If, as Raymond Chandler noted, "All cynics are sentimentalists at heart," then the often-heart tugging "This Is Us," one of the few broadcast series from 2016-2017 with any buzz, should certainly appeal even to them. With its fractured time lines, its blend of social satire and family drama, and its well-drawn characters it deserves all the hype.
The entire 18 episodes are now available for streaming on Amazon, and it's well worth a binge. It begins with three people celebrating their birthdays in the present, and then flashes back into the past only to return to the present, although it takes some time to make this connection; and when it does (toward the end of the first episode), it comes at you fast.
And that format sets the stage for most of the episodes, as we learn more and more about the characters we're following. The billed stars, Milo Ventimiglia (who nails his part) and Mandy Moore (ditto), anchor the past as Jack and Rebecca Pearson, parents of triplets, while Chrissy Metz, Sterling K. Brown, Justin Hartley, Ron Cephus Jones, and Susan Kelechi Watson hold up the present. Metz, who is majorly overweight (or is made up to appear so), steals every scene she's in (especially when she plays with--or against--her boyfriend, a superb Chris Sullivan). And Jones is a joy to watch But there's no show without Moore--a storm of beautiful intensity.
The transitions back and forth in time are nearly seamless, and the supporting cast is superb. Props especially to Gerald McRaney, playing an ob/gyn MD, who is given several cameos in different episodes, and always delivers a gemlike performance. Milana Vayntrub, who plays a playwright with owlish glasses, has a few bits here and there. You just know sooner or later those glasses will come off, and then maybe you'll think "isn't that _____?"
I am avoiding describing any of the scenes, because every one advances the overall plot. So have the Kleenex ready. It's ok to cry even if--or should I say especially if--you're not a cynic.
Fair warning: Since this is a broadcast drama the obligatory Thanksgiving and Christmas episodes do appear. But they are gems. Don't skip over them thinking "I know what's going to happen here." No, you don't. And, of course, from time to time comes the usual network TV setup--somebody has a problem, another character delivers a brief lecture, the first character sees the light, and on we go as acoustic guitar music wells up on the soundtrack. Maybe you'll think "if only this was an Amazon original . . ." when scenes like that happen. But it isn't. And when something this good comes along, take what they give you and enjoy it.
NOTES AND ASIDES: This review is for the entire 18-episode series, each of which I have seen. I have tried to pitch my review to all, but I hope it is especially helpful for the people, who apparently exist, who needed some guidance from the New York Times, which ran an article explaining how "cord cutters" could watch the Oscars, which aren't streamed.