NBC's latest contender to fill the tearjerker slot (vacated by "Parenthood" last year) premiered tonight. It follows four characters -- an expectant father (Milo Ventimiglia), an adoptee recently reunited with his biological father (Sterling K. Brown), a handsome but disenchanted actor trapped on a terrible sitcom (Justin Hartley) and his twin sister with weight problems (Chrissy Metz) -- who all share the same birthday and are all celebrating their 36th birthday. It was created by Dan Fogelman, the screenwriter of Crazy, Stupid, Love, a well-made family dramedy that a lot of people liked but which rang false to me. I was offended by the central premise that Steve Carell's character bore responsibility for his wife's infidelity, and that his primary goal in life should be to woo her back. For the most part, this is better. Even when it's unabashedly sappy, and even when things feel a bit too objective to ring true, the writing's sharp enough to keep me interested. And there are some flashes of greatness. Even though it's only two days after this year's Emmy Awards, I think Gerald McRaney is a strong contender to win the Best Guest Actor Emmy next year. He's the heart of this pilot, and he's given a speech that ranks up there with the truly great monologues of the stage. Every moment he's onscreen is exactly right, with a character that easily could have felt tired or overfamiliar. Of the four main characters, Ventimiglia shined the most in the pilot (but he was also given the most to do). Mandy Moore was terrific as his wife, winning me over completely in just a handful of scenes. Brown, who just won an Emmy for "American Crime Story: The People v. O.J. Simpson", also navigated some interesting territory even though his character has defenses up that make him a bit harder to peer inside of. Hartley was a lot of fun on "Smallville" as a lighter version of Oliver Queen/Green Arrow, and he's been toiling in the daytime soap opera salt mines since. His performance here feels a bit lighter weight than the others, but he delivers exactly what the role's required so far. Metz makes you feel every agonizing moment of her character's emotional state, but the episode doesn't give her anything to do that isn't connected directly to her weight struggle. Hopefully that will change in future episodes. Part of the buzz surrounding this show was the promise of a twist ending at the end of the pilot. Crazy, Stupid Love had a twist too, which was fairly incidental to the proceeding. But this twist a great one: like the best twists, I didn't see it coming at all but it felt completely obvious in retrospect. It was emotionally satisfying, and central to the premise. And the show didn't cheat, even though Spoiler some of the early scenes had to be very careful with the costume and production design choices.