‘A Million Little Things’ offers more despair for the ‘This Is Us’ crowd

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Eddie (David Giuntoli, from left), Gary (James Roday) and Rome (Romany Malco Jr.) have no idea why their friend took his own life on “A Million Little Things.” | ABC

This might not be “Us,” but it’s pretty darn close.

It’s clear from its tragedy-laced beginning to its twisty cliffhangers that ABC’s 30-something tearjerker “A Million Little Things” has been influenced by NBC’s “This Is Us.” That bonanza of family infighting and flowing tears is so proud of its association with the act of crying that its hashtag on Twitter is accompanied by an emoji of a box of tissues. When “Things” premieres Wednesday, Twitter may need to prep another box.

While “Us” focuses on a family of siblings, “Things” instead focuses on a group of adult male friends in Boston, and tangentially, their wives and partners, as they reel from the suicide of the group’s de facto leader. That death is portrayed in the opening minutes of the series, along with a separate attempted suicide, and from those early moments the show’s intention for its audience is clear: A million little tears should be flowing.

There’s a lot of good — and a decent amount of bad — wrapped up in “Things,” created by DJ Nash (“Up All Night”). The end result is a series that’s worth watching, if it’s your kind of thing: It’s dark, melodramatic and heavy. Following the death of Jon (Ron Livingston), his friends Eddie (David Giuntoli), Gary (James Roday) and Rome (Romany Malco) are wracked with grief and at a loss as to why the man — who seemingly had a perfect marriage, job and life — killed himself.

Also mourning and dumbstruck are Jon’s widow Delilah (Stephanie Szostak), his assistant Ashley (Christina Ochoa), Rome’s wife Regina (Christina Moses) and Gary’s new sort-of-girlfriend Maggie (Allison Miller), who becomes an integral part of the group from the moment she’s introduced.

On the plus side, “Things” is the rare broadcast drama populated not by doctors, cops or lawyers, but by people dealing with the emotional ins and outs of everyday life. Like “Us,” the tragedy and emotion is cathartic and generically relatable.

And there’s also some good acting here, especially from Roday, who clowned around on USA’s “Psych” but shocks with the depth of cynicism and misanthropy he injects into Gary, a wisecracking womanizer who, by some stroke of irony, is one of the very small group of men afflicted with breast cancer. For all the effort the writers put into making Giuntoli the leading man, Roday’s performance outshines him at every turn, at least in the first three episodes made available for review.

On the other hand, “Things” throws a ticker-tape parade of cliches, with a steady onslaught of hammy dialogue, predictable plot twists and scenes so emotionally manipulative that even the characters sometimes reach for tissues.

But at least “Things” is transparent about what kind of show it is. There are few, if any, moments of levity in an hour in which you are free to feel as bad as you want — even as bad as its incredibly attractive characters do — and then feel good. It’s an hour in which to cry, but it’s forgettable enough that you can return to your routine as soon the end credits roll.

Call it feel-bad feel-good TV, or uncomfortable comfort food. And, more often than not, “Things” is a little comforting.

‘A Million Little Things’

★★1⁄2

9 to 10 p.m. Wednesdays on WLS-Channel 7

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