SPOILR ALERT: The story includes details about the series finale of ABC’s A Million Little Things.
DJ Nash’s drama series A Million Little Things ended the way it started, with the death by suicide of one of the friends whose close relationship was at the heart of the show. While Jon’s suicide in the pilot came as a shock to everyone, Gary’s (James Roday Rodriguez) passing in tonight’s series closer had been set up, with the final season building toward it as Gary battled terminal Stage IV lung cancer.
The finale revealed that Gary had made a pact with Rome and Eddie for them to help him die “with dignity” if the pain became unbearable. No longer able to speak, Gary evoked the promise by writing “Rutledge,” the friends’ key work for helping each other’s families. Eddie and Rome both struggled with Gary’s request but ultimately fulfilled his wish by getting the pills needed.
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In the end, Maggie was the one who prepared Gary’s lethal doze after she watched a video he had recorded for her, relaying his wishes. While Gary and Maggie laid, huddled together, as he was taking his final breaths, the rest of the friends and their children were gathered together for a “big fat dinner”, just like Gary wanted, laughing and sharing stories about him.
The series ended with a glimpse at the future, with Maggie teaching their 16-year-old son Javier how to drive and him watching the final video Gary had made for him before his death. The two then joined the group of friends and the sons of Gary, Eddie, Jon and Rome attended a hockey game together and took a selfie just like their dads did many years ago.
In interviews with Deadline, conducted on Monday, star Roday Rodriguez (Psych), AMLT creator/exec producer Nash, who previously created NBC comedy series Growing Up Fisher inspired by growing up with a dad who was blind, and exec producer/showrunner Terrence Coli, who joined the show in Season 3, unpack the emotional finale and Gary’s controversial decision. They reveal details about where the characters are in the future and other Easter eggs you may have missed in “One Big Thing,” co-written by Nash and Roday Rodriguez and directed by Nash, who also makes a cameo in the final minutes of the finale.
DEADLINE: DJ, you’d originally pitched the series with Gary dying in the finale. Why did you want to frame it with suicides in the first and last episode?
NASH: The series starts with a suicide that should not have happened and ends with an assisted suicide that was the humane thing to happen. The series was going to be about two friends, Rome and Gary, who have diseases and one was going to be able to beat his disease and the other was going to succumb to it.
That was the plan all along. It was shared just with a very small group of people. When I got into the writers room for Season 1, I spent the first day and a half telling the writers everything I knew about the show. And one of the things I knew was how it was going to end. I said to them, if we can beat it, that’s fine but it’s always good for a showrunner to have a plan. And then every season the first day with the new writers, it was sort of a rite of passage to hear, this is our plan.
COLI: You pitched it again in Season 3 first day, pulled me into our own private Zoom and said, okay, here’s what I’m thinking for the end of it. And then hearing it — it pretty much came to fruition in the finale exactly how you laid it out in terms of Rome and Eddie deciding and being willing to do this thing for Gary but then Maggie stepping in to do it and help him herself — I think I knew in that moment that that felt like the exact right end for all the reasons you just said.
DEADLINE: James, when did you find out about Gary’s fate?
RODAY RODRIGUEZ: I knew towards the end of Season 1 and was sworn to secrecy. And then DJ would check in with me periodically over the course of the series just to make sure that that still felt like the direction that we wanted to go in and for my part, I was always like, as long as it feels like we’ve earned it and not like we’re just dropping the most horrible thing that we possibly can on people, I’m totally down because that’s life, and that’s the experience that we try to reflect on the show, for better or worse. And I do think it’s important to show that that is how it goes for a lot of people who suffer from this disease, especially since we already had a character that beat it.
DEADLINE: Did you think at any point that maybe Gary shouldn’t die; did you try to dissuade DJ?
RODAY RODRIGUEZ: I didn’t, it’s not my show. I don’t know that there’s ever been a showrunner who is as invested or cared as much about something that they created as DJ in this. I’ve been around for a minute, I’ve worked with a lot of showrunners, and I’ve got to say, he really did treat this show like one of his children. And I think this was an important story point for him. I think it’s something that he wanted to do, needed to do.
COLI: Every writer who heard DJ pitch that out, understood the impact that that would have and why that was the exact right way to end the series but to be charitable to him and to the room, we road tested other options all along the way, we were open about whether we could beat it as DJ said, and in fact, I think DJ was the biggest champion of going like Hey, guys, please, if you think there’s something else we should consider, let’s talk it through. And we did.
NASH: I remember there was this big swing pitch for this other thing, and everyone’s like, nooo…
COLI: Can we go back to the other one?
DEADLINE: What are some of those different endings that you considered and eventually dismissed?
NASH: We just talked about, how else could it end, everyone goes off to the sunset? I think for us it was like, what’s the most authentic way to tell this, which is sadness sometimes happens but when you’re surrounded by the right group of friends, you can get through anything.
