A Million Little Things and the face we show to the world
For This Is Us fans in South Africa, A Million Little Things was a gift between Seasons 2 and 3 of the former. That is, it leaps off the starting block with high emotional drama, and keeps up the pace through all 17 episodes, while throwing in a few mysteries for “light” relief.
The first season of This Is Us hit us all squarely in the feels; it was almost impossible to get through an episode without crying the big ugly cry. The second season, less so, and the third, hardly at all. So if you need a fresh dose of lump-in-the-throat tear-jerking drama, A Million Little Things should be your go-to.
Here, the ensemble cast is a group of close friends: three married couples and that one crazy single uncle all the kids love, even while their parents affectionately roll their collective eyes.
In the first scenes of the first episode, we are introduced to Rome (Romany Malco), who is hunched over the kitchen sink with a fistful of pills; Gary (James Roday), who is at the doctor for a check-up; and Jon (Ron Livingston, who, no matter what he does, will for always and evermore be Carrie’s boyfriend Berger in Sex And The City, although he was great in Loudermilk), who decides to take a dive off his office balcony.
It’s the news of this suicide that first reaches Gary, who then tells Rome – causing him to spit out the pills – that sets the scene for the group, and their ensuing actions.
The fourth guy, Eddie (David Giuntoli) has his own painful reasons for dealing with the tragedy (because he was somewhere he really shouldn’t have been), as does Jon’s widow Delilah (Stephanie Szostak), whose grief and guilt extends far beyond what any of her friends could imagine.
Creator DJ Nash said of the underlying themes of the series: “It’s an optimistic look at how the loss of a friend is the impetus for the other seven to finally start living, to make a promise to him and to themselves to finally be honest about what’s really going on.”
So why was Rome on the verge of killing himself too, on the very day his friend does?
He appears to be successful in his job, and he and his lovely wife seem to have a fairly happy marriage. But the face we put on for the world is often a mask.
Rome is depressed and questioning the meaning of life and everything else, highlighting mental health issues, their unfair stigma, and how they are so often still swept under the carpet. His father, for example, refuses to acknowledge that any “real” man could need help with this.
Gary? Gary, it transpires, has survived breast cancer. Yes, it happens to men too. He is the quintessential eternal bachelor, with his combination of a happy-go-lucky attitude coupled with an awareness of his own fragility, plus a hefty dose of fear of commitment and the pain it can bring with it.
Eddie is a recovering alcoholic and musician – the two often inextricably intertwined – who is married to Katherine (Grace Kim), a successful attorney frazzled by juggling her career and being a good mom to their son, according to her own impossibly high standards. These are all issues that have placed a strain on their marriage.
Rome’s wife Regina (Christina Moses) is an ambitious chef who wants to open her own restaurant, a dream Jon’s death will facilitate in its own strange way, as she goes into partnership with Delilah. She knows nothing about Rome’s emotional agony or his suicidal thoughts.
Then there is Maggie (Allison Miller), a member of Gary’s cancer survivor group and also a shrink. She and Gary begin a relationship that is tempestuous to say the least, given the mutual uncertainty about whether either of them will survive another year; plus, her job puts her front and centre with Rome’s issues and neediness – never mind all the other fallout and exposed secrets and betrayals following Jon’s death, which are enough to make anyone’s head explode.
In a sense, Maggie is the glue that frequently holds everyone together. Later, they will surround her in a virtual and literal group hug and return all the support she offered them.
These are our players, but the big question – which isn’t answered until the very end of the season – is why did Jon jump?
That he apparently didn’t leave a note causes the greatest anguish as his friends and family struggle to understand why he did it, especially in such an uncharacteristically callous way.
Information we are privy to and they are not, is that his assistant Ashley (Christina Ochoa) knows a whole lot more than she’s admitting. There’s also a mysterious woman from Jon’s past, played by Drea de Matteo (The Sopranos, Shades Of Blue), who makes an appearance later in the story. The role she played in Jon’s death is only revealed in the finale, which will keep you guessing all the way till the end.
ABC has renewed the series for a second season.