Wednesday, September 26, 2018

REVIEW: 'A Million Little Things' - A Sudden Death Forces a Group of Friends to Reflect on Their Lives in 'Pilot'

ABC's A Million Little Things - Episode 1.01 "Pilot"

They say friendship isn't one big thing, it's a million little things; and that's true for a group of friends from Boston. Some have achieved success, others are struggling in their careers and relationships, but all of them feel stuck in life. After one of them dies by suicide, it's just the wake-up call the others need to finally start living.

In 2018, it has become very difficult to keep up with every television show out there. It's even more difficult to provide adequate coverage on this site about the episodes that air every week. Not every show can get full coverage because of my busy and hectic viewing schedule. As such, some reviews will now be condensed to give only some summary thoughts. But it also affords a space for me to jot down my thoughts on the various episodes. And so, here are my thoughts on this week's episode of ABC's A Million Little Things.

"Pilot" was written by DJ Nash and directed by James Griffiths

A Million Little Things is extremely mawkish with its central premise. A group of friends learn how to live after one of them mysteriously dies. It's so absolutely morbid and maudlin. Moreover, the show presents no reason for the audience to be as emotionally invested in the story as the characters clearly are. It's easy to understand why the actors responded to the material. It provides a chance for James Roday, David Giuntoli and Romany Malco to expand their range. They are tackling material that they typically don't get to play in their projects. However, Jon's death is treated as one big mystery instead of something that absolutely hits everyone who is watching. The attempts to characterize Jon and what he meant to this group of friends are so laughable as well. They make it seem like he is a guy who always speaks in platitudes. He always lived with the idea that everything happens for a reason or one should be happy for as long as they live. This premiere makes him seem perfect. And yes, that is the way this ensemble views their friend. They don't understand why he would kill himself. When people die in such a sudden way, it leaves those left behind with profound questions about how they missed the warning signs. The show is getting the audience into that mindset. It's also deconstructing the idea of male friendship mostly being bonding over sports and not talking about one's feelings. They wanted to believe that everything was okay. Jon was the guy who loved everyone and supported everyone completely. He changed all of their lives. And now, there is a sense of mystery as to what happened to him. That's so annoying. It's the show trying to make this a murder mystery with some profound explanation waiting to be found. That's the whole reason why Jon's assistant appears to be a major character on the show. She pops up just in order to hide evidence and say cryptic things about not really knowing her boss. Keeping secrets is very much on display as well. And yet, the show really doesn't do a great job in making the audience feel invested. It keeps the truth about whether Gary's cancer has returned until late in the episode. Rome struggles with his own depression and thoughts of suicide. And Eddie is tempted to start drinking again while also being in love with Jon's widow. It's all so completely melodramatic. However, it's quite monotonous as well. That's the quality that has defined every show that DJ Nash has created. He has typically worked in the comedy space. However, all of his shows that have made it to series were cancelled after a few episodes due to negative critical reviews and low viewership. This is the first show that has really generated some buzz for him. And yet, it's still broad and one-note. It's just a different emotion than typically on display from him. That does show improvement and growth. But it's also not enough because this show wants to be absolutely nothing but misery porn. Sure, there is the aspiration of the men being able to talk with one another while Ashley can open her new restaurant. But there's also just the sense that these morose emotions will linger throughout all of the stories and not really develop into anything much more interesting than what is currently on display. Of course, some strong acting can make all of this believable too. A Million Little Things does have a strong cast even though it's more tilted towards the men in the ensemble having the more engaging material.