COLI: We talked through different ways of executing whether we would jump past [Gary’s death] and then fill it in as a flashback — that was on the table at one point if we felt like we couldn’t necessarily tell it exactly how we wanted to tell it with the episodes that we had. But I think we always stayed the course with it.
NASH: We really wanted to have an Act 6 that went past it. I think Act 6 is really for Javi but also for the fans. And if you look at the voiceover in Act 6, some of it is directly to the fans, like at one point Gary says “this may not be the way you want the story to end.” I said to our consultant who we talked to about everything, I said some people are going to be really angry and she said, they will because that’s one of the stages of grief. Our show is so built on authenticity that people believe these characters are real. It’s why on the hockey billboard, Gary Was Here, it says “fantasy becomes reality.”
I’ve watched with Maggie being sick first season, with Rome dealing with his depression, with them losing babies, people have responded like these are really their friends who have had this happen to them. And so we wanted to make sure that we show that they’re okay. And so the audience can be okay.
DEADLINE: That gathering in the end, it flashed very quickly but gave us a glimpse at what is to come. The main couples seem to all be still together, the kids are all grown up, some of them are having kids themselves. What can you say about where they all are at that point in their lives?
COLI: I have a feeling that people are going to want to go back and watch that Act 6 a few times and maybe pause a little bit and give it time to percolate. The idea there in Act 6 is that Eddie and Delilah 15 years later are still going strong and are aging into their relationship very gracefully, Rome and Regina — our aspirational couple we’ve watched go through so many ups and downs and always come out stronger on the other side — are still together, and they’ve built this lovely family of friends that includes Sophie and Tyrell who are expecting, and then you get a little glimpse of – in Episode 12, Katherine and Greta were discussing the idea of using the eggs that she’d had frozen to have another child, and we see, who to me looks like a little bit of the spitting image of Cameron Esposito, who plays Greta, and that little girl’s name is Lana, she is probably like eight or nine years old in Act 6. We can get a glimpse of Charlie as a young woman who’s now probably 18-19 And then Danny, you see his partner.
NASH: And you also see that Rome is wearing a concert T-shirt from Sophie. So Sophie is on tour, you see the front where it says Sophie Dixon, and the name of the tour and it says 2037; on the back, it lists the cities she’s traveled to. We didn’t want it to be a huge Where Are They Now and take too much time with that. But there’s enough clues; some of our fans go look at every single frame so there’s enough to see there.
Also, the guy who scores the goal is number 87, and that’s for how many episodes we made. There’s a ton of Easter eggs that way.
DEADLINE: And presumably, everything was okay after Gary’s death because what Maggie, Rome and Eddie did was not legal in the state of Massachusetts, I did some research. No one got punished, nobody went to prison?
NASH: Yes, that’s correct, no one was punished for it. And whether or not you would prosecute a guy because his life’s being terminated probably six weeks or less before it would have naturally ended, I think that’s one of the issues we wanted to raise in the episode. Having lost three very close family members to cancer and to see them be in pain before their lives expired, that’s another reason why I wanted to tell that story.
Earlier in the season, we’d had this story with Theo and a bird that had been injured. It’s very powerful moment where Eddie says to Theo, we have to do the humane thing, and Theo says, do we have to, dad? We can’t give up the way Uncle Jon did. And we unpack this story that Theo’d been holding on to for months, for years really, about Jon’s suicide.
I actually got a letter from a mom, that was really beautiful after that episode aired. She’d lost her son to suicide, and he had kids himself, and she was hoping to get those pages so that she could share it with her family. Again, it just speaks to how the stories that we’re telling have so resonated with our fans and, from the few people I’ve shown the finale to who’ve lost people to cancer, it definitely is a moving story because a lot of them have been in the same situation.
DEADLINE: But Gary did put his friends and his wife in danger with his decision. It was painful for him to carry on till the end, but it was also emotionally crushing for them to go through with helping him die.
NASH: None of life is easy and nothing is black and white; things live in the gray areas. I think the fact that Gary is holding the cup and drinking the cup, I would think that the DA would have a tough case to prove.
COLI: The other thing to say is that Gary, he’s been around a lot of cancer he’s been in a lot of support groups and he’s lost a lot of friends to the disease. And I think he’s visited a lot of people in the final days and knows what that is going to be like for Maggie and Javi and the friend group. It’s very much on his mind and I think he says as much at some point in the finale that he wants to spare them that pain at the end, watching him in such excruciating pain. And so I think that factored in a lot into his decision to move forward the way that you did.
