episodes, I don’t think you would have anticipated or expected that they would get there.”
That’s one of the things that makes About a Boy unique for Walton as well. “You read a script, and you immediately have a visceral reaction to something, and this was body-shaking because it was so good,” Walton said, adding that unlike in other comedies, the characters get to really evolve and grow up. “[Will] is becoming more mature and more in tune with what’s important in life. To get to go on a journey like that creatively is very exciting.” In casting the lead role, Katims was looking for an actor who could play the man with the spirit of a boy and just likes to hang out without any of the responsibilities of adulthood. “We wanted someone who we felt would be all those things, but you would still embrace him and love him,” Katims said. “And I think David Walton has this incredible quality to be able to embrace his inner man-child and still be incredibly likable when you’re leaning in watching him. We’re incredibly fortuitous to get someone like David for the role, because I think he’s sort of been phenomenal doing it.”
Friday Night Lights fans will also be excited about Will’s love interest for the season: guest star Adrianne Palicki, who plays an ER doctor Will meets after Marcus accidentally stabs himself in the foot while trying to cut an orange. The episode, “About a Bublé,” will introduce Dr. Sam, but Palicki will return for multiple episodes throughout the remainder of the season. “We really needed someone to come in and be that role and be the one for Will,” said Katims, who had been waiting for an opportunity to work with Palicki again. “We’ve made so much about this guy who is a bachelor, not in the mind that he wants to find someone. So someone had to come in to just be that person for him.” Katims is infamous for his loyal group of actors who have made multiple appearances on his different shows, but now he is taking it “to the next level” with an actual Parenthood/About a Boy crossover with Dax Shepard’s character Crosby appearing in an upcoming episode. Walton had already appeared on an episode of Parenthood earlier this season playing in Crosby’s poker game.
The season will continue to explore Will and Sam’s relationship while mainly focusing on the weird family forming between Will, Fiona, and Marcus. Specifically, fans will get to see Fiona invite herself to one of those poker games (“She’s a total ringer!” Driver joked) and begin to dabble in the dating world again, first with guest star Will Sasso in the episode “About a Plumber” and later in the season where Fiona potentially becomes romantically involved with one of Will’s friends. Katims is well aware that only in the television world could he have the ability to explore deeper into these characters’ lives. “If it were just the movie version, [Fiona] would be Will’s obstacle. But what’s great about television is that you get to tell stories where you can switch up and change that dynamic, and it’s really fun.” The “Bublé” episode will also finally reveal the Christmas song that Will wrote and is now living off of.
And though he wasn’t in the room, there was still plenty to talk about when it came to Benjamin Stockholm, the young breakout of the show. Though he may be young in age, his nickname — “The Little Professional” — would suggest that his work ethic is that of someone who’s been doing this for years. “You might be in a position as a writer when you have a 13-year-old in the cast where you have to write around them or just know what they are capable of doing,” said Katims. “Not at all with Benjamin. With Benjamin, we could write a story for him. We could write complicated scenes for him. He could play both the humor and the grounded emotional stuff.” Giving credit to his supportive parents, Walton adds, “It’s sweet to see a kid so grounded and down to earth.” Which also means too sweet for swearing. “I’ve been saying ‘fudge’ a lot, which I’ve picked up from him.”
Though its also based on a film like his previous two series, Katims is taking a risk with adapting About a Boy because the source material didn’t lend itself to episodic television as much as the large ensemble casts and multiple plots of the original Friday Night Lights and Parenthood films had. But no matter what, it’s all the same process in the writer’s room, just trying to write a good message to share. “As comedic as we’re going, I would hope when people are finished watching an episode, not only were they entertained, but they saw a good story too.”
About a Boy airs Tuesday at 9 p.m. ET on NBC.