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Show gets victory lap – characters, maybe not so much (tune in and see!)
Behind the Screens with Joshua Maloni
ABC’s “A Million Little Things” began with a death, and it will end with a death.
But just like poet Linda Ellis once wrote regarding the dash among dates on a tombstone, it’s what happens in between that matters most.
Over the course of its first four seasons, “AMLT” has unabashedly put a spotlight on mental illness and suicide; relationships, marriage, fidelity and childbirth; the coronavirus; racism; LGBTQ+ and inclusion; sexual assault; disability; and cancer. Storylines have been heavy and – as cast members admit – uncomfortable at times. Yet, each one has sparked conversation, seemingly with a goal of building unity and positive change in society.
Creator and showrunner DJ Nash has ensured these topics have been tackled with respect and dignity. Credits often come paired with names, numbers and websites of helplines.
At the same time, working in the TV business means Nash is tasked with entertaining audiences. In the midst of important discussions – and despite its somber notes – “A Million Little Things” is surprisingly fun to watch. Nash’s show is oftentimes funny; its characters’ intentions are decidedly heartfelt; and the plotlines leave us craving five more minutes at each episode’s end.
When the series begins its final chapter, there are many bears in the village, so to speak.
Last year, the Dixon family was splintered, as Delilah (Stephanie Szostak) opted to return to France to be with her ailing father. Danny (Chance Hurstfield) decided to go with his mother, even at the risk of losing boyfriend Milo (Emrik Lopez). Sophie (Lizzy Greene) overcame an assault by her music teacher, Peter (Andrew Leeds), only to find he was beaten up and left for dead.
Rome (Romany Malco) and Regina (Christina Moses) dealt with the closing of her restaurant and the shelving of his movie, as well as Tyrell’s (Adam Swain) new girlfriend, impending high school graduation and move to college.
Eddie (David Giuntoli) got himself back on track following a car accident and addiction relapse. His life became complicated, however, when he stared dating Anna (Erin Karpluk) – Peter’s ex-wife, and a suspect when the music instructor is found dead.
Katherine (Grace Park) reconnected with her childhood bestie, Greta (Cameron Esposito), and the two fell in love – much to the delight of Katherine’s son, Theo (Tristan Byon).
Gary (James Roday Rodriguez) and Maggie (Allison Miller), meanwhile, were in fulfilling relationships with other people – until they weren’t.
He was set to move away with Darcy (Floriana Lima) and her son, Liam (Mattia Castrillo), when she learned Gary was involved in Peter’s home invasion. That was a dealbreaker.
Maggie began dating Cam (Ryan Hansen), an NHL star, habitual good-deed-doer and all-around swell guy. In the end, Maggie didn’t want perfect – she wanted Gary, whom she met while fighting cancer in the series’ first season.
Back together, Gary and Maggie make a plan to start a family … only to find out his cancer has returned – and more aggressively.
Ahead of the season premiere (10 p.m. Wednesday, WKBW-TV Channel 7) Roday Rodriguez and Miller – who also teamed for a hilarious scene in a side project – chatted about their show’s victory lap. An edited Q&A follows.
Q: I want to ask you about chemistry. … And of course, I’m specifically asking about Allison’s work as “cat restaurant owner” in the second “Psych” movie. Tell me about your unmistakable connection in the former “Psych” office.
Allison Miller: (Laughs) I think you have to know each other from previous work; and then it just all falls together – and surround yourself by cats – which one of you is severely allergic to.
James Roday Rodriguez: That’s right.
Allison Miller: It kind of just breaks down all the walls and gets real.
James Roday Rodriguez: You’ve really got to catch lightning in a bottle – and in my case, it was a giant bottle of Claritin.
Q: Current plot notwithstanding, how nice is it to have a victory lap, and to be able to end the series on your terms – particularly at a time when shows are getting axed at a record pace.
Allison Miller: It's scary out there, and we are very fortunate to know that this is the end, and to be able to really enjoy every minute of this final season; and being together and telling these stories. I think we’re going to wrap it up in a really beautiful way.
James Roday Rodriguez: I would agree with all of that. It's rare. I've been very lucky in that I've been a part of two shows that kind of called their own shot at the end. When you sort of know how many stories you have left to tell, and you can tell them on your own terms – and kind of Elway it.
