Mondays at 8:30/7:30c on CBS. Season 3 resumes Monday, March 17th. Starring Josh Radnor, Alyson Hanigan, Jason Segel, Cobie Smulders and Neil Patrick Harris.
CBS’ How I Met Your Mother returns tonight to finish out its third season run after a long hiatus due to the writer’s strike. Supposedly it’s in danger of not being renewed for a fourth season, which would be a shame, because it’s one of the funnier shows out there, and certainly the best traditional three-camera sitcom on the air. And with 30 Rock, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia and The Office all on hiatus, now’s the perfect time to give it a chance.
My best description of the show is that it’s like Friends, only way, way better, with people you would actually want as your friends — I mean, really, who would want to hang out with Ross? Or really any of them? The characters on HIMYM aren’t one-note caricatures (well, one kind of is) and you could imagine yourself actually being friends with them. Example #1 — as opposed to a coffee-shop, they spend all their time drinking beers at an Irish Pub…hmm, which group sounds more appealing?
The show is told in flashback form as future Ted (voiced by Bob Saget) is telling his children the story of how he met their mother. Present Ted (Josh Radnor) is an architect who lives on the Upper West Side with his college roommate and current Columbia Law student (represent!) Marshall (Freaks and Geeks & Knocked Up’s Jason Segel) and his girlfriend Lily (Buffy & American Pie’s Alyson Hanigan). Rounding out the fivesome are shameless ladies man Barney (Neil Patrick Harris) and Robin (Cobie Smulders), a girl Ted is crazy about in the pilot episode but who wants to just be friends.
Radnor is very likable and earnest as Ted, but doesn’t start to really hit his stride until season 3, where he gets a little edgier and becomes a more distinctive character. Harris is consistently legend…wait for it…dary as Barney, managing to make a potentially unlikable character really awesome. He could be a really one-not type of character but Harris shows that Barney is a lot deeper than his shallow exterior. Segel and Hanigan have great chemistry and at times form the backbone of the show. But the real surprise is Smulders, who starts off as a generic love interest, but develops Robin into a really unique, interesting and funny character, and by season 3 holds her own against Harris for best character on the show.
While the central conceit does create an overall story arc, you can definitely watch from any point and still appreciate the show, despite the occasional callback. As long as you have an idea of who the characters are, each episode works pretty well as a stand-alone, especially because a lot of them don’t advance the story. I’d caught a couple of episodes randomly over the years and found them amusing, but I didn’t start watching them until this year and burned through the first 2 1/2 seasons pretty quickly with the help of some bootleg Chinese (I think) YouTube knock-offs. As a side note — Chinese subtitles definitely add to the experience.
Season 1 starts a little slow as the show tries to get its footing — you can see the potential, and Barney is awesome from day one, but aside from the excellent “Pineapple Incident” episode, it doesn’t really hit its stride until the end of the season with “Mary the Paralegal.” Season 2 is where the show really finds its voice, peaking with the classic “Swarley” and “Slap Bet” episodes culminating with a really strong two-part season finale. Season 3 has been more consistent thus far, but hasn’t had a standout episode yet, though “How I Met Everyone Else” as impressive for how much attention was paid to the continuity of the overall story.
What makes How I Met Your Mother different than traditional sitcom fare (well, besides the fact that it’s actually funny) is the unconventional way it tells a lot of its stories. There are a lot of flashback scenes, a lot of cutaways, and a lot of interesting techniques from episode to episode. Season 2’s “Lucky Penny” traced a missed flight back to its origins two years before, tying in with earlier episodes as well. “Arrivederci, Fiero” was a really cleverly written episode tracing the history of Marshall’s beloved car. It gives the show a unique feel and though it’d be worth watching anyway, it adds to the appeal.
While How I Met Your Mother isn’t as clever as say, Arrested Development and is more middle-of-the-road than something like It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, having a more universal appeal isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It’s consistently funny and original with likable characters and an interesting plot and probably the best CBS sitcom in my lifetime. I’d definitely recommend checking it out and I hope it gets more seasons to finish Ted’s story.
Season 1 – B
Season 2 – A-
Season 3 (thus far) – B+