TV

ABC’s ‘A Million Little Things’ Is A Buddy Drama About Suicide That Goes Hard For Tears

ABC

Often, there’s a sense of deja vu when sifting through TV pilot screeners, as networks try to capitalize on the success of popular shows by producing watered-down carbon copies. The easiest examples are the failed attempts to replicate Lost — an impossible task that is still happening, as NBC just premiered it’s plane-centric mystery Manifest. It was easy to predict that This Is Us would be the next series to demand this treatment and, sure enough, ABC’s newest drama, A Million Little Things, works overtime to try and recreate that success.

A Million Little Things introduces us quickly to the main four men: Jon (Ron Livingston), a successful businessman with a seemingly-perfect life; Eddie (David Giuntoli), a rocker-turned-guitar teacher and stay-at-home dad who is having an affair; Gary (James Roday), a breast cancer survivor who uses jokes as deflection; and Rome (Romany Malco), an aspiring filmmaker who hides his suicidal depression from everyone around him. Early in the pilot, and this is a spoiler that is mostly unavoidable if we want to discuss what happens next, Rome is in the middle of a suicide attempt when he gets the call that Jon just died by suicide. These three men—along with the women in their lives, and Jon’s widow Delilah (Stephanie Szostak)—then must mourn their friend while reevaluating their friendship and their own lives. (More accurately, I suppose, the show is like This Is Us combined with The Big Chill.)

It’s a heavy way to begin a television series, and there are a number of scenes within the first three episodes that suggest A Million Little Things isn’t quite up to the task of crafting a narrative that begins with a suicide hook. While, so far, it isn’t as irresponsible as 13 Reasons Why, it seems to be walking a precarious line and dangerously close to falling on the wrong side. The show knows that it’s only natural for Jon’s friends to try and make sense of his sudden death, to pick apart Jon’s life and their own interactions with him, searching for clues or any “logical” explanation. But it becomes uncomfortable when it tries to build a dramatic mystery out of it — plot twists involving necklaces and voicemails, Jon’s assistant Ashley (Christina Ochoa) being cagey with information, hints about shady documents — as if it wants to “solve” Jon’s suicide. The biggest concern is that A Million Little Things wants to build up a moment akin to when This Is Us finally revealed the circumstances of Jack’s (Milo Ventimiglia)’s death. The reasons for Jon’s death shouldn’t be the show’s hook; it’s far better to instead explore the ripple effects of grief.

Fortunately, there is a large portion of the show that does explore these effects, even though it doesn’t necessarily always work. The most interesting aspect is the show’s approach to non-toxic male friendship: the four friends originally met while stuck in an elevator together, revealing intimate details about themselves, and bonding over their mutual love for the Bruins. It was by happenstance that they came together, and mostly through Bruins season passes that they stayed together, and now it’s time to both interrogate and deepen that friendship. The way the show does this, unfortunately, is through melodramatic character reveals and cloying dialogue (not to mention the music cues, all of which are kind of laughable). It’s less organic and more emotionally manipulative. It’s reminiscent of the worst parts of This Is Us (which is to say: 95% of This Is Us) and the review I hear most from peers: “I don’t love it, but I do cry at every episode.”

A Million Little Things is certainly going for tears, unsubtly tugging at the ol’ heartstrings. Sometimes, it works; mostly, though, it just feels a like it’s stretching and a little clunky. Much of the show is held up solely by the strength of its cast, but mostly, A Million Little Things just sort of … plucks along, often inching toward being something great before introducing a plot that makes it tumble backward.

‘A Million Little Things’ premieres Wednesday, September 26 at 10 p.m.

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