Review: A Million Little Things 1×1 (US: ABC)

This isn't us

A Million Little Things
RON LIVINGSTON, DAVID GIUNTOLI, JAMES RODAY, ROMANY MALCO JR (ABC/Jack Rowand)

In the US: Wednesdays, 10/9c, ABC
In the UK: Not yet acquired

This is Us was an unexpected hit for NBC, which usually does lukewarm versions of other networks’ dramas with a hint of added smartness. As its portentous title suggests, the show tries to depict universal emotions – it might as well be called ‘this is the human experience’ – and that’s one of the keys to its success.

ABC must have been annoyed when it saw how well the show did. This was ABC’s natural territory after all. ABC is the network of gushing emotionality, after all.

Cue A Million Little Things, ABC’s necessary rejoinder to This Is Us. Based on the idea that friendship isn’t one thing, it’s a million little things, the show is unusual for ABC, however, in being about a bunch of male friends: David Giuntoli (Grimm), a music teacher and stay-at-home dad who is having marital problems; unsuccessful movie director Romany Malco (Weeds); womaniser and breast-cancer survivor James Roday (Psych); and successful businessman Ron Livingston (Office Space).

Typically, they don’t really talk about their emotions much, just watch sports together, so when Livingston jumps off a tall building, it comes as a big surprise to all of them. Was he depressed? What did he have to be depressed about? Say, is there anything you guys aren’t telling me, too?

Cue all manner of revelations.

A Million Little Things
ALLISON MILLER, STEPHANIE SZOSTAK, CHRISTINA MOSES (ABC/Jack Rowand)

A Million Little Imitations

Although the show at least doesn’t rip off This Is Us‘s hands-across-the-world multi-racial siblings and 70s/80s nostalgia, A Million Little Things does borrow lock-stock two of its progenitor’s hallmarks: multiple timelines and relentless addiction to narrative storytelling through building up secrets and then disclosing them at fixed intervals.

While the show doesn’t go back as far as the 70s, it does jump around ad infinitum to events that preceded Livingston’s suicide – a both unsurprising and necessary device, given he’s billed as a regular cast member and isn’t a ghost.

We can forgive that.

More egregious is the secretiveness. Why did Livingston kill himself? If only he left a note. Oh, he did! Oh, except his personal assistant has kept it from everyone! What did it say? Why was she the last call he made before he jumped? Dum dum dum!

Then there are the questions of whom Giuntoli is having an affair with (is it one of the other men’s partners?), what the big business deal was that Livingston was trying to arrange before he died, and why Malco was coincidentally trying to commit suicide at the exact same time that Livingston was plummeting to his death? Some of these get answered in the first episode, others are left dangling there for the regular viewer. Whether they’ll get answered quickly and whether new ones will join them as quickly as they do in This is Us remains to be seen, of course.

A Million Little Things

A Million Little improvements

But on the plus side of the Millionaire’s balance sheet, we do have the fact the show is nowhere near as emotionally manipulative as This Is Us. No one is supposed to represent All Men or A Very Big Thing. Roday may have had cancer and that is an issue throughout the episode, but he’s not All Cancer Survivors, All Men With Cancer, All Men With Breast Cancer or anything else in Title Case. He’s just a charming, smirky, womanising git who’ll pick up a woman (Go On‘s Allison Miller) at a support group and bring her to a funeral as his +1, without even knowing she’s actually a psychologist specialising in depression (handy…).

Which is a relief. Oddly for ABC, slightly less multi-dimensional are the female characters, who largely just fill plot roles necessitated by the men. Poor old Grace Park may have escaped from low pay at Hawaii Five-O, but here she’s a stereotypical Cold Career Woman, whose dedication to her work is what’s causing Giuntoli to want out from his marriage. Still, the trailer for future episodes suggests there’ll be more to all the female roles in future, so even this bit of Title Case might get lower-cased within a couple of episodes. I can’t imagine she’d have taken the job otherwise…

The episode does also get better, roughly from the point where Roday starts demanding everyone start talking about their feelings. It does feel like a seismic plot development, in a show that was just coasting until that point, even if it doesn’t spectacularly change the nature of the show.

Roday’s very good, and manages to avoid bringing too much of Shawn from Psych along for the trip, and Miller is a decent foil to his antics. Livingston also gets to have a surprising amount of fun for a depressed, suicidal person. Everyone else gets to work through some relatively ordinary lines and plot points relatively ordinarily. They might shine if given something better to do, but that doesn’t happen to any of them in the first episode, at least.

A Million Little Things
GRACE PARK, STEPHANIE SZOSTAK (ABC/Jack Rowand)

Should you watch it?

A Million Little Things is less ambitious, less forced and less interesting than This is Us. It doesn’t have much to say about friendship that you won’t have heard elsewhere, but it does it well enough that it doesn’t feel like it’s stating the blindingly obvious. The secrets aren’t particularly tantalising, but they’re not uninteresting either. I doubt it’ll do as well as This is Us, but at least you won’t feel emotionally blackmailed after watching it.

Worth a punt, if you like emotive dramas, but don’t expect to be wowed or to fall in love with anyone.

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