There are inevitably going to be some comparisons made to ABC’s newest drama A Million Little Things with series like This Is Us, The Big Chill, thirtysomething, even 13 Reasons Why (for grownups). And they’re all decent comparisons. You could also throw Friends in there, if the friends grew up and everything went to hell. But A Million Little Things does have the potential to stand on its own as a solid slice-of-life drama. The premise is that a friend group is rocked to its core when the seemingly most put-together friend, Jon Dixon (Ron Livingston), commits suicide. The three guys to whom Jon was closest are particularly shocked because they’re all dealing with their own major issues, and are now also casting about for answers as to why Jon did what he did.
Gary (James Roday), the sarcastic, emotionally closed-off friend, is a breast cancer survivor (“it happens to men, too”) who is constantly wondering when his cancer will return; Eddie (David Giuntoli) is a washed-up band frontman who teaches guitar to kids and is unhappy in his marriage; and Rome (Romany Malco) is a director stuck shooting commercials when all he really wants to do is make his movie. The men (three of whom are married, one of whom — Gary — is a serial dater) must now pick up the pieces in the wake of an inexplicable tragedy.
There has been some criticism that A Million Little Things treats Jon’s suicide as a puzzle to be solved, much like how This Is Us wrung 32 episodes out of revealing how Jack (Milo Ventimiglia) died. But ABC only recently made two other episodes available past the pilot and having watched all three, I can safely say that the show does treat the subject with more nuance than that. Yes, there is a mystery element, but it feels more like a mystery surrounding what Jon was up to before he died than trying to pinpoint one big event that precipitated his suicide. The show isn’t called A Million Little Things for nothing, and luckily, the writers do seem to realize that suicide and depression are very complicated things.
So while the mystery is one part of the plot here, it’s not the only part. There’s a reveal at the end of the pilot about a character’s infidelity that comes to a head fairly quickly in the first few episodes, providing some really dramatic moments as the fallout spreads throughout the group.
Additionally, the fact that this is a friend group that has only known each other for a decade gives me hope that even after Jon’s mystery is resolved, there are plenty of events from both before the friendship started and during the ensuing 10 years to mine for material. The show could easily become a strong drama about a group of adults much the way thirtysomething was in the late ’80s/early ’90s, or Parenthood was just a few years ago. It’s off to a good start, and it certainly knows how to play to its actors’ strengths and wring the tears out of the viewers.
To that end, there are several moments in the first three episodes that brought the waterworks, especially those concerning Jon’s two children, Sophie (Lizzy Greene) and Danny (Chance Hurstfield), who are obviously feeling very lost and helpless in the wake of their father’s death. It’s their storylines that made me not mind the “mystery” element so much, even if it had been solely focusing on the motive behind Jon’s suicide, because even if a TV show shouldn’t treat suicide as a puzzle, many survivors often do. It’s easy to feel full of guilt about what one should have done or not have done or should have noticed that it makes sense to be desperate for answers about why a loved one would kill themselves. So that actually feels spot-on, and yet it’s also good that the show acknowledges early on that there is never just one reason behind a suicide.
The show also presents a strong friendship dynamic among the men that’s key. There’s an excellent scene in the pilot where Rome confesses to having been on the verge of killing himself when the call came in about Jon’s suicide. As he breaks down in the middle of a hockey game, his friends comfort him and I couldn’t help but think about articles I’ve read lately about middle-aged and older men being lonely because they don’t have any friends.
It’s a real problem among aging males, due in part to the fact that we as a society start to treat close male friendships in adolescents as something unnatural, like it’s not masculine to be close friends with another boy. The friendships at the core of A Million Little Things are friendships formed in adulthood, but the point of male loneliness still stands. There is something really interesting here that the show could explore if it so chooses; it scratches the surface early on, but hopefully it continues along that road and dives deeper into the idea as it explores why these seemingly happy adult men might consider suicide.
The show has also introduced some great characters in the men’s significant others. Gary’s new girlfriend Maggie (Allison Miller) has a mystery of her own that she’s keeping from Gary and his friends, while Eddie’s wife Katherine (Grace Park) is someone initially painted with very broad strokes who gets a more nuanced portrayal by Episode 3. It all makes for a solid ensemble, and while I don’t know if I foresee a runaway hit like This Is Us brewing, A Million Little Things definitely has potential to be a solid drama.
A Million Little Things premieres Wednesday, September 26th on ABC