Series Premiere Date: September 26th 2018
Reviewed by: Jonathan Andre
A Million Little Things (Pilot)
Starring: James Roday, Allison Miller, Romany Malco, David Giuntoli, Christina Moses, Christina Ochoa, Grace Park, Stephanie Szostak, Ron Livingston
‘…A few years ago I was working on a gig — the first of my career, and it was not a great fit, so I would take these walks at lunch just to try and psych myself up for the afternoon. On one of these lunchtime walks, I ran into a buddy of mine, and we both lit up: “Hey dude, this is great, we should have lunch!” It wasn’t an L.A. thing, we both really meant it. He said, “I’m really busy this week, but how about next week?” I said, “Yes, we’re doing it!” And then he killed himself. It was shocking. We weren’t as close as the guys in the show are, but his death had such an impact on me, because our lives were so similar on paper, and I just couldn’t understand how our endings were so different. I remember being at the funeral, thinking about JFK Jr. on the airplane and how he’d lost sight of the horizon — that speech, which Maggie (Miller) gives in the middle of our pilot, wasn’t actually written for our show. I wrote it a few years ago, just to try and understand how I had lost my friend. Those couple of years after his death were so formative for me, and I thought it was an interesting idea for a show: a group of friends whose lives are forever changed after the friend whose life is the most together, on paper, takes his own life. To me, the show is really about Rome, who almost did something, almost took his life, and instead reaches out for help and makes a change…’ This above quote is not only the basic premise of the new network ABC fall drama, A Million Little Things, but also the story of what really happened to one of creator DJ Nash’s friends not too long ago- which has since become the basis and inspiration behind this new TV drama, that seemingly has many ties, both in a thematic and inspirational sense, to the NBC hit show, This is Us. A Million Little Things, which debuted on Wednesday to basically low ratings, is a story of a group of four friends, who unlikely meet up for the first time in an elevator of all places. Over ten years, through their shared love of ice hockey, have bonded together, some friends beating cancer, others getting married and having kids, while indeed others even becoming sober. Through it all, these friends have stuck together, when out of the blue, the friend that is seemingly the most successful, decides to kill himself. The show starts with this finite act, and the aftermath the suicide has, not only on his immediate family, but also on his friends and other people he knew, as well. The show is titled A Million Little Things, for a purpose, a reference to a line in the pilot that states that friendship is a million little things, the things that seemingly are the small things we do for people, that have the most impact in the end.
For such a show to debut on a Wednesday against Chicago PD and Criminal Minds, is basically suicide for the show (ironic, because the show is talking about suicide, depression, mental health, and everything else that comes alongside it), but in essence, if the show fails, it wouldn’t be because of a lack of storyline- in fact, the show itself and the plots that weave into the pilot, at least, appears to be one of the strongest, if not the strongest, out of all the new shows this TV season so far! Regardless of the show’s fate, A Million Little Things is a show that is not afraid to discuss life and its real issues, and straight away in the pilot, there is a lot of them. For the shows four friends, Jon (Ron Livingston), Rome (Romany Malco), Gary (James Roday) and Eddie (David Giuntoli) are in different places in the first episode, and each place depicts a real moment in life that may not have been discussed if not for such a show like this, to promote dialogue and discussion. Jon, the friend who is the most successful out of the four, kills himself within the first few minutes of the pilot by jumping off the balcony of a high-rise corporate building, while Rome himself writes his family a suicide note, starts to take a few pills, but stops and spits them out when he hears the news of Jon’s suicide form Gary. Gary is a breast cancer survivor in remission, and goes regularly to a cancer support group, where he meets Maggie, a fellow survivor of the disease, while lastly Eddie seems to be the most complicated of them all. Stuck in a loveless marriage, Eddie has formed a bond with a mother of one of his students whom he teaches guitar. He falls in love with her, and even tells his friends about it at a strategic point during the show.