I like to use “Elway” as a verb. But basically, it just means going out with the getting’s good – while you’re at the top of the mountain, and not allowing for the possibility of a slide. A tumble. You don't want to Brady it. You want to Elway it.
ABC’s “A Million Little Things” stars James Roday Rodriguez as Gary Mendez and Allison Miller as Maggie Bloom. (ABC photos by Matthias Clamer)
Q: So, quite a jolting season finale. Where do we find Gary and Maggie when the new season begins?
Allison Miller: Well, I don't know where Gary is. I never know where Gary is. But Maggie is quite pregnant. And she is still with the friend group. And she is going to go through all of the wonders that a pregnant woman gets to enjoy in those nine months.
James Roday Rodriguez: Yeah, it's unclear if Gary is going to be part of that journey or not, because the premiere starts with a funeral; and everyone seems really bummed out.
Allison Miller: Yeah, everybody looks really sad in that episode.
Q: Tell me about the role reversal, Allison. We’ve seen your character go from being the one in need of help – the one working toward recovery – to now being the one providing the help. What has that been like for you to have the journey come full circle in this way?
Allison Miller: I think it's so wonderful, and I think that’s what relationships are in life. You support each other when times get tough, and celebrate each other when things are great. And it’s always a matter of taking turns; who is going to be supporting a little bit more now.
And so, the fact that she gets to do that for Gary, I think is a really moving part of her life – because she may have missed out on all of it, and getting the chance to return the favor had he not done that. I think it’s really special.
Q: And James, we’ve seen Gary in treatment via flashbacks with John, but obviously this journey is going to be more difficult – and I'm guessing certainly more challenging to portray. Tell me a little bit about how you're approaching it.
James Roday Rodriguez: Nothing changes in terms of our approach, because we've always been dealing with these really intense topics and experiences that people go through, for real. So, the responsibility has been there from the very beginning – to treat these journeys as authentically as possible, and make sure that we're representing the experiences that real people have had. And the cancer storyline is just one of several on the show. But the truth is, in a way, that that ship has sort of sailed and, I think, luckily we've had a lot of help along the way to make sure that we can get it as close to right as possible.
Q: Before the season finale, I would’ve said fans loved Gary and Maggie being together, and they wouldn’t necessarily have broken them up. But seeing Gary with Darcy, and Maggie with Cam, that was good, too. It made Gary and Maggie getting back together even better – even more special. I feel like that buys a lot of credit, or faith, in the writers and showrunners. Now that we’re again not sure how we feel about what’s happening with Gary and Maggie – would you say we again need to trust the writers and showrunners that they're going to resolve this in the best way possible?
Allison Miller: I don’t think you should ever trust a writer or a showrunner.
James Roday Rodriguez: No. Or a snake oil salesman.
Allison Miller: Or a lawyer or an agent.
James Roday Rodriguez: You know what? This entire show has been in the head of one man, and his name's DJ Nash. From the very beginning, he’s known exactly where he wants to take this show. … He’s going to end this show exactly the way that he wanted to, with a very good ending.
“A Million Little Things” – “the last dance” – The family of friends gathers once again to celebrate the life of a loved one who dies unexpectedly. Meanwhile, Katherine shows Maggie the secret to registering for baby gifts, and Rome supports his father through a difficult transition on the season premiere of “A Million Little Things,” airing Wednesday, Feb. 8 (10-11 p.m. EST), on ABC. Pictured is Allison Miller. (ABC photo by Sergei Bachlakov)
Q: I want to ask you about some things this show has done incredibly well. And maybe you expected or hoped for some of these things coming into it; maybe some have been pleasant surprises along the way.
Certainly, this show has myriad actors who could be leads on other show – and yet this particular series has no leads. You all shoulder the burden equally. How nice is that?
Allison Miller: It’s been really nice. The nicest part of it, I would say, is the fact that nobody’s walking around with any sort of ego about it. No one's trying to be No. 1 on the call sheet; but at the same time, everybody has the kind of leadership skills and empathy that it takes to be No. 1 on the call sheet. Honestly, we're just all walking around winners. That’s what it feels like.
James Roday Rodriguez: I mean, it's a little bit of a fallacy. I would argue the DJ Nash is the lead of the show, even though he doesn't actually appear on camera.
