A million little things are baked into the DNA of any great show.
Often those qualities are unpredictable, hard to pin down, and tough to replicate, although year after year networks look at the successes of their rivals and attempt to re-create a little of the lightning in a bottle that other three letter broadcaster has going on right now, anyway.
Currently, the trend is towards more heartfelt fare that runs the the gamut of human experience. Hard times make for softer, more touchy-feely TV shows, with research suggesting they give us something to focus those negative emotions on and get them out of our system. So if you’ve been crying into your tissues over the latest episode of This is Us, don’t worry. You are both a child of the times and emotionally healthy. And somewhere, a TV network exec is patting him or herself on the back for a job well done.
Which brings us to ABC’s new feel-good drama A Million Little Things. With an attractive ensemble cast and feelgood subject matter about friendship and learning how to seize the day, it’s perhaps unsurprising to note that comparisons to NBC’s above-mentioned hit, now entering its third season on NBC, are already starting to roll in.
A Million Little Things focuses, not on family but on a group of friends, who, we learn got together when the elevator they were sharing got stuck between floors, forcing them to spend time and ultimately share honest truths while awaiting rescue. Fast forward five years and life has not been smooth sailing for this disparate group. While some have achieved great success, others flounder in debt. For others, the threat of illness looms, while another’s marriage quietly crumbles. However it’s only after one of the gang, Jon, commits suicide that the others are jolted into reality. They realize they have each spent the last five years coasting through their respective lives, caught in the minutate of living, but never truly alive.
While Jon (Ron Livingstone) is gone, he is by no means forgotten, reaching into the lives of those he left behind through a series of pre-prepared acts of kindness, and video confessionals. Jon, it seemed, had this ‘how to live a meaningful life’ thing all figured out. So why did he commit suicide? The series seems keen to make us wonder the same thing by providing a mystery envelope, a secretive personal assistant, and an affair for us to puzzle over.
While A Million Little Things will no doubt shower us with weekly clues as to why Jon decided to throw it all away, and no doubt provide us with more acts of kindness from beyond the grave as he coaches each of his friends towards a better outcome, the show shouldn’t really need this “PS I Love You” style mystery prop to keep it going week to week. I write this fully aware that This is Us spun out the mystery of the manner of Jack Pearson’s death for an entire season. However here the central characters seem to lack a sense of impetus without said mystery. And as dark a subject as suicide is, Jon’s final act never feels like the messy, devastating, detonated bomb it should. As a result, the core characters are simply not compelling enough to care about, abandoned as they are, to warm their hands and hearts over a fire that seems to have gone out after the opening scene.
A little like attending the funeral of an estranged relative, we feel we ought to cry, but we just can’t seem to summon the tears.
As noted at the outset of this review, a million little things go into making an idea on paper a truly memorable hour of TV. Watching A Million Little Things may only make you acknowledge what a skilled screenwriter This is Us’ Dan Fogelman is.
The series stars David Giuntoli as Eddie Saville, Ron Livingston as Jon Dixon, Romany Malco as Rome Howard, Allison Miller as Maggie Bloom, Christina Moses as Regina Howard, Christina Ochoa as Ashley Morales, Grace Park as Katherine Kim, James Roday as Gary Mendez, Stephanie Szostak as Delilah Dixon, Lizzy Greene as Sophie Dixon and Tristan Byon as Theo Saville.
It premieres Wednesday, Sept. 26 10:00-11:00 p.m. on ABC.