In 1983, the beginning of the yuppie ethos, the movie "The Big Chill" explored that new world through the suicide meme.
Former college friends take time from their professional preoccupations to bear witness to the one of them who offed himself. At the time, the formula worked. The message, at least as I got it, was: Life is bigger and wider than the career path.
This evening, on ABC, the new series "A Million Little Things" leverages the same prop - a suicide. But, this time around it misses the mark.
The three 30-something friends, are too far gone emotionally to pull anything out of the suicide by their supposed best buddy Jonathan. Not this evening. And probably not for the rest of the season.
Also, given that they are so locked into themselves, it's no surprise that they never picked up on Jonathan's internal stress.
In addition, they are clueless that one of them - Eddie - has been having an affair with the deceased's wife. It's possible Jonathan knew about that. Since his administrative assistant Ashley is keeping his suicide note secret, we actually know little what was going on internally and externally which pushed him over the guardrail on the balcony.
Meanwhile Rome, a commercial producer, was orchestrating his own suicide through pills when the call came in about Jonathan's suicide. The note had been written. A handful of pills were already in his mouth. He halted. For now.
For now, Gary is a male breast cancer survivor. But the possibility of breaking out of remission hovers over him. No, he can't grasp onto a philosophical something to guide him through. What he does grasp onto is a clinical psychologist who is in the support group who is also in remission. They not only have sex but attend the funeral mass together.
The era taking shape in "The Big Chill" has hardened into relationships-as-usual in "A Million Little Things." Friends have lost the know-how of being there for friends. They have turned inward, even when, like Eddie, they haven't hit it big as professionals. It is Eddie's wife, whom he is fleeing, who personifies the total pursuit of success.
The show struggles to connect with an audience who is likely also experiencing the despair and perhaps suicides of those in the lives. But there is no takeaway. Those of us who have experienced the actual suicides and attempted suicides of members of our personal and professional lives know damn well there are signals of deep distress.
As a senior in high school I picked that up. The winner of a national spelling bee contest, who was a classmate, was being fawned over by the administration and faculty. Since the public school - Snyder - was in the hood, that was understandable. However, I felt how wrong that was to do to any teenager. But, I didn't understand how to reach. In his freshman year at college he hung himself. That was no surprise.
In my own family five members took their lives. Those deaths were also no surprise. And in only one situation did I regret not intervening. The rest just couldn't grab hold of the tools which could manufacture hope.
Professionally, a lawyer I did business with committed suicide by shooting himself in the head. Despite so much support, he couldn't stay away from the booze. When he talked about his recovery, I got it that he was mouthing the party line, not committed to changing his life. The only surprise was that his suicide wasn't the passive kind - that is, a fatal car accident.
"A Million Little Things" is an insult to human suffering, especially among the survivors of suicide.
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