ABC’s new Wednesday-night shows “A Million Little Things” and “Single Parents” — one a heavy-ish drama, the other a light half-hour comedy — are centered on the idea of friendship saving the day but built on old themes that traditional networks hope will save their bacon.
As ratings continue to drop at broadcast networks, the majority of new fall shows reveal no new insights on how to successfully move forward in this multiplatform TV era. CBS’ “Murphy Brown” is a reboot, NBC’s “Manifest” is modeled after “Lost” and one of Fox’s new shows is actually a continuation of ABC’s cancelled Tim Allen series “Last Man Standing.” It’s not surprising, then, to discover that “A Million Little Things” borrows from the sentimentality of “This Is Us” and the suicide aftermath of “13 Reasons Why,” while “Single Parents” goes to the well of “Modern Family’s” unconventional household humor.
“A Million Little Things” from DJ Nash revolves around the unusually close relationship among four friends and how their bonds are challenged and redefined when tragedy strikes. Sound familiar?
Besties Eddie (Dave Giuntoli), Gary (James Roday) and Rome (Romany Malco) are lost after they lose their fourth musketeer, Jon (Ron Livingston), who jumps to his death from the balcony of his high-rise office. His friends and their wives and partners (part of an ensemble cast that includes Grace Park and Christina Moses) spend the first three episodes trying to figure out why a man who appeared to have it all would throw it all away. He didn’t leave a note, or at least one they can find. But his office assistant knows more than she reveals. We also learn more through a series of the other characters' emotionally manipulative flashbacks. Their search for an answer threatens to rip them apart as they discover secrets about one another.
Getting to the bottom of why Ron took his life should be an interesting pursuit, but not with these folks, who repeatedly speak in clichés — “Ron always said everything happens for a reason” — and often seem tone deaf as they joke flippantly about the suicide, or when Gary brings a date he barely knows to Ron’s memorial. When the deceased’s teenage daughter stands up to play a song on the acoustic guitar, he mutters something like, “Please, God, don’t let it be a Bruno Mars number, because that would be tragic.” It’s just not funny, and it also shows that no matter what you think of “This Is Us,” it’s not an easy formula to replicate.
“Single Parents” takes its cues from the network’s other family comedies, such as “black-ish,” but the jokes are too sophomoric to come close to the brilliance and humor of that award-winning show or the Emmy-amassing “Modern Family.”
Devoted single dad Will Cooper (Taran Killam) enrolls daughter Sophie (Marlow Barkley) in a new school and immediately reveals himself as an overzealous room parent who demands 100% volunteer participation from the second-grade classes’ other parents. Those who are single immediately jump into action — and it’s not to help plan fundraisers.
Paralegal Angie D'Amato (Leighton Meester), bookstore owner Poppy Banks (Kimrie Lewis), young Yeezy sneaker-wearing father Miggy Park (Jake Choi) and the older, widowed Douglas Fogerty (Brad Garrett) are all friends, and they need to come up with a way to diffuse Will, otherwise they too will be sucked back into what they call “the vortex.”
It’s a place where adults lose their identity after having children, and Will is in deep. It’s clear from the mermaid diaper bag that Will still carries as a tote for his kid’s snacks, that he sings “Moana” songs in public and eats at restaurants that only hand out free crayons.
The premise lends itself to potentially funny moments, but the pilot available for review is bogged down in haggard-parenting gags that are older than Hulu and Netflix lifespans combined.
When talking about feelings of loneliness that come from raising a child alone, Angie confesses she once “made a boyfriend out of a pile of laundry and rolled around in it. It didn’t last.”
And that’s one of the more sophisticated jokes.
Created and executive produced by JJ Philbin and Elizabeth Meriwether, who were also behind “New Girl,” it’s puzzling why “Single Parents” didn’t push toward edgier characters instead of ones who merely come off as shallow and cruel, without the redeeming humor of “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.”
ABC is relying on old formulas to bring it into a new era, which isn’t a terrible thing if the template is updated — and has something redeemable of its own to offer. But that’s not the case with either of these shows, and it’s one more missed opportunity for old-school networks to win at a game they once ruled.
When: 9:30 p.m. Wednesday
Rating: TV-PG (may be unsuitable for young children)
‘A Million Little Things’
When: 10 p.m. Wednesday