RODAY RODRIGUEZ: It was an enormous Catch 22, and Rome calls it out. He’s like, man I would do anything for you, anything. But this is too much what you’re asking, and it was. At the end of the day, Maggie’s the one who steps in and makes the final call which is absolutely as it should be. That’s what partnership is, that’s what you signed up for. I think Gary was hopeful that she would be the one sitting next to him at the end. Didn’t want to force it on her but I think it ended exactly the way he’d hoped it would.
But one of my favorite scenes in the episode which, because of the stakes and because of how heightened everything was, was the two guys in the car, trying to figure out how they were going to get those drugs when they didn’t know that they had them. And we wouldn’t have gotten that scene if Gary hadn’t sent them on that wild goose chase.
DEADLINE: James, did knowing Gary’s ultimate fate inform your performance throughout the seasons?
RODAY RODRIGUEZ: I certainly tried to not have to do that. Gary certainly turned a corner, especially after meeting Maggie, where I think the last thing he wanted to do was die. So I think it was important to lean into the fact that he had a new purpose and hope and wanted to stick around for as long as possible. I think at the end of Episode 11 of this final season, he’s in the bathroom and he coughs up blood and I think in that moment — for me anyway — it was like, Gary knew what that probably meant. So from that moment forward certainly. I think I let it inform every singular moment.
DEADLINE: Since cancer is so prevalent, and we all know someone who either has beaten the disease or has died from it, did you tap into any personal experience you’ve had with friends or relatives when you’re playing Gary in those final months?
RODAY RODRIGUEZ: Yeah, I’ve experienced both of those outcomes, and I remember how I felt when I lost people, and I luckily still have a couple people that have not been lost that I did check in with from time to time just to say, Hey, this is where I am. This is the stage we’re at. Does this feel right? Does this sound right? And they were all so generous when it came to sharing their experiences and going back to places that I know were probably not easy to think about in honor of helping me do the most authentic job.
DEADLINE: James, you co-wrote the final episode in your writing debut on AMLT. How did that come about?
DEADLINE: DJ cornered me at TCA and was like, I think we should write this together. Honestly, my initial response that I never vocalized was, no, this is your baby, and it should 100% come from you. But then, the other side of that was that we had been on this journey together. And he had been a really good partner, he checked in with me over the whole run. The fact that he wanted us to cross the finish line together, I found it really moving. And it felt like it would be a terrible thing for me to say no. So I said yes. And I’m glad I did because we were able to use that period, not only to write the finale but also to sort of say goodbye to the show, say goodbye to each other, reconcile what we had done over the last five years and thank one another.
DEADLINE: What are some of the ideas you contributed to the finale? And what was the most difficult thing, a scene or line, that you wrote?
RODAY RODRIGUEZ: I would say the two biggest contributions I made because again, this was more of a Batman-Robin scenario — and I’m certainly Robin — it was important to me that Colin the dog be as close to Gary at all times. So getting him up in that hospital bed and, always in the bed, wherever Gary was, Colin was, felt real to me.
And then the fart jokes, I’m going to take credit for them. Especially between those two characters [Gary and Delilah]. Their relationship has always been like siblings. And I was like, I think they should fart on each other. Didn’t think that it would get through the studio and the network. So I’m so pleased that that still lives in the episode. Everything else is DJ.
It wasn’t as difficult to write as it was to watch, specifically Allison Miller had to carry the emotional water of the episode. She’s almost too good. So it’s like, she’s feeling all that stuff for real because that’s the kind of performer that she is. We really ran it through the gamut.
DEADLINE: You didn’t have much to say in the finale. How was that for you as a performer?
RODAY RODRIGUEZ: It was great. I’ve done a lot of talking on the show. Probably, if you counted up the words, Gary’s way out there ahead of the group. So it was pretty refreshing to just not hear my own voice for eight days. I think that part of it was Stage IV lung cancer, here are the things that could happen. We had a consultant and went down the list. I thought, that’s horrible, but also for someone who relies so heavily on his words, that’s a pretty good indicator that you might not want to stick around for too much longer. So I think it served two purposes: what’s real but also what can you take away from Gary so that he feels like, you know what, I’m ready. And taking away his voice was a pretty big deal.
NASH: In terms of Gary not speaking, we had known this ending for a long time, we knew that standards and practices would be appropriately monitoring how we told the story. So there were certain conditions that we all agreed would be appropriate, like no children being present when it happened. To not show how to, not show the cocktail, what that was. And to have Gary be in pain was something that the consultants suggested that I wanted and Terrance wanted to add. So I think we wanted to be telling a controversial topic, but in a socially responsible way. And even the decision to have Regina object, it was actually a James note that someone in the friend group should be uncomfortable with this so that we could present all sides.
DEADLINE: There was another nod to Jon and the first season in the finale when Sophie, the flight attendant who unknowingly saved Jon’s life on 9/11, appeared as a store owner who sold a casket for Gary to Jon’s children at a discount. What was the idea behind that?
