A Million Little Things

A Million Little Things season 5

Credits

Cast

Network

Reviewer

Paul Asay
Emily Tsiao
Kristin Smith

TV Series Review

We can look at our lives in one of two ways. One, we can imagine that we are, essentially, sentient plinko chips who’ve been dropped into an unthinking, uncaring universe to bounce through our allotment of time more or less at random—our directions made through both choice and chance. Or two, we can believe that we are part of a bigger story, threads woven into a bigger picture.

Jon Dixon was a big-picture type of guy. First, he was a real estate visionary, a mogul who brokered deals and bought up property and made himself rich. But he believed, too, in fate. He believed that everything—no matter how terrible—happens for a reason.

But when Jon takes a swan dive off his own office building, the friends and family he leaves behind have their doubts.

“Jon, you say that everything happens for a reason,” his friend Eddie says at his funeral. “I can’t see a reason for this.”

Let’s be honest: Sometimes it can be difficult to see the design behind what happens to us. Sometimes we must come to terms with the knowledge we’ll never have all the answers to some questions in our lifetimes.

SINCERITY AND SECRETS

Jon left behind a loving wife, two kids and three best friends—pals he bonded with a decade earlier on a broken-down elevator. For the last 10 years, they’ve attended hockey games together, sharing their lives in the ways that guys often do: superficially.

Jon certainly didn’t have too many heart-to-hearts with Gary, whose constant patter hid how scared he was that his breast cancer might return. None of them knew that Rome, an aspiring film director, was dealing with crippling depression and suicidal tendencies himself. And they certainly didn’t know that Eddie, a one-time band frontman turned guitar teacher, was having an affair with Jon’s wife, Delilah.

But Jon held his share of secrets, too—some that he wanted to share, some he wanted to keep, and some that he’d wanted to share but others seemed to want to keep.

‘Course, the people in Jon’s life know now that he was hiding a pretty big secret from all of them: his desire to kill himself.

“Nine hundred fifty hours sitting next to Jon [at hockey games], and I had no idea he was depressed,” Gary says.

“How could I not know?” his widow who, affair or not, sincerely grieves Jon’s death. “How could I not see it?” All of Jon’s friends ask the same question in their own ways.

It’s too late to change for Jon, of course. But perhaps they can change for each other.

THIS IS ALSO US

ABC’s A Million Little Things hopes to catch a little of the magic that This Is Us hooked on NBC. It aims to inspire laughs, jerk tears and invest its viewers in this tightly woven drama of interconnected lives. And, by using suicide as its backdrop, it may recall for some oldsters the big-screen Boomer drama The Big Chill as well.

Like that R-rated theatrical predecessor, A Million Little Things has a lot of little (and some pretty big) problems.

We begin with the narrative’s infidelity—no small matter here. We see lovers in bed together, wrestling with their consciences after wrestling in the sheets. More than one romantic tryst ends in pregnancy (and sometimes those pregnancies are terminated). Several relationships end in divorce (and more than a few become sexual without marriage ever being put on the table). And there are multiple LGBT storylines threaded in.

Language can be rough at times. And let’s not forget that this ABC show is attempting to grapple with some very serious issues, including: abortion, adoption, cancer, deportation, a teenager “coming out” to his classmates, a family struggling to keep their business afloat during the COVID-19 lockdown, a man trying to understand his feelings surround the Black Lives Matter movement, and a girl groomed by her teacher (and her attempts to have justice served against him after learning he groomed other students, as well).

Even if we could set aside all the show’s content concerns, these plot points still aren’t exactly kid friendly. Whenever depression and suicide are dealt with in the context of a dramatic show—even with the best of intentions—I think there’s a risk that those struggling with similar issues might take the wrong sorts of messages from it.

But all that said, A Million Little Things still feels both realistic and, in terms of its mental health themes, fairly responsible. This isn’t 13 Reasons Why, which some believed unintentionally glamorized suicide. It’s about encouraging people to open up and talk about their problems (even the seemingly little ones). To reach out to friends and family. To get help. And, as this series emphasizes, we could all use help sometimes.

We could point to a million little things that A Million Little Things does wrong. But at the same time, I like the big things the show wants to get right: We all suffer in our own ways. We shouldn’t be afraid to lean on others when the going gets rough. And we should remember that, as Jon himself might suggest in his own way, God has plans for us.

We live in a fallen world. We live with our own mistakes and the mistakes of others, and those things can lead to incredible, inexplicable pain. But even in this fallen world, God is with us. And He has a purpose for us. And with His help, we can find meaning and growth, sometimes even in the midst of our darkest of days.

Episode Reviews

Feb. 8, 2023 – S5, Ep1: “The Last Dance”

After learning his cancer has returned, Gary seeks treatment, hoping to live long enough to see his son born. He enlists Danny, Jon’s son, to help him fulfill some bucket-list items. Katherine, Eddie’s ex-wife, helps Maggie, Gary’s pregnant girlfriend, register for baby gifts. Rome worries his dad may be showing signs of memory loss. Regina, Rome’s wife, helps Sophie, Jon’s daughter, find direction for her life. Circumstances force Eddie to end a promising relationship. The entire group faces the sudden loss of someone close to them.

People attend a funeral, and we hear the deceased passed in his sleep. We hear about a man who died in the Vietnam War saving his friend. A woman talks about how she lost her husband to dementia. Several cancer patients are administered chemotherapy. Characters grieve losses and express fear about future deaths. They also comfort each other regarding both.

