The pilot has been called a Spiritual Successor to Parenthood, with the number of poignant moments in it. The New York Times's mixed review of it blatantly called it "shameless tear-jerking".
- When Dr. K tells Jack that their third child, a son, was stillborn.
- Randall calling out William for abandoning him and then learning that William is slowly dying.
- Randall learning that his mom knew his birth father all along and deliberately hid it from it. During his Mushroom Samba, he yells at a vision of his mother about robbing him of years with William before realizing that she was just scared and trying to protect their family.
- Kevin's speech to his parents in "The Pool" about how they are never paying attention to him - even when he is drowning - because they are too busy watching what Kate eats and "making sure Randall's not too adopted." There's also the heart wrenching way he is calling to his dad throughout the episode to watch him swim, which it's been heavily implied he does not like doing, while Jack makes a wry comment to Rebecca about how he used to like it when Kevin called for him. The episode explains a lot of his self-esteem issues in the present day.
- Rebecca's second visit to William. At that point he had been clean for over five years and had gotten his life back on track. When Rebecca tells him that Randall wants to meet his biological father, William just lights up with joy...until Rebecca walks out while he's not looking. All she left him was Randall's picture]]. And her reason for this? She was afraid William would take Randall away from her. Just to twist the knife in a little deeper, in the same episode Randall says: "If I knew the man who abandoned me regretted it... that he wanted me back, that would have made all the difference in the world".
- The flashback to William crying as he reads her letter and puts the picture in a book he had written entitled, "Poems for my son."]
- "The Big Day" returns to the day the triplets were born and shows Jack having to tell Rebecca that they lost the third baby. She just keeps denying it.
- Anything involving Dr. K and his late wife in "The Big Day," particularly the scene at her grave.
Dr. K: Carol, I'm going to say something now, and you have to promise, now, not to be mad at me. (He pauses, grinding his teeth nervously) Every morning, I open the medicine cabinet, and I just stare at your...uh...
(He starts to tremble)
Dr. K: Baby, I don't know if I can keep doing this without you, anymore. (sniffs) And, I, uh,...I'm really not sure that I want to.
(He begins to cry)
Dr. K: God, I miss being with you, and—
(His pager goes off)
Dr. K: (sighs, composing himself) Well...duty calls. (sniffs) We'll, uh, finish this conversation another time, okay? (Kisses his fingers and touches Caroline's gravestone) I love you, baby.
- Kate while doing a exercise at a weight loss facility we are shown all the emotions she has been dealing with from being insecure about her weight to losing her father ( the person who always made it a mission to help her feel better when she was down and the parent she was particularly close to) in the end all she can do is just let out a saddening heart wrenching scream.
- Kevin leaving the premiere of his show to comfort Randall after he realized his brother, who just called him and spoke nonsense, was having a nervous breakdown in "Jack Pearson's Son."
- Randall's nervous breakdown in general. Throughout the entire episode he is just trying to balance so many things from dealing with Williams cancer, Kevin's play, and work and it gets to the point where he just... breaks down.
- Miguel admits that Kevin reminds him so much of Jack that when they're around each other Miguel feels like he's with his best friend again and this is why it hurts him so deeply that Kevin doesn't like him.
- The flashback to William as an infant, his father proudly hugging him and his mother goodbye before going off to war. Then his mother opening the door to find some Army men on her doorstep, knowing what they're going to tell her. Followed by her looking at the infant William to whisper "It'll be okay."
- William's death full stop - we all saw it coming, we knew it was eventually going to happen sooner then later. And it still hit viewers in the gut. From when Randall takes him to the hospital to when William calls him my "beautiful boy", it's just so heartbreaking.
- Even more so are the flashbacks in the episode of William dealing with his own mother's slow death and thus he knows exactly what Randall is going through.
- William goes to see his cousin, whose dreams of stardom were marred by William, falling apart after his mother's death. William apologizes to the angry man and is ready to leave but stopped by the man asking if he can still play. William smiles and joins his old bandmates for one last jam.
- Kate revealing in "What Now?" that she blames herself for Jack's death.
- Beth's eulogy for William had dredged up memories of Jack's funeral for her and she had to leave the room because the emotion was too much for her.
- The scene of Jack doing pushups with Randall on his back won the "Tearjerker" award at the MTV Movie & TV Awards for this reason.
- The flash-forward to the night of Jack's death: Randall and Kate breaking down at Miguel's house, Kate saying she needs to get in touch with Kevin (who is on a date with Sophie, seemingly unaware of the situation) and, worst of all, Rebecca driving home with Jack's things, until she gets to the house and sees it burned down, at which point she just screams.
- Sylvester Stallone talking about suddenly getting vivid memories of his kids' childhood is incredibly poignant when you remember his son Sage died a few years earlier, and he must have been going through some huge emotions filming the scene.
- Early in the same episode we learn Kevins way of dealing with his fathers death is simply not bringing it up and changing the subject when someone does later Kevin while filming a scene in which his character rescues Sylvester Stallones he begins remembering the good times with his father and it shows just how much Kevin himself is still affected by his fathers death.