NASH: The series right from the beginning had this idea that everything happens for a reason. I loved this idea that this woman, probably her backstory was that after 9/11, she left the airlines and was looking for a place to work and that she probably started this store because she didn’t want people who are grieving to be taken advantage of. And the idea that it’s no coincidence that they end up in this store, and she remembers this man who’d been back to the airport to grieve the loss of his friend. We saw in the first season that Sophie was named after her. At this moment here, without the kids even knowing, Jon found a way to look out for them after all this time. All season long, we’ve been talking about this idea that when someone goes, your relationship with them isn’t over, it just changes. And this was just a slightly magical way that Jon was still there for them.
DEADLINE: Speaking of signs, in addition to co-writing and directing of the finale, you also did a cameo as a man that Javi encountered at the stadium. What was the significance of that character and how was it filming that scene?
NASH: It was just a stranger. In the line, Gary says, “anytime a stranger smiles at you, there’s a pretty good chance that’s me”. That was just this idea that there are these moments in life, there are these moments where I see someone with a guide dog… Literally the last day, we were shooting on location, I can show you the picture. The door said “Only guide dogs” and I was like, oh my god, I’d never seen that in Canada before. I’d never seen that sign. And it was almost like, was that my dad giving me a sign? Maybe it was, maybe it wasn’t and so that’s what that stranger was supposed to be.
As for acting, if I had to do it again, I wouldn’t have done it because James directed that section, and he was so hard on me. He gave me so many notes, he was so mean. Like truly, I’d like to file a grievance with SAG-AFTRA.
COLI: How many takes did you do with that?
NASH: It took me so many because he kept just like; he was not supportive, he was not. (laughs) There were 150 extras. The boys were in their seats teasing me like, DJ, just act natural. All the notes that I’d ever given them, like throw it away more, so it was a nice rite of passage.
DEADLINE: You mentioned the boys. In the end, we see the the next generation in the stands, it’s almost like you are setting up a followup with the offspring of Jon, Rome, Eddie and Gary.
NASH: The series that started with four friends coming to games together and friendships and lives that came out of watching 82 home games together ends with their sons continuing the tradition. So there was this circle of life and this idea that they’re all okay, and they are carrying on the tradition of their parents and continuing to put friendship first and make your friends your family.
DEADLINE: Could that be a setup for a potential sequel, AMLT: The Next Generation, or just a nice closure for this series?
NASH: Well, I think that a show has to go away for a little while before we can bring it back. I’m doing the Growing Up Fisher remake first. (laughs)
COLI: DJ, can you talk a little bit about the final song in Act 6?
NASH: I’ve always been a huge fan of James Taylor and he has a live album where this musician Arnold McCullar sings “Shower the People”, and when it comes to the solo section, he does his beautiful, beautiful solo. I contacted him and I said, Hey, I want you to do a song for us. He said, ‘Well, let me check out the show’. When I called him back, he had already watched three episodes and then the next day when we were trying to come up with a time he said, I’m through Season 1. We got together with [AMLT composer] Gabe [Mann] and we did a cover of “How Sweet It Is”. And he sings it so beautifully.
You don’t get to usually end a series, and I think we sort of did what Gary did, which was end on our terms, and I’m so grateful to both studios and to the network for giving us this final season. I think this show will live on more so because it has closure. So many times when you check out a series and you think, oh it just ended with a cliffhanger. You’re not entirely enticed to go watch it. But I think, because our show has a beginning and an end, hopefully there are fans who haven’t even found the show yet who will watch it in time.
DEADLINE: James, what was the final scene you shot and what happened after you wrapped?
RODAY RODRIGUEZ: Because of locations, there was no way to do it chronologically. That almost never happens. So I did die before my last day, which is a little odd. I came back and my last scene was outside when Maggie shows carry the billboard. So we were on a corner. It was freezing. We played the scene and then I was actually the first series regular to wrap because all the stuff at the end came in last so that they could change people’s looks and stuff.
And it was lovely. There was a lot of appreciation, for the crew and everybody was sort of like the first shoe dropped, like, wow, we’re at the end; start saying goodbye to people for real. Anytime you’re lucky enough to be on a show that lasts that long, and it’s not a bunch of jerks — which this one wasn’t — it does start to feel like family, and especially when you’re up in Vancouver in a bubble where most of the people that you know are the people that you work with. It is a real goodbye.
DEADLINE: You have been juggling Psych and AMLT — comedy and drama — for the last few years, and you also has been directing a lot and writing. What do you think you’re going to do next?
RODAY RODRIGUEZ: I think it’s time for me to get back behind the camera. People have seen enough of my face for a while now. There are a lot of stories that I would like to tell, and I think it’s time to put my energy into into directing something and doing some more writing for a little bit.
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