Everybody wants a hit drama. Most try to manufacture the drama each week with a murder or a legal case, or some other “profession / case that can drive the plot this week” device. Doctors or hospitals are always popular. Even pathologists. Occasionally they find magic with the teaching profession. And 44 minutes later, the plot is resolved for that week.
The current search is for the new “This Is Us”. A drama with flashbacks, no professional hook, just family relating. With the “family” being the plot device, no 22 minute-long joke reels in these ones though. I watched “This Is Us” for the premiere, and I liked it well enough, thought they did a good job, but it wasn’t a hook for me. And most of the attempts at non-procedural dramas die. The group who “flashed forward” and saw their future. The parents whose kids returned after death. The lottery winners and what happened to their lives after the big win. All popped up and got beat down in a ratings-based game of whack-a-mole.
So when I read about the new show, A Million Little Things, I thought, “hmmm…”. Okay, so it has a Big Chill feel to it. Although fans of the Big Chill who resonated at the time are WAY older now. Still has a death to pull people together and to “handle”. But it’s a suicide, which is a bit risky. My prediction based just on the description was “CANCELLED”, no renewal.
I have now watched the premiere and I flat out loved it.
The premise is four friends who met when when they got stuck in an elevator together as four random strangers ten years ago. Two and a half hours later, and they had bonded. Friend #1, John, is played by Ron Livingston, and I just loved him in Defying Gravity, even if he gets more props for Band of Brothers (and rightfully so). Back in the elevator, John was the perfect glue, the guy who thought everything happens for a reason but you have to fight hard to find that reason, and that friendship was made up of “a million little things”. John is a smooth-talking business type, and you see him on the phone at the start of the episode wheeling and dealing, the epitome of always be closing, without the smarm. Would he kill himself?
Friend number 2 is Eddie, played by David Giuntoli (ahh, I miss Grimm too). Eddie is no longer in love with his wife, and in fact has been planning to leave her for years (apparently). A recovering alcoholic, he is in the process of “packing to go” as the episode opens, he’s in love with someone else, and just as he is packing, he has a sudden realization — what will he tell his son? Really? Planning for years and this is the first time it occurs to him? Really? Okay, so that writing sucked, but David is pretty solid. And while later you see him deliver a kick-ass eulogy, at the start, he’s stressed, did he kill himself?
Friend number 3 is Gary, played by James Roday (yep, Shawn Spencer from Psych!). It’s a bit of an adjustment to see his delivery 100% serious all the time, but good. Gary is a bit of a hot mess, honestly, as the episode describes him. He has beaten breast cancer, but is tested every 3 months to be sure it isn’t back. He is working his way around the cancer support group as the only guy, and since he “gets” what they’re going through, he cleans up with the group like Casanova in a hospital gown. In the opener, he’s getting a cancer update diagnosis, and he’s a bit stressed, so maybe he killed himself.
And friend number 4 is Rome, played by Romany Malco. Rome is losing his sh** as the episode opens, and he has already drafted a suicide note. Okay, it’s him, pretty clear. He pours a bunch of pills on the counter and then stresses out when he spills too many. He goes to get water out of the fridge, and the Brita is empty. He starts to get water out of the tap, but there’s a story on the news about somewhere having poisoned tap water, and so he starts again with the Brita, so he can wash it down. As he is trying to cram the pills in his mouth, and then wash them down, his phone keeps ringing. It’s one of the other friends calling to tell him that John killed himself. Rome spits out the pills.
John jumped off a balcony at his office, and his assistant seems to have seen him jump. But nobody knows why he would do it. He was the glue, the one who had everything perfect, and always seemed happy. A bit of a cliché but it is handled pretty well.
There is a bit of mystery going on though. His assistant, Ashley, has a small folder with Delilah’s name on it from him, and she hides it in a drawer rather than give it to her. Is it a suicide note? Was there something going on with her and him? Later, she hides even more stuff. Dun dun dun.
Meanwhile, the guys are not coping alone. David has a wife Katherine that he doesn’t love and she knows he wants to leave (Grace Park of Battlestar Galactica, Hawaii Five-O). John’s wife is strong and near picture perfect as the grieving widow, Delilah. Rome’s wife, Regina, is super strong, a chef who opened her own restaurant once when she was young and as inexperienced as her investor, but John got her out of it (someday she’d like to reopen one).
And new to the mix is a date from the cancer support group — Maggie. Clinical psychologist by training, she’s struggling with her cancer treatments and diagnosis. She latches on to Gary, and their first “date” is John’s funeral. I haven’t seen the actress, Allison Miller, before but she has some presence. I was worried she might be the “observer” plot tool for the show, but she has her own drama developing, and I think she’ll be with us for the duration.
The guys bond, the girls bond, they deal with the funeral and the immediate aftermath.
Speaking of duration, the whole point of watching the premiere was to predict if the show will be cancelled or renewed. While I guessed cancelled in the beginning, sight unseen, I’m on the fence now that I’ve seen the pilot. It’s good, but is it “renewal” good? I’m going to take a chance and say yes. Either way, I’m going to be watching.