There's an awful lot of pleasure to be had in a big, ambitious primetime relationship drama – as any fan of Brothers and Sisters, Parenthood or This Is Us will attest. And while they can often seem broad and unsophisticated (they're generally unafraid of proselytising and sudden info-dumps) making a good one requires both a deft touch and a deep understanding of what makes this genre tick. In A Million Little Things, showrunner D. J. Nash demonstrates both.
He certainly Goes There in terms of crazy coincidences, improbable plot twists, and characters with an almost supernatural degree of articulacy. No one is ever at a loss for words. Ever. But he knows you need a script that is sufficiently subtle and engaging to carry us through the speechifying, and he delivers – particularly in his intelligent use of humour. A Million Little Things delivers some great lines. He also understands the importance of strong, diverse, empathetic characters, and if each of the leads can sometimes feel like they're representing an issue of the day, at least they convincingly bring those issues to life.
That's partly thanks to inspired casting. Several of the actors here demonstrate they're capable of so much more than we've seen from them to date. David Giuntoli was likeable but wildly unconvincing as reluctant hero-with-superpowers Nick Burkhardt in Grimm – although in fairness, the role was about as two-dimensional as most heroic roles are. As a cheating husband in A Million Little Things he puts that likeability to really clever use, creating someone who's believable and relatable – loveable, even – even as he's doing something pretty dastardly.
Grace Park was little more than a twiggy bikini model with a strong line in perplexed frowning in Hawaii Five O. Here she's landed one of the trickiest roles of all as Giuntoli's cheated-upon wife. She has to be unlikeable enough for his actions to make sense but we're never encouraged to see her as a villain. She's a complicated human being, and Park pulls it off beautifully.
Then there's James Roday – playing A Million Little Thing's bachelor/kidult, Gary – who showed he had terrific comic timing in Psych, a show that could hardly be fluffier or less serious. Now, with the help of some intelligent writing and direction, Roday puts that same timing to excellent effect in a dramatic role (along with providing the series' best comedic moments). And all these actors work seamlessly in a big ensemble cast that's as notable for its chemistry as its individual quality.
But what you need more than anything to make one of these cheesy delights work is to actually have something to say, and there A Million Little Things comes up trumps. Nash has taken what's traditionally women's business – feeling, emoting, relating – and used it to talk about a new kind of masculinity. Not just the way men do friendship, but the way that's changing and evolving – at least for middle-class Gen Y men. These blokes aren't snags – they bond over their love of ice hockey – but as life delivers the kind of emotional blindsides that come to all of us as we approach middle age, they're learning what it means to be a real man. It's a bumpy ride for all of them, and it makes for thoroughly engaging and rewarding viewing.
A Million Little Things premieres on Ten, Wednesday, 8.30pm.