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‘We’ll Meet Again’ review: Ann Curry’s perfect, sentimental second act

"We'll Meet Again" features Ann Curry as executive producer and reporter. Photo Credit: PBS / David Turnley

THE SHOW “We’ll Meet Again”

WHEN | WHERE Premieres Tuesday at 8 p.m. on WNET/13

WHAT IT’S ABOUT Hosted by former “Today” news anchor and host Ann Curry, this six-part series explores historic events through the eyes of people who lived through them, and who want to find long-lost friends who shared those lives with them. Tuesday’s episode is about Reiko, a Japanese-American who was sent to an internment camp as a child and wants to find her childhood friend who stood by her through the trauma; and Peter, whose family fled Germany in the mid-1930s to settle in the Jewish ghetto in Shanghai.

MY SAY Many years ago, Vera Lynn made popular a song that still deeply moves anyone old enough to remember its sweet, sad message. “We’ll Meet Again” was the sentimental soundtrack for a generation at war, with its power and pathos drawn from the realization that many people would not meet again. Curry’s series borrows the name and message, but offers the slightest bit of closure that the song never could.

And for Curry — still dodging “Today” questions 5 1⁄2 years after she left — there couldn’t be a more perfect second act. Fans may or may not agree on Curry’s suitability as a “Today” anchor, but the job does require a certain emotional detachment because one segment might be about a war, then five minutes later, another about a diet for the perfect abs. There was never anything detached about Curry as host. Whether for a story about war or perfect abs, or whether interviewing a guest, or addressing viewers, she’d lean in, lock eyes and affect a valiant attempt to look into their hearts. On the air, there was a fundamental decency about her — Curry’s chief appeal, in fact — and a sentimental core. As viewers now know, there’s nothing sentimental about “Today.”

But there is with “We’ll Meet Again.” Curry’s trademark style is on display here but it’s not on over-display. She wisely stands aside for the most part and lets her subjects tell their stories. She does what she does best, which is to draw those out.

If representative of the rest of the series, Tuesday’s launch firmly places this in a genre that’s been around for decades: the reunion show. There have been a handful in recent years, such as TLC’s “Long Lost Family” or ABC’s “Find My Family,” where the tearful payoff typically arrives in the final act. This series doesn’t break form, but it does improve upon it. Tuesday’s “Children of World War II” features two elderly people whose lives were profoundly affected by cataclysmic world events. They want to find people, or lost friends, who can offer some meaning to this, or some closure. That’s a deeply human impulse and, incidentally, makes for good TV.

Besides that final-act payoff, the best parts are the stories of their early lives in the “Shanghai Ghetto,” or a Japanese internment camp on Wyoming’s high plains. “Again” is weakest in those long moments where the camera finds Peter and Reiko looking through genealogy charts or consulting librarians. It feels gimmicky and padded, while viewers know that a couple of savvy TV researchers could have found the people they’re looking for in two minutes. But “We’ll Meet Again” is a search-and-closure operation. It mostly succeeds and so does the host.

BOTTOM LINE Sentimental — and perfect — second act for Curry.

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