I’ve seen A Million Little Things called the This is Us lookalike, a “copycat drama,” and worse. None of these nicknames are correct, or they miss an important point about the show. That it intricately weaves into its dramatic framework suicide and depression in their real, raw, and honest forms.
Depressed Boys Should Cry
So, I may be accused of being too sappy. I’ll own it. This little show touched something in me, a kindred spirit familiar with the lack of reason, the seemingly selfish, and even unconscionable aspects of depression that make sufferers behave in ways that make no sense at all. All the while, the sufferer is thinking about ways to please the people they think they are burdening in the midst of their anguish. The show does another thing that I found extremely intriguing. It focused on the men who suffer from depression–one of them a Black man–and commit suicide, something that our society is conditioned not to acknowledge. Only the weak boys get depressed. Only the broken ones commit suicide.
A Million Little Things proves all that wrong.
The ABC show opens with the lives of four friends, men who seemingly “have it all,” but none are truly happy. Two are suicidal. One actually commits the deed before the first commercial break. It’s a lot of drama in the first 10 minutes of the show. Surprisingly, the tense moments are lightened just a bit by the comedic actors in the cast Romany Malco and James Roday. However, their power to draw laughter is tastefully muted in the opening scenes.
Tasteful Comic Relief
Roday plays Gary, who we meet in a patient room clearly meant for women. He is a cancer survivor–breast cancer–which is fodder for some light humor in the show. When we meet him, Gary is sitting uncomfortably in those flimsy gowns that gynos plague women with during the yearly checkups. (It was actually kinda satisfying to see a guy fidgeting in that damn gown). His doctor is shouting into a phone about a food order, making Gary have to interrupt with one question, is cancer back. We are not going to get that old Sean and Gus style humor (Psyche) in this show, but Roday is up for some laughs wherever he can take them. And, that’s okay here.
Malco does the same as Rome, a married filmmaker who is the second suicide attempt in the pilot. He brings that sarcasm and witty humor we loved in Weeds and No Ordinary Family. It is Malco who later drives home the point of the series later, during their memorial gathering when he confesses his suicide attempt, realizing that it occurred the very moment his friend jumped from the balcony. At that moment, it’s hard not to feel the weight of the what-ifs left unspoken between the friends.
“Lost Sight of the Horizon”
Before that conversation, the group hears Gary’s “date” Maggie (Allison Bloom) is a psychologist who talks about “losing sight of the horizon”. It’s the most profound and closest description of depression that I have ever heard. She talked about how John F. Kennedy Jr.’s plane crash. She told of how the veteran pilot was flying when clouds came over and obscured his view of the horizon. Although the instruments were telling him where the horizon was, he was so disoriented that he did not trust the plane and the expensive tech. The plane nosedived and was crashing before he knew what was happening.
Depression is like that. It clouds every aspect of life so that nothing is familiar, nothing seems “right”. Pretty soon, despite all the signs that point to the right way, we venture off our path and get swallowed in the darkness. Then, before we know what’s happening, a swan dive into a tailspin that many of us can climb back out of.
This is why we need A Million Little Things. The show seems to center the life of the friend who lost himself in that tailspin, Jon who is played by Ron Livingston (Office Space), but it is about so much more. The survivors Gary, Rome, and Eddie (David Giuntoli of Grimm fame) all struggle to find their way, despite having so many of their own problems. Eddie is having an affair and fighting to stay sober, Rome is “stuck” in his career and just his life, while Gary is frozen by the thought of his cancer returning. As we move between their individual stories, as well as through the flashbacks that lead to the present, the audience is pulled into their grieving, guilt, shame, rage, and questioning–all of which the people close to the victim of suicide suffer in the aftermath.
Some Missteps, But It’s Still Early
But, this is not just a tearjerker with a few laughs. There’s a mystery here. Jon’s secretary has a lot of secrets that she is determined to bury with her boss. There is also the deeds that Jon did before he died that are meant to benefit the friends he loved but just may end up pulling them even further apart.
I do find issue with the sole Asian woman–Katherine, Eddie’s wife who is played by Grace Park–being portrayed as the stereotypical coldhearted workaholic who ignores her husband and child. I hope they have more for her character than as a plot device for her cis white husband. The black woman–Christina Marie Moses, Rome’s chef wife and first recipient of Jon’s good deeds–also need a bit more fleshing out, which I hope will come as the season progresses.
A Million Little Things deserves a watch this season because of the way it handles such complex subjects–suicide, and depression. There is also the mystery that may end up being quite intriguing. The affair, the coverup, and the deeds that seem to have a deeper meaning are all a recipe for high drama later on. I just hope the show continues its open and honest portrayal of depression, suicide, survivorship, and mental illness in men. These are necessary topics for our time.
A Million Little Things airs Wednesdays on ABC.