Allison Miller: He probably has the most Twitter presence.
James Roday Rodriguez: And he also probably feels like, if given the opportunity, he could play each of our roles, as well, if not a little bit better than we do.
Allison Miller: He has done that on table reads, in fact. He regularly played Cam.
James Roday Rodriguez: And he brought a different flavor.
Allison Miller: He brought a different guy. … It's really interesting.
Q: This show is surprisingly edge-of-your-seat and I, personally, always want 5 more minutes. Did you know the series would be this tense, week to week?
Allison Miller: I had a feeling, with the sort of mystery aspect of season one that we were heading in that direction. Everyone just trying to figure out what happened with John, and why. But you know, it's not that sort of procedural cliffhanger. It's an emotional one, usually. Every now and then, it’s like, “Who hit Eddie?”
I think that emotional cliffhangers are just as effective as an Agatha Christie-style mystery.
Q: This show, as far as I'm concerned, has done more to champion social justice – to spotlight issues and spark conversations – than certainly any that I've ever seen. How nice has it been for you guys to be a part of something that doesn't just serve to entertain, but also brings to light so many of these important issues?
James Roday Rodriguez: It's been good. It's also been uncomfortable at times, because not everybody has the same take, or the same opinion, on all of these issues. And you only get sort of one shot to address it, and try to be as inclusive as possible.
I think it takes courage, in this business, to put yourself out there, and address a lot of the issues that we've addressed – especially when it comes to social justice. It’s also a really fine line and a real tight rope, because we're all hyper-aware that our country is essentially split down the middle, and that means 50-50.
So, you never want to pander, and you don't really want to choose a side; I'm not sure that's our job, frankly. You just want to be as truthful as you could possibly be, and present things as objectively as you can be. And you also have to do it within the confines of network television, and standards and practices.
So, it's a lot; and I don’t speak for Allison, but I can say as thankful as I am to have been a part of something that was brave enough to go after it, there's also been moments where, you know, I definitely tense up, and I get nervous because it's so important to stick the landing when you do that.
Q: James, I’ve been interviewing you for 13 years – I think you are genius, plain and simple. And Allison, I’ve enjoyed your work since “Terra Nova.” You were the first person on this show I asked to interview, and I keep wanting to call you Maggie, because you’ve absolutely crushed this role.
You two know way more about this work and this business than I do. What have you enjoyed and appreciated about working with each other?
James Roday Rodriguez: I'll go first, because, starting back in season one, we had a lot of heavy lifting to do on this show. It just of turned out that the Gary-Maggie cancer storyline was often front and center. This one is the most meticulously prepared, thoughtful, homework-driven actor that I’ve had the pleasure of working with. And, to her credit, I think that storyline – and sort of the bedrock of that storyline – worked as well as it did because she was bringing so much to the table every single day. I kind of just had to show up.
Allison Miller: (Laughs)
James Roday Rodriguez: That's sort of how I felt.
I mean, my process is very different. But I think it needed that blueprint; it needed that structure – and I give her a ton of credit for why we got off to the start that we did.
Allison Miller: Well, I, on the other side of the coin, yeah; I am that way. I’m always that way, because I'm scared not to be. And something that is really helpful is when you have a partner who is really free; and isn't afraid to make big choices, and shake things up; and kind of poke the bear, when you're coming in all prepared and all your ducks in a row. A lot of animal analogies there!
And so, I think the reason that that all works so well is because I was working with someone who can just naturally find all kinds of different rhythms, and emotional places, and silliness within a scene. That allowed me to kind of loosen up a little bit, and lean into being present.
I think that's maybe the most important part of being an actor, is being present in the moment.
“A Million Little Things” airs at 10 p.m. Wednesdays. All seasons are available to stream on Hulu.
ABC’s “A Million Little Things” stars Lizzy Greene as Sophie Dixon, Stephanie Szostak as Delilah Dixon, Chance Hurstfield as Danny Dixon, Romany Malco as Rome Howard, Christina Moses as Regina Howard, Allison Miller as Maggie Bloom, James Roday Rodriguez as Gary Mendez, Tristan Byon as Theo Saville, David Giuntoli as Eddie Saville, Grace Park as Katherine Saville and Cameron Esposito as Greta Strobe. (ABC photo by Matthias Clamer)