‘A Million Little Things’ Hits All the Right Notes — Well, Except That One Thing

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A MILLION LITTLE THINGS: 1.01 “Pilot”

“Friendship is a million little things.”

That’s the sentiment we start with as we begin network television’s newest tear-jerker, A Million Little Things. This is one of the few shows that I was really eager to watch, not because I crave grab-the-tissues television (actually, that type of marketing and emotional force is the reason I never got past the third episode of This Is Us), but because of the subject matter. The idea that a show could take on a surprise suicide and study the reasons behind it in a smart way seemed intriguing and important. It’s a tall ask, but with a good cast behind it, I had faith.

And to be honest, before watching the premiere, I tried to identify what the title could mean. My best guess? As friends searched for answers about why their friend would kill himself, they’d discover that it wasn’t just one reason. It was…a million little things.

I guess I was wrong.

Then again, we still don’t know the reason why Jon killed himself. Most of this episode had his friends and family questioning a number of things: Why would he do this? If everything happens for a reason, what’s the reason for this? Why wouldn’t he tell someone? And how did we not see it coming?

All of these questions are ones that I hope the show continues to explore, as complex as they can be. And I think the most interesting way the show has chosen to focus on depression is not in Jon’s own choice, but in the character of Rome, who was ready to take his own life as he got the call about his friend’s death. Seeing someone dealing with depression and struggling to share what he’s experiencing and feeling with those that he loves the most is so important—and it helps you see what someone may have been going through, like Jon, in real time. It really paints the picture and shows how difficult it is, even to open up, without solely relying on the hypothetical guesses of what Jon was going through. It’s a great way to study the complex nature of depression and mental illness for viewers.

Beyond these issues, we have many characters with their own baggage: Gary, who is in remission from breast cancer, who befriends Maggie, a therapist who just found out her own cancer has returned; Eddie, who is in an unhappy marriage and having an affair (more on this later); and, of course, Delilah, Jon’s widow. It’s a good group of complex characters with their own personalities (the exception may be Eddie, who is falling pretty flat for me), rounded out by a good cast of folks playing them.

I find Gary’s story especially compelling, probably because it’s both drawing me in at times and annoying me at others. Gary is your standard “I don’t show emotion” character in the face of death, and while at times this bugs me, his display of anger at the Bruins game made me realize it’s more of a facade than anything else. Plus, his whispering to Delilah that she’s the strongest one of all of them shows a kindness that we’ll occasionally be privy to. So while there are times I may be annoyed at him, I can hold out for those little moments, knowing that he does have some redeeming characteristics, or he wouldn’t be part of his group. Also, his being one of the 1% of men who gets breast cancer is just an interesting backstory. It’s interesting how he’s dealing with the prospect of death in a different way than say, Rome, or any of the other characters.

Now, the biggest complaint I have for this show is with Eddie—or more accurately, the big reveal at the end of the episode that Eddit was having an affair with Delilah. Ugh. It’s amazing I was able to even see the TV after how dramatically I rolled my eyes. And that I didn’t throw the remote control through the screen. What a lame, overused plot device to throw in what seemed to be a well-thought-out show. When you are suddenly comparing a drama like A Million Little Things to the train wreck that was Netflix’s Friends from College, you know something’s wrong. Suddenly, all those emotions you saw Eddie and Delilah struggling with are less real and become laden with guilt. What’s more, the mystery of “why” becomes, “Did he do it because he knew?” It just changes the nature of the show.

The other issue? Jon’s assistant. We’re left wondering what her story is, hiding file folders, lying, and deleting files. Do we really need a mystery? I was already wondering whether Jon was having an affair with her, based on how she was acting (despite the fact that apparently everything he did while he was alive was generous and helpful to everyone he knew), and now we have a guessing game of what she knows. Personally, I didn’t need this. I don’t need a “How does Jack Pearson die?” mystery to figure out. Let the situation itself carry the story.

Oddly, the assistant mystery bugs me much less than that horrible affair, and I’m wondering how much of this season will be devoted to keeping that relationship under wraps with panicked undertones that they’ll get discovered. I do think it changes what the show could have been, but I guess I should just wait and see.

And I will continue to watch. The characters drew me in, and I want to see more. I’m not sure how much Ron Livingston is in future episodes. He seemed to have a decent presence in the pilot, and I like him, so I hope it continues.

As a side note, I was standing in an elevator on Thursday with three strangers, when it stopped on a floor and a man entered. He walked in, greeted each of us, and even continued to chat with the man behind me, who he didn’t know. And I was suddenly back to remembering how Jon’s friends described how there are people in elevators that don’t speak to each other, but then there are those who will just talk to anyone. And I wondered, if this elevator were stopped, would I suddenly be friends with these three strangers?

If anything, so far, this show has clearly made an impression.

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