- Lets just say Kevin throughout the entire episode of Number One and leave it at that.
- Some moments have to be highlighted, especially his breakdown outside Charlotte's house after leaving his father's necklace on her bedroom floor, when he begs her to be let back in, calling it the only thing he has of Jack. He then collapses into Broken Tears in her front yard, finally admitting, "I just need somebody to help me," over and over again. Then, when he finally gets the courage to go to Randall for help, he finds out that Kate lost her baby. Once again, he is overshadowed by his siblings.
- The flashback to the moment where Jack tells teenage Kevin that he'll never play football again. At first, he doesn't quite understand the damage that's been done. Then he starts apologizing to his dad for how he's been acting, as if repairing that damage might heal his leg, and then he just cries.
- The therapy scene in The Fifth Wheel where the family finally bring up their issues:
- When Rebecca talks of how Jack won't be there for Kate's wedding or Randall's children being born, Kevin bows his head. It takes the therapist pointing it out for Rebecca to realize that she automatically thought of Kate and Randall first and Kevin has always been the odd one out.
- When Rebecca says she loves them all equally, Kevin insists that she admit that she loved Randall more. Rebecca denies this and Kevin continues until Rebecca finally screams out "He was easier!" and that Randall never recoiled from her touch and wasn't "some sullen teenager who was angry at me for no reason," while the camera pans to Kevin and Kate respectively. The real kicker, though, is when she says, "He didn't move away and abandon me after his father died."
- Randall tears into Kevin for being so selfish about himself and Kevin turns it right around on how Randall always makes things about himself as well to the point his kid had to run off.
- "That'll Be the Day" finally reveals why Kevin has such a hard time talking about his father: the two of them were in a huge fight when Jack died. Unlike Kate and Randall, who had rather touching moments with Jack the day of his death, Kevin's relationship with his father ends poorly and he was never given a chance to fix it.
- Almost making it worse, the audience knows that Jack left a note for Kevin. It read, "Kevin, in case I don't see you before work tomorrow, I love you. You owe us an apology. Dad." Kevin doesn't know, though, because it burnt in the fire.
- Then, at the end of the episode, after Kevin has apologized to everyone on his list, he flips it over to reveal one more name, unchecked: Dad.
- "Super Bowl Sunday" is a rather poignant episode in that it shows the final day of Jack's life. The audience never gets to see the moment he dies, but the nurses running around in the background as Rebecca checks in on her loved ones and the glimpse of his corpse in the window of his room were all that were needed.
- Mandy Moore didn't know that Milo Ventimiglia was going to be lying in the hospital bed so her reaction was real.
- Rebecca is eating a candy bar when the doctor tells her and is in utter denial which leads to heartbreak when she realizes the truth. Millions of women will now forever cry when they see a Mars bar.
- Rebecca having to tell her children the news. Theres no dialogue, we dont hear how she says it or delivers it, and we dont need to. All the kids know that their father has died.
- Randall in the present day is the only one of the Pearson children who chooses to gleefully and fully celebrates Jack's life on the anniversary of his death, but after having a brief funeral for his daughter's dead lizard, Randall starts to flashback and almost ends up in tears.
- Kevin and Kate dont do much better with Kate watching the video of Jack recording her singing and blaming herself for his death because Jack went back to save her dog and Kevin basically avoids it altogether until he finally goes to his father's tree and admits to how far hes fallen.
- Just seeing Rebecca fall into depression after the loss of Jack is definitely saddening. Very good make up along with Mandy Moores performance shows just how much Rebecca is still reeling from losing her husband. She even tells Randall that getting out of bed in the morning requires incredible effort and after that she has nothing in her emotionally to deal with problems such as Kevins drinking and Kate's excessive eating.
- The reveal that Nicky was born just two minutes before midnight, which would have saved him from being called to Vietnam where he was seemingly killed. And then the point is driven home when we see all the other babies born on the same day who'll be named in the draft 21 years later.
- Toby fighting and trying to hide his depression from Kate. After she announces the news to him that she is able to become pregnant, Toby, still trying to hide his depression from her, just breaks down sobbing. To see someone who is always usually so positive and happy become a sad emotional mess like that can bring tears to anyones eye.
- Early in their relationship, Jack and Rebecca take a road trip so Rebecca can see a record label. Along the way, Jack has PTSD-influenced nightmares but can't bring himself to discuss them with Rebecca, and it turns out he's using the trip to visit the parents of one of the soldiers under his command, who was killed when he stepped on a mine while playing catch. They tell Jack it wasn't his fault, and soon afterward he breaks down in tears while hearing Rebecca's song about dealing with guilt.
- The full story of Nicky: while high on his own medical supplies, he made a horrible mistake that killed the young son of the woman whose necklace Jack later gave to Kevin. Because of some racist comments hed made earlier about hating all Vietnamese, Jack assumed hed deliberately murdered the boy and refused to consider anything else, and cut Nicky out of his life completely after getting home by telling everyone he was dead.
