It Makes My Heart Ache In A Million Little Ways
Why I Still Love A Million Little Things
There are some series you really wonder why they are, to quote Arthur Miller, ‘liked, but they’re not well liked.” I think about that every time I watch an episode of one of ABC’s greatest creations A Million Little Things. I will admit this is a dark series to watch — last season alone dealt with paralysis, drug addiction, racism in too many forms grooming, sexual molestation and an assault — and that’s without counting how the effects of 2020 laid waste to some of the lead characters greatest dreams just by being 2020.
So yes, A Million Little Things is not a cheerful series. But when you get right down to it, neither is This is Us and it is worshipped by critics and audiences alike. Why does one series get loved by fans and awards shows and this show basically get ignored by both?” Even after nearly a decade of doing this professionally, I can’t say for sure. My best guess is that because Million is set firmly in the present — or at least it has been since the end of Season 1 — we don’t have the same playing around with timelines that we do on This is Us. We therefore don’t have all the puzzles that we have to work out, or the knowledge that whatever traumas the Pearson will deal with, they’ll be all right as a family in the future.
By being set firmly in the here and now — and for the record the series portrayal of 2020 was one of the most wrenching and quietly brilliantly works of television of the entire season — the viewer has no escape from the often terrible things that are going on. We have to witness Eddie go through his rage at being unfairly paralyzed, watch his new addiction to pills destroy him and his marriage to Karen that we have been rooting for two and a half seasons then we have to see him prove he’s going to be a good father, then we see him learn who finally put him in the wheelchair. We have to see Rome and Regina, because of the pandemic, lost the things they have been working for the most — Rome, the film he spent all of season 2 getting written; Regina losing the restaurant she spent her whole career trying to find. And perhaps hardest of all was the storyline in which we saw Sophie finally reveal the way her trusted music teacher had spent weeks molesting her, Gary’s incredible rage when he learned about it that he could not subdue which continues after the potential investigation collapse and caused him to lash out at Delilah, Sophie’s mother in a horrifying scene, topped only by Gary’s assault on him in the third season finale. The consequences have played out even more disastrously in Season 4 as Gary has lost the woman he loved and the possibility to be a father because of his actions.
It’s small wonder that many viewers don’t love this series; the tension can be unbearable. But the reason I love it so much — to the point that I consider it one of the best shows on television today — is because A Million Little Things is primarily about healing after tragedy in a way that few other series truly are. Those of us who’ve been there from the beginning remember the series with the suicide of a friend bringing about realizations about adultery, depression and recovery from cancer. This series deals with how you really deal with the traumas from your past even when you sometimes forget the lesson. It was hard watching Eddie go down the road he did, but its also been rewarding watching his arc this season as he finally finds a way to accept that what happened to him was an accident, that he will be in the wheelchair probably for the rest of his life, and possibly finding a way to move forward in a career and maybe even in a relationship.
Rome and Regina, the couple who have stuck together through hard times throughout the series, are going through their own journeys: Rome is dealing with the reality of being a black filmmaker in America as well as a black man. When he finally gets a documentary about the black experience sold to a streaming service it should be a triumph — until he learns the company wants to use it as prestige and bury the public from seeing it. He tries to get his movie seen in smaller showings, and is sued by the company. When he ‘wins’ he loses the money and the agent whose been with him but prefers to protect its relationship with the company rather than its client. Regina is trying to find a way forward working as a chef, first in a horrible chain restaurant then as a caterer for a film crew. Now its beginning to seem like the relationship may fracture.
Then there are the two characters at the heart of this series — Gary (James Roday Rodriguez in a performance that no one who saw Psych would recognize) and Maggie (Allison Miller) Their relationship started with sex in a cancer support group bathroom and has evolved into one of the funniest — and sweetest — friendships in all of television. For two years, they tried to make their relationship work but Maggie finally had to move on. Gary found happiness with a physical therapist and Gulf War veteran and genuinely seemed on the verge of committing to happiness. But when she found out about his lies, the relationship was torched. Even worse, his relationship with Sophie, a girl he has been a second father too, especially here has apparently been completely scuttled when she learned what he did and she was infuriated. He thought he was helping her, but she made it clear all he’d done was made her trauma all about him. In a perfect world Roday would have been nominated for a Best Supporting Actor last year.
As I said A Million Little Things is not for the faint of heart, which is all the more reason why it should be watched. How many series, let alone network series, are willing to center not on action or procedural but rather trauma and the process of getting better from it? This is Us is about the perfect family that has so many traumas beneath the surface. It’s about an ideal that none of us will ever have. A Million Little Things is about making a family with the people you love and trying to rebuild from everything life can throw at you. And as we’ve seen just this last year, it can throw a lot at you even if you’re perfect.
I don’t entire think the series is perfect. I’m still not a hundred percent sure where the new storyline involving Karen (Grace Park remains note perfect by the way) trying to explore her sexuality after a divorce is entirely workable. And I’ll admit the six month flashforward we got two episodes ago did seem to leave a lot of details out. But I’m willing to continue on this journey with these people who I’ve come to love because of their flaws and problems, not despite them. A Million Little Things is the kind of series they literally almost don’t make any more. I think you owe it to yourself to see it more than watching Chicago PD.
My score: 4.75 stars.