Gary, Rome and Eddie are indeed affected by Jon’s passing, as is everyone else whom Jon affected when he was alive. The show delves into the lives of each of Jon’s immediate friends, all the while showing us viewers at home, that people can have all the perfect lives they want, yet still feel like they are drowning and empty inside. A Million Little Things asks the question- are we truly happy with our lives, even with all the things we amass, or is what we are portraying on the outside masking our true feelings about life, God, ourselves and others? Are our relationships and friendships based upon real honest, raw connections and bonding, or are they just the product of projecting what we want other people to see (our happy, all-together selves), with our friendships formed from a well-constructed fabrication rather than a real, genuine bond over reality and real problems, all the while knowing full well that by being and friend to someone, we listen and accept, before judging?
A Million Little Things discusses mental health, suicide and depression at its core, and places what it means to be happy on its head. Sure some of the pilot seems to be a little too comedic, courtesy of James Roday (his years as a comedy lead in Psych has led this actor to bring a few moments of laughter to this otherwise serious drama), but as a whole, this heavy topic of being friends, real friends, with people and not being afraid to tackle the taboo topic of suicide, is undertaken with a lot of dignity and grace. Sure the show itself can use a lot of emotional manipulation at its core (as well as This is Us, and any other family drama that delves into issues we as a human race like to sweep under the rug), but little trivial idiosyncrasies aside, DJ Nash has delivered a show that, what I reckon, will fit very much into the same league as This is Us, Brothers and Sisters, Parenthood and One Tree Hill, regardless of whether the show runs for 1 season or 10- it’s that good!
‘…I think the best writing is always told coming from a very personal place. D.J. has been kind enough and generous enough with us to tell us where his motivation comes from, which has been very helpful. It didn’t change anything for me in the sense that I gravitated towards this script and it stood on its own before knowing that information. The series holds its own with the writing, and he’s just been kind enough to add in some information that makes it very personal. That helps us on our journey in understanding the responsibility that comes with tackling some of these topics that are so controversial and personal…The show is definitely not romanticizing those topics. You know what? I don’t know how popular this opinion is going to be, but thank God for filmmakers who tackle those topics. They are part of a real-life. Cancer, depression, and others are very much a reality for all of us. I think that these topics, in one way or another, touch most of the people involved in the show, and hopefully the audience because we all deal with it day to day. Thank God for the filmmakers that are brave enough to tackle them and tell them from less of a myopic point of view by showing different perspectives and sides that these topics carry….’ This above quote, an interview with actress Christina Ochoa, who plays Ashley (Jon’s assistant at work, and the last person to see him alive before he jumped), is in essence, what the show is about as a whole, and what it aims to bring to the table of discussion of these issues what aren’t as discussed on network TV, at least not in recent memory. Maybe it’s because of the sheer scheduling competition that this show may not do as well as the network may have hoped, or maybe, the topics discussed may make the viewer stay far, far away. Whatever the case, the viewers for the pilot episode did not bode well for the show as a whole. Nevertheless, A Million Little Things, though emotionally manipulative at times, is as much needed in society and the TV landscape as a whole, as currently This is Us right now.
While this new ABC show may have taken a leaf out of NBC’s This is Us and the concepts discussed there, so too has NBC’s Manifest taken a page out of ABC’s Lost. And maybe, if this new show promotes a healthy discussion around the taboo and stigma topic of mental health, then the show has done what it has set out to do- encourage an honest and open, transparent look at one of the most buried and least talked about issues in all of the topics that is relevant to society today- friendship and the unveiling of our true selves in the midst of friends, and knowing that we won’t be judged for it. Yet will this show survive to season 2? Only time will tell. Yet regardless, I will continue watching, knowing that it is shows like this one that’ll hopefully impact and inspire at least one person. This ensemble comedy-drama is out of left field (quality wise), and a definite standout amongst all the new TV shows (alongside Manifest and God Friended Me) this TV season. Well done to DJ Nash (and the rest of the cast and crew) in creating A Million Little Things. Here’s hoping this show delves into more taboo-like topics in the upcoming episodes. So what are we waiting for, sit back and watch (or re-watch) the pilot episode, and be warned. This episode is a genuine feeler. Make sure you have the tissues at the ready!
RIYL: This is Us, Parenthood, One Tree Hill, Packed to the Rafters, 800 Words
A Million Little Things airs every Wednesday at 10/9c on ABC.