Get ready to hear the cliché “everything happens for a reason” a million (little) times because, that’s pretty much the central thesis to ABC’s new sentimental, tear-jerker drama. Let’s get right into the pilot episode of this new fall show — you’ll pretty quickly see what I mean.
In a fancy office building in Boston, Jon Dixon (Ron Livingston) puts on some shiny, initialed cufflinks, fixes his tie, negotiates a deal on his earpiece (during which he tells whomever is on the other end of the line that “everything happens for a reason”), and tells his assistant Ashley (Christina Ochoa) to take a long lunch.
In the bedroom he shares with his wife Katherine (Grace Park), Eddie (David Giuntoli) is packing a suitcase. He’s leaving her because he doesn’t like the Indian food she’s always making him eat (among a million other little reasons, I’m sure). His plans are scrapped, however, when his wife comes home and asks him to pick up their son Theo that night.
In a breast cancer examination room, Gary (James Roday) is having X-rays reviewed. His doctor is distracted with a highly-specific salad order, so Gary interrupts to ask if his cancer is back.
In a beautiful kitchen, Rome (Romany Malco) is signing a suicide note and prepping to take bunch of pills. Ironically, his life-ending plans are delayed momentarily because his Brita is empty and — as a background news report informs us — the Boston area is dealing with a water contamination problem so he won’t drink tap water. The time it takes for his water to purify is enough of a window for him to receive a call that causes him to spit out the pills.
Jon has jumped from his office window, plummeting to his death.
That is how we’re introduced to the main characters of A Million Little Things; four best bro-y buddies who are initially (and maybe mostly) bonded by their love for the Boston Bruins hockey team. We learn this because Rome has made handy videos of them all spending time together that he’s now rewatching with the other guys. In the footage, the four men are at a game, having fun ribbing one another over cancer (Gary) and being a stay at home dad who “once opened for Kings of Leon and now teaches guitar” (Eddie). Back in the present day, the guys can’t believe that conversation happened just a week ago. Jon seemed so alive, even going so far as to tell Eddie he should leave his wife because “life’s too short not to be happy.” Yes, it seems Jon had more than one cliché up his sleeve. What could’ve changed so drastically?
Later at a cancer remission support group, Gary is — unsurprisingly — making jokes. There’s a new girl in attendance, Maggie, who’s confused as to why Gary, a man, is there. He points out that men get breast cancer too. Is it just me, or is he not as adorably glib as he thinks? (He’s kind of like a way less funny, straight Max from Happy Endings.) Gary and Maggie have sex in the bathroom.
Before the funeral, Rome edits more footage in which Jon is talking about their friendship. They all toast to it being comprised of “a million little things.” Rome’s wife Regina (Christina Moses) can’t understand why Jon didn’t just tell his wife Delilah (Stéphanie Szostak) that he was hurting. Rome evades the question.
The next day at the funeral, no one is really adequately upset. Indeed, Gary is even late and brings Maggie as his morning-after date. (How Gary of him!) Eddie tells the story about how the guys met: they got stuck in an elevator ten years ago and Jon made conversation with them — probably spouting a cliché or two. The guys bonded over being Bruins fans and Jon (who seems to have been the best out of this mismatched group) bought them all season tickets. Eddie also uses his eulogy to reveal he’s been sober nearly 7 years because of his late friend’s advice. Jon’s daughter Sophie then plays a Joni Mitchell song, accompanying herself on a guitar Eddie taught her to play.
Everyone gathers at Jon and Delilah’s truly enormous house for the wake. Delilah asks Jon’s secretary Ashley if she has any idea why he would have wanted to kill himself. In a flashback, we see Ashley finding a file on the balcony Jon jumped from and hiding it in his desk drawer.
Once everyone leaves and just the “besties” are left at the wake, Maggie tells a story about JFK Jr. losing sight of the horizon and wins everyone over when they realize it’s a metaphor for depression. Up to this point, no one seems to have seriously considered how Jon’s mental health might have factored into the whole thing, but Maggie’s a clinical psychologist who specializes in depression, so she at least is clued in.
On his way out, Rome asks for Maggie’s business card, pretending it’s as a reference for the therapist character in the movie he’s making. He’s saved from further inquisition by the guys’ phone alarms ringing in unison to remind them the Bruins game will start soon. They head to Jon’s office (the scene of his death) to retrieve the tickets. Ashley lets them in and when they find Jon’s phone on his desk, she knows the passcode to unlock it, which leads to the guys discovering that Jon called Eddie right before he killed himself. Eddie explains he was teaching a guitar class at the time, seemingly surprised he missed it. Then he starts worrying he could’ve talked his friend down if he’s answered, but Gary tells him not to go there.
The guys leave the office to go get drinks (apart from Eddie) before the game and are toasting Jon when Gary realizes that, as a group, they never talk about anything meaningful. They just sit like guys and never share their truths. They don’t even know each other — indeed Gary doesn’t think either of the other two could tell him the color of his eyes.
Eddie doesn’t agree. He thinks that maybe Jon was right and everything does happen for a reason, that his death was as a wake-up call for the rest of them. Gary doesn’t agree and thinks at best they’ll live better lives for a couple of weeks and then go back to their same old crap. In some attempt to prove him wrong, Eddie confesses he’s in love with someone new and wants to leave Katherine. Gary still doesn’t buy the whole fate angle and asks what’s one good thing that’s happened because of this? And so it’s time for Rome to admit he was suicidal and that the call about Jon’s death saved his life. He explains that sometimes he thinks it’d just be easier to end it all. The serious moment about depression is broken by Rome telling Gary what color his eyes are.
Back at Delilah’s place, the ladies chitchat outside by the fire, sipping wine. They’re all doing remarkably well considering this shocking and unexpected death. Delilah questions how she had no idea what was going on with her husband. The other ladies assure her they’re here for her, which is nice since Maggie and Delilah’s friendship is all of two hours old. During the course of the conversation, we find out that Regina (who catered the wake) used to own her own restaurant and it went bust, but she plans to open up another place someday and do it right this time. At that moment, Delilah decides to take her BFFs on a road trip to see the last thing Jon did before he died. Turns out in his last negotiation (the one we heard him discussing at the top of the episode), Jon made a real estate deal for a great restaurant space for Regina. The ladies drink more wine to toast Jon’s generosity and thoughtfulness.
Elsewhere, Eddie texts the woman he loves and we find out it’s none other than Jon’s widow Delilah. It gets worse: they were in bed together when Jon made his last ever call to Eddie and Eddie ignored it. Later that night, he goes over to see Delilah. She’s worried Jon knew about their affair and that’s why he killed himself. She tells Eddie if he loves her he’ll leave right now and closes the door in his face.
Here’s how we wrap up with each character in the last few minutes of the pilot episode:
At his home, Rome finds his suicide note in a drawer and — after watching more old footage from the elevator of Jon talking some more about everything happening for reason — he crumples it up, accepting his friend’s message that even when things are bad, good things can come from them.
Over at Jon’s office, Ashley looks at files about disclosures and applications that seem to suggest there might have been some kind of scandal at work. She hits delete.
After a run, Maggie listens to a voicemail that makes it clear her breast cancer is back and that she isn’t following her treatment plan.
Eddie nearly has a drink but his son startles him and he doesn’t. He does have a voicemail from Jon, though, that he hasn’t listened to yet.
Gary leaves a framed photo of the bestie-bros on Rome’s doorstep.
Here’s hoping for more answers next week!