Katherine introduces her friends to her new girlfriend. Danny talks about how he came out as gay to his classmates. He thanks an older man who was in a closeted relationship until his lover was killed in war.

A couple flirts and makes plans for intercourse. A man jokes about having sex with his wife to embarrass his son. Someone speculates about a celebrity couple’s sexuality. A few couples smooch.

People drink wine. We hear a story about a car accident (no one was injured). After learning Gary never shoplifted as a child, Danny bullies him into stealing something from a pharmacy. Sophie says she couldn’t always rely on her parents growing up. We hear a few uses of “h—.” God’s name is abused a handful of times as well.

A man says he went to church for 30 years for his dad. A boy says he likes to think his dad is in heaven.

Nov. 7, 2018 – S1, Ep7: “I Dare You”

Delilah is pregnant with Eddie’s baby, unbeknownst to Eddie’s wife, Catherine, and Delilah wants to pretend that it is her deceased husband’s child. Delilah’s son, Danny, has a crush on a fellow seventh-grade boy. Rome and his wife, Regina, wade through marital issues after she finds out that Rome tried to commit suicide, is struggling with depression and has been confiding in another woman. Rome is rushed to the hospital with stomach pains. Gary’s love interest, Maggie, has cancer but prefers to live in the moment instead of seeking treatment.

Couples kiss and flirt and lie in bed together. Two people engage in a relationship solely for its sexual benefits. A woman lies in bed without pants (we see her bare upper thighs). Women wear revealing outfits.

A woman is scared to proceed with chemotherapy and bears multiple bruises on her arms. A man collapses and is rushed to the hospital where doctors suspect that he has overdosed from antidepressants. A doctor discusses a suicidal patient. A man writhes in pain while trying to pass a kidney stone. Someone reference smoking cigarettes. People yell and cry. Men and women drink wine and beer.

God’s name is misused nearly ten times. Someone says “d–mit,” and “freaking.”

Sept. 26, 2018 – S1, Ep1: “Pilot”

John Dixon apparently commits suicide. (We don’t see him leap to his death, but we do see his lifeless body on a car hood below.) His friends and family grapple with the apparent senselessness of the act. The wealthy real estate tycoon seemed to have it all, and his three best friends (Gary, Rome and Eddie) struggle to cope with the guilt they feel over his death.

A spiritual thread runs through the episode. John was a big believer that everything happens for a reason. Gary, in the face of John’s suicide, initially rejects that philosophy completely: But he’s a cancer survivor, so Eddie suggests just that fact alone—that he survived cancer—should foster a belief in a greater purpose.

“Let me be very clear,” Gary says. “First of all, God didn’t clear my cancer. Science did. Secondly, it’s not that I don’t have cancer, Ed. It’s that I don’t have cancer right now.” He dares anyone to find meaning in John’s death. No greater good can come of such a thing, he argues.

But Rome pipes up. “If you hadn’t called me to tell me about John, I’d be dead right now,” he confesses. “I had a mouthful of pills when I answered the phone.” And it’s true. He spit those pills out when he heard the news, then bent down beside the kitchen sink, his hands clasped as if in prayer.

John’s funeral takes place in a church. Regina, Rome’s wife, says that even though she hasn’t been to church since high school, she plans to “swing by on Sunday, because someone needs to explain this to me.” (She also later quotes her father, saying “We black: We don’t talk about [depression]. We got Jesus.”)

We see two lovers—both married, but not to each other—in bed together, kissing and apparently naked. Gary and his girlfriend frantically make out and start to strip off clothes in a public restroom. (The woman, Maggie, tells Gary that her breasts are fake; he doesn’t care.) Gary and others make crude references to the male anatomy, and some jokes are made about Gary’s breast cancer (sometimes using crass slang terms for “breasts”). A breast cancer survivor talks about how she still has sex with the lights off.

We hear about how Gary threw up in the back of John’s car after getting chemotherapy. Characters drink beer frequently, wine occasionally and slug a round of shots as well. Eddie is a recovering alcoholic, and he nearly ends seven years of sobriety before his son pulls his attention elsewhere. Characters say “d–n,” “h—” and “crap.”

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paul-asay
Paul Asay

Paul Asay has been part of the Plugged In staff since 2007, watching and reviewing roughly 15 quintillion movies and television shows. He’s written for a number of other publications, too, including Time, The Washington Post and Christianity Today. The author of several books, Paul loves to find spirituality in unexpected places, including popular entertainment, and he loves all things superhero. His vices include James Bond films, Mountain Dew and terrible B-grade movies. He’s married, has two children and a neurotic dog, runs marathons on occasion and hopes to someday own his own tuxedo. Feel free to follow him on Twitter @AsayPaul.

Emily Tsiao

Emily studied film and writing when she was in college. And when she isn’t being way too competitive while playing board games, she enjoys food, sleep, and geeking out with her husband indulging in their “nerdoms,” which is the collective fan cultures of everything they love, such as Star Wars, Star Trek, Stargate and Lord of the Rings.

kristin-smith
Kristin Smith

Kristin Smith joined the Plugged In team in 2017. Formerly a Spanish and English teacher, Kristin loves reading literature and eating authentic Mexican tacos. She and her husband, Eddy, love raising their children Judah and Selah. Kristin also has a deep affection for coffee, music, her dog (Cali) and cat (Aslan).

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