[08/05/05 - 12:00 AM]
The Futon's First Look: "How I Met Your Mother" (CBS)
By Brian Ford Sullivan (TFC)

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With the official start of the 2005-06 season less than two months away, the drumbeats have begun by the networks to tout their new comedies and dramas. What should you keep your eye out for? What should you avoid at all costs? While it's still a little early for full reviews (some recasting and reshooting will be done on a good chunk of them), we thought we'd spend the next month previewing what's in store for the upcoming season. Each day we'll look at two of the 47 new series set to premiere this season and go over our initial impressions after viewing the pilot.

There's no particular order here, just whatever's next on the stack of tapes. So without further ado, here's today's entries:

(Mondays at 8:30/7:30c this fall)

The network's description: "HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER (Monday, 8:30 PM) is a comedy about Ted (Josh Radnor) and how he fell in love. It all started when Ted's best friend, Marshall (Jason Segel, "Freaks and Geeks"), drops the bombshell that he's going to propose to his long-time girlfriend, Lily (Alyson Hannigan, "American Pie"), a kindergarten teacher. At that moment, Ted realizes that he had better get a move on if he hopes to find true love, too. Helping him in his quest is Barney (Neil Patrick Harris, "Doogie Howser, M.D."), a friend with endless, sometimes outrageous, opinions, a penchant for suits and a fool-proof way to meet women. When Ted meets Robin (Cobie Smulders, "Veritas: The Quest"), he's sure it's love at first sight, but destiny may have something else in store. With voice-over by Bob Saget ("Full House"), the show is told through flashbacks from the future."

What did they leave out: Neil Patrick Harris without