“A Million Little Things” Celebrates Friendship and Makes You Cry along the Way

Television viewing audiences have proven that no matter how sad or tearjerking a dramatic TV program is, they will still watch it religiously if the stories, characters, writing and acting are top-notch. I’m of course talking about “This Is Us“. ABC’s new drama “A Million Little Things” is putting that theory to the test. Just how much crying are we willing to do in order to be entertained?

The title comes from a tagline that appears at the beginning of the program “Friendship isn’t a big thing… It’s a million little things”. An ensemble cast of TV veterans tells the story of four friends who met by chance 10 years ago when they were stuck in an elevator. Over the course of 2 1/2 hours they shared their life stories with one another and discovered a common passion for the Boston Bruins hockey team. One of the four Jon suggested they get season tickets together and they been attending the games and building a friendship ever since.

However in the opening scenes Jon played by Ron Livingston is completing a business deal over the phone, stepped out onto the balcony of his office, and jumps off killing himself. The remainder of the episode deals with the other three friends trying to come to grips with his suicide. Naturally they wonder how they could’ve missed any signs of depression and they are wrestling with the guilt over their failure to prevent this tragedy.

Each of the three surviving friends has a complex story of their own. Eddie Saville played by former “Grimm” star David Giuntoli is a recovering alcoholic who is cheating on his wife. He gives a memorable eulogy of his friend revealing the back story of how they all met and some of the history of the friendship. Rome Howard played by Romany Malco is a filmmaker who makes TV commercials but longs to make more significant films. He’s carrying some secrets of his own. Finally we have Gary Mendez who is played by James Roday. You will recall him as Shawn Spencer on “Psych“. He is recovering from breast cancer and we are reminded that yes… men can get breast cancer. He’s a bit of a womanizer and picks up a woman at his cancer survivors support group, has sex with her in a bathroom, spends the night with her and then brings her as a date to the funeral of his friend.

Filling out the ensemble cast includes the wives and girlfriends of the friends. We have the widow Delilah Dixon played by Stephanie Szostak who you might recall from the USA Network series “Satisfaction“. Rome Howard’s wife Regina is an aspiring restaurateur is played by Christina Marie Moses seen recently in “The Originals“. Maggie Bloom is the girl that Gary brought to the funeral. She is played by Allison Miller who is been recently seen in “13 Reasons Why“.

There are a few plot twists and revealed secrets that I won’t discuss. But I will say they will give ample opportunity to move the story along in future episodes.

It’s interesting to see James Roday in a serious role much different from his character from “Psych”. Although he does have a few comic lines it is for the most part a straight dramatic role and he handles it well. Similarly David Giuntoli’s character is significantly different from Detective Nick Burkhardt in “Grimm” and he handles it well as well.

Overall it’s well-written, well acted, heavy drama and while the comparisons to “This Is Us” are unavoidable, I’m not sure it has the charm or heart of “This Is Us”. It doesn’t have the family element or the children’s stories that are at the core of “This Is Us”. So if that is what you are looking for, you won’t find it at least not in the opening episode. But other than that this has potential to be a big hit if it can move on with the stories of the characters and not being stuck in the issues surrounding the suicide.

Unfortunately I don’t have room for it in my schedule but I’m giving it a very strong “Recommended Watchable” rating. If you’re looking for a good cry check it out.

“New Amsterdam” Might Be a Good Alternative to Existing Medical Dramas

Broadcast TV already has several successful medical dramas such as the long-running “Grey’s Anatomy“, and newcomers “The Good Doctor“, “The Resident” and “Chicago Med“. Recently we’ve also had shows such as “Code Black” which ran a few seasons. Are we really in need of another medical drama such as NBC’s new series “New Amsterdam“?

After seeing one episode of the new series I think it might be a tentative answer of “yes”.

First of all I don’t watch “Chicago Med” so I can’t really compare. I’ve probably seen every episode of “Grey’s Anatomy”. While I enjoy it, at times it’s a little more soap opera than I care for with too much focus on the personal romantic interactions between the characters. It does tell compelling medical stories so I’ve stuck with it all these years even though the soap opera aspects are not my favorite. Although I have continued to watch the entire first season “The Good Doctor” I am still uncomfortable with the basic premise that someone as severely autistic as Dr. Sean Murphy could be accepted as a surgical resident. I watched a couple of episodes of “The Resident” and found it to be extremely cynical and exploits people’s fears about incompetency of medical personnel. That made it a rather unenjoyable experience for me.

“New Amsterdam” confronts the flaws in the healthcare system head on but does so in a much more positive way than “The Resident”. Our main character Dr. Max Goodwin is the new medical director of New Amsterdam Hospital which is the fictional institution described as America’s oldest public hospital. Producers say it was inspired by New York’s Bellevue Hospital. In a staff meeting wrong his first day he fires much of the cardiac surgical team because they are more focused on profits than patient care. It’s a bit unclear how he came to that conclusion but the scene is really designed to illustrate how he’s willing to shake up the system.

Goodwin is played by Ryan Eggold who is most famous for playing Tom Keen on “The Blacklist“. His passion for fixing the system and taking care of patients is obvious and credible. However the show doesn’t get preachy about the flaws in the system. It’s just focused on dramatic storytelling about the patient’s and the doctors who work their best to treat them.

One storyline involves a young man who recently came from Africa and is possibly infected with Ebola. He’s been sent here unwittingly as a terrorist weapon to try to infect Americans. The challenges of treating such a patient are illustrated and as you might expect one of the doctors becomes exposed to the virus.

Another storyline involves the psychiatry department dealing with a young woman who has been passed from foster home to foster home. The doctor tries to find an appropriate permanent placement for her. If he cannot find placement he’s willing to bend the rules to keep her in the inpatient psychiatric care department just to give her some sense of stability.

So if you agree that “Grey’s Anatomy” is too much of a soap opera and don’t care for “The Resident” or “The Good Doctor” then you might want to check out “New Amsterdam”.

I’m thinking of creating a new category in my rating system. Based on how much I enjoyed the show I would normally give it a rating of “I’m Watching It“. However I’m already watching way too many TV shows on a regular basis so I may not continue to actually watch it but I would give it a strong enough recommendation as if I was going to watch it. So let’s add a new category… “Recommended watchable” which is better than the rather tentative category of “Could Be Watchable”. The “Recommended Watchable” means I would watch it if I had the time.