We couldn’t afford a funeral after my father offed himself, so the only service we had was a “viewing” of his body on a metal table in a funeral parlor (we couldn’t afford a coffin, so the “viewing” was more akin to a scene out of a police procedural where the body is identified). I couldn’t bring myself to actually go into the room and see my dead father, but when my brother walked in the room, I spotted my Dad’s feet in his old beat-up sneakers through a crack in the door.
The thing I remember most about that sparsely-attended viewing, however, was my grandmother on my mother’s side, who kept saying, “He was always my favorite son-in-law” (my parents had been divorced for 15 years), and wouldn’t stop following me around when I wanted nothing more than to be alone. She kept saying things like, “He’s in a better place now” and all I could think was, “No lady. He’s on a f—king metal table in the next room.” She threw at me every platitude in the Hallmark playbook, and I’ve never hated anyone more than I hated her that day. Stop telling me that “everything happens for a reason.” The man f—king killed himself, so shut the f—k up. Why are you even here, lady?
ABC’s A Million Little Things is the television equivalent of my grandmother that day, a show about suicide that has no idea what to say about suicide, a show that confronts the ghastliness of suicide with platitudes. “Everything happens for a reason,” Eddie Saville (David Giuntoli) says at the funeral of Jonathan Dixon (Ron Livingston), repeating it several times throughout the show, as a sort of mantra. It’s the theme of the entire series: If Dixon hadn’t killed himself, then Rome (Romany Malco) — who had a mouthful of pills when he got the call about his friend’s suicide — would have killed himself. If Jonathan hadn’t have died, then maybe these three bros wouldn’t have opened up to each other at a Bruins game the night of the funeral, and so see? Flinging himself off a building brought these men closer together! Everything does happen for a reason (in this case, the reason was height + gravity).
Of course, Jonathan’s death also provides a great moment for the female characters to become closer friends, too. While the dude-bros are at a Bruins game bonding, the women — including the widow, Delilah (Stephanie Szostak) and the wife of Rome, Regina (Christina Marie Moses) — relax on the patio with a bottle of wine and get to know Sophie (Allison Miller), a breast-cancer survivor who another friend of the deceased, Gary (James Roday), picked up at a survivor’s meeting, banged in a bathroom, and brought to his best friend’s funeral. What a great time for these women to get to know each other, right?
The central mystery of the show, of course, is “Why?” Why did Jonathan — a guy with a perfect life, a great job, and who looks like Ron Livingston, etc. — take his life? In most cases, of course, those who have experience with this know that there’s never, ever going to be a satisfying answer to the question of “Why?” But this is a broadcast network drama, so the “Why?” needs to be answered in very concrete, satisfying ways. We learn, for instance, that Jonathan’s wife, Delilah, was sleeping with his best friend, Eddie, the guy who keeps saying “Everything happens for a reason,” that reason apparently being, “To give me the impetus to leave my toxic marriage and bang my dead best friend’s wife.”
We also learn over the course of the episode that Jonathan apparently knew about that affair, but also, that he left something behind in a folder for his wife that his secretary hid, and that his secretary also deleted some important files after his death, all of which suggests that at some point, there’s going to be a nice, pat resolution, an easy answer to “Why?” Cool! So, if survivors just dig deep enough, they’ll all find our answers, right? Let’s get to it, gang!
The series is not a complete loss, however, James Roday (now with a full beard!) brings a darker version of his wiseacre Psych character to the series, and to be honest, his deathly dark sense of humor and inappropriate jokes probably best mirror my own experiences. Some folks cope by turning it all into a very macabre joke, and that I appreciate, although Roday’s character lost me when he was the one who had an about-face and chastised his friends for not opening up more on the day that he met and banged a woman from a breast survivor’s group (but it’s OK, y’all! Because Gary is a breast-cancer survivor, too! And that’s funny, because he’s a man!)
It was also nice of the show to provide a National Suicide Prevention PSA at the end of it — complete with treacly music and soft, thoughtful voices from the cast — to really hammer home how little f—king clue this show has, and that’s fine. Thousands of books and television shows use suicide as a plot device, and that’s also fine; it only becomes an issue when it’s used as a plot device and the show tries to pretend it understands it on a deep emotional level while coughing up meaningless facile platitudes. A Million Little Things does not understand, and even if the people involved in the show do, they clearly have no idea how to translate it onto the screen.