- Kevin's then-girlfriend Zoe revealing to him why she doesn't talk to her dad anymore: she was sexually abused as a child.
- A few months after Jack's death, Rebecca runs into a widower father of one of the kids' classmates, and after some nice conversation he asks her to have coffee, causing her to realize for the first time that people are now going to be seeing her as on the market again. Made all the more powerful by the show not feeling the need to spell it out with dialogue and letting Mandy Moore's facial acting do all the work.
- Rebecca cuts through a family fight at the hospital with a powerful speech on remembering every single detail of the waiting room the night Jack died.
- The Wham Line by Zoe to Beth near the end of "The Waiting Room" about Kevin
- In the Season 3 finale, Rebecca insists on taking comprehensive notes about baby Jacks care. What at first seems like annoying helicopter parenting is revealed at the episodes end to actually be because shes begun to suffer from dementia, and in the flash-forwards set around fifteen years in the future is bed-ridden and needs to be reminded who her children are.
- Kate manages to keep it together about her son Jack being incurably blind for days, but finally breaks down when she unthinkingly brings up how she looks forward to him "watching" the Steelers with her, realizing right there how he won't be able to fully participate in something that's been so central to the family.
- The time jumps showing how within a year, Rebecca's dementia will get even worse.
- Randall is concerned about Rebecca being forgetful at Thanksgiving but tells her that he now thinks he was just overreacting. Instead of letting him think that, Rebecca tearfully confesses she'd been at the movies and it was halfway through a trailer that "I forgot what movie I was going to see. I think I need to see a doctor."
- Miguel confronts Randall while she gets tested, insisting that its just a normal part of getting old. But when its confirmed that shes started to develop dementia, he falls apart and admits hed noticed little issues shed been having and was in desperate denial.
- Watching a teenage Kate suffer through her abusive relationship with her boyfriend Mark.
- Randall and Kevin start to become estranged due to Randall blaming Kevin for Rebecca deciding not to take an experimental treatment for her condition, followed by the reveal that he's always blamed himself for Jack's death just like Kate as he imagines threatening to follow him back into the house, causing him to escape the fire with the others. The next episode is all about Randall's fantasy of what their lives afterward would have been like with Jack still around.
- It's brief but in the flashback to the family visiting New York City in the 1990s, one of the first sights they have coming over the bridge are the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center.
- Randall's two imaginary scenarios where Jack survived the fire:
- The first is basically one long Fix Fic; Jack and Kate's dog both make it, Randall reconnects with William much sooner and is able to help him get both his addiction and his cancer treated properly, and Rebecca likewise gets her Alzheimer's diagnosed quicker. On one hand, its all blatant Wish Fulfillment and denial on Randall's part. On the other, it hits you with just how easily the Pearsons could've avoided the many hardships they faced if things went even slightly differently.
- The second is the exact opposite of the first; everything that could go wrong for the Pearsons did go wrong. Jack and Randall are never able to forgive Rebecca for lying about William, while William himself never quits using and cruelly rejects Randall to avoid the emotional strife. Kevin's acting career never takes off, leaving him stuck in a Soul-Crushing Desk Job he hates and resenting Randall for moving away. Kate never meets Toby, instead ending up married to Mark. Randall becomes a self-centered Jerkass professor who sleeps around with students and coworkers while barely tolerating the other Pearsons. It ends with William Dying Alone from his cancer (he tries to leave Randall a box of mementos, but Randall just throws it away), while Rebecca's Alzheimer's seems set to kill her after decades of borderline estrangement from her family.
- The whole imaginary sequence where William refuses to acknowledge Randall. Its just so jarring and harsh, reminding you that William wasn't always the Cool Old Guy we knew him as. Once, he was a selfish addict so scared of basic commitment that he's willing to blatantly lie straight to the faces of his son and his son's adoptive father.
- Randall's psychiatrist points out a fallacy in his fantasies; in both, he seems to assume Rebecca would admit the truth about her meeting William and let Randall get in touch with him. She notes that, all things considered, there's really no reason Rebecca wouldn't have just kept the lie going. Harsh, but depressingly plausible.
- It isn't commented on, but in both scenarios, Miguel and Nicky are basically non-entities. Miguel only appears briefly, giving the family a place to rest right after the fire. Nicky is never even mentioned. Really drives home how distant Randall is with the two of them compared to the rest of the family.
- After Kevin learns that Rebecca has changed her mind about the Alzheimer's treatment and that Randall was the one who convinced her, all the tensions between the two finally just explodes in the worst way possible. They initially just argue about Rebecca, but soon both are absolutely tearing each other to pieces over all their myriad issues and disagreements. It all culminates in Kevin accusing Randall of letting Jack die in the fire out of cowardice, causing Randall to call Kevin an unreliable flake and terrible actor who Jack would've seen as a disappointment, which in turn makes Kevin hatefully spit that the worst moment of his life was the second Randall was adopted, all but saying that he wishes they had never been brothers. No wonder they're not talking to one another anymore in the flashforwards.