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'A Million Little Things' review: A weepy 'This Is Us' wannabe

Romany Malco and Christina Moses are part of

Romany Malco and Christina Moses are part of the cast on ABC's "A Million Little Things."   Photo Credit: ABC/Jack Rowand

SERIES "A Million Little Things"

WHEN | WHERE Premieres Wednesday at 10 p.m. on ABC/7

WHAT IT'S ABOUT Four guys are stuck in an elevator in Boston for a few hours. They start to talk and soon enough, start to bond. Fast forward to present time, when the guy who was doing the most talking in that elevator — successful businessman Jonathan Dixon (Ron Livingston) — goes to the balcony adjoining his palatial office, and jumps off. The three other men in that elevator, now close friends, have to struggle to make sense of this suicide. Rome Howard (Romany Malco) is a commercial director who is also desperately sad and wants to direct movies. Gary Mendez (James Roday) has breast cancer and is in his oncologist's office, awaiting his latest prognosis. Eddie Saville (David Giuntoli) is a guitar teacher, unhappily married to a lawyer. After the funeral, Jon's wife, Delilah Dixon (Stephanie Szostak), holds a get-together and she manages to endure the event with the help of these few good friends and another, Maggie Bloom (Allison Miller), a therapist and Gary's latest romantic interest.

Meanwhile, everyone has the same tortured question: Why Jon?

MY SAY "A Million Little Things" is the series that arrives pre-packaged with a box of Kleenex and a soundtrack DVD of songs — which obviously must include Vance Joy's "Riptide" — to put us in just the right, bluesy mood. It's the show that insists that we all need a good cry, or that we need to get over ourselves, or that we need to see the bright side even when the dark side has the upper hand. It's that show that sees little miracles in big things, or big miracles in little things. It wants to us to believe in coincidences — crazy coincidences! — like how getting stuck on an elevator can change lives, fates or fortunes.

Yup, the pilot of "A Million Little Things" promises that kind of show, and if this isn't your kind of show, then move along. I've seen the first three episodes and, at the very least, give this newcomer credit for consistency — not all that much changes over them.

The genesis of the title comes in flashback, when Jonathan explains that "friendship [is] believing that your friend will one day make his movie, or it's holding a friend's hand when she loses her restaurant, or it's the person you trust with your wallet and keys and wife and kids and it's being able to have the hard conversation and be willing to listen. It's a million little things."

In fact, that's only about six things, but each will have a critical bearing on future plot tangents, as if Jon was foreshadowing life after he was gone. "A Million Little Things" does in fact play with the possibility that Jon made the ultimate sacrifice, because by taking his own life he could set in motion a series of events that would ultimately benefit his friends. 

What's wrong with this — and specifically that — is we never get to know Jon. He's gone almost before the series has started, and then fitfully emerges in flashback only, and those glimpses aren't entirely appealing. He's a smug yuppie and a master of his universe who's in perfect control until he isn't. Likewise, his small circle of pals are sketchpad drawings, too. Eddie's the spineless stay-at-home dad. Rome's the guy who's postponed his dreams. Gary is the cynic who lives checkup to checkup. They're each flawed and emotionally spent, but they're merely prototypes of the Flawed and Emotionally Spent.

Nevertheless, "A Million Little Things" demands that we feel their pain and reach for that box of Kleenex while we do. It's a rush job and ultimately an unsatisfying one because TV characters need to first earn viewers' trust, and from that comes love, or at least some measure of empathy. "A Million Little Things" has it all backward: We're told to care about the four amigos immediately, even though most of the available evidence suggests there's not much of a reason to at all.

BOTTOM LINE A weepy wannabe from the "This Is Us" playbook that doesn't build much of a case for caring about the characters, much less weeping over them.

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