Thursday, September 22, 2005

TV: How I Met Your Mother

How I Met Your Mother throws in a few non-standard gimmicks, like staging the show as a flashback from the future (2030, to be specific, where an unseen Bob Saget tells his two kids the story of... well, see the title), and some split-screen action, but mostly it's an extremely conventional, sitcommy kind of sitcom. Ted (the younger version of Saget), played by the unknown-to-me Josh Radnor, is depressed that his best friends and roommates Marshall and Lily (Freaks & Geeks' Jason Segel and Buffy's Alyson Hannigan) are getting married. Ted wants to settle down, too, despite the adverse influence of immature, womanizing friend Barney (Neil Patrick Harris... yay, Doogie!). Then Ted spies Robin (the also unfamiliar Cobie Smulders) and is instantly smitten. And off we go!

For all its conventional trappings, there is some spark to be found here. Radnor is kind of blah, but passable as a lead. Harris is a lot of fun, as full of energy and enthusiasm as he is bad advice and cheap come-ons. Smulders is tremendously lovely and winning. And Segel is enjoyably goofy and awkward. The real letdown here is Hannigan. As nerd-crush extraordinaire Willow, she was perfect, but since then.... I started realizing it during her guest appearances on Veronica Mars last year, and confirmed it here: she's actually not a very good actress. Frankly, she's kind of bad. Which is disillusioning. I went through the same sort of realization with former nerd-crush Winona Ryder a few years ago. Once Ryder and Hannigan tried to break out of their nerd-crush phases, their limitations became painfully obvious. Too bad, so sad.

The writing isn't brilliant, but it's got its moments. I liked that Ted wins Robin over by allowing her to throw a drink in his face (in order to impress her girlfriends, one of whom was just dumped). I liked Barney's Lazer Tag excursion, and his insistence that Ted "Suit up!!" And Marshall's fear of opening a champagne bottle, while again very sitcommy, still produced laughs, as did Lily's subsequent eyepatch (he hits her in the eye with the cork). Other bits were a little too Friends-type sitcom-influenced, like the "olive theory," or Ted's referring to a framed blue French horn artpiece as a "Smurf penis." But the good here outweighs the bad.

And I really liked and was genuinely surprised by the twist at the end: after a half hour setting up the romance between Ted and Robin, future Ted concludes the episode by telling his kids, "And that's the story of how I met... your Aunt Robin." What? the kids demand. What about meeting their mother? "I told you this was going to be a long story," he says. I got a kick out of that. It was a small thing, but it hooked me, and left me wanting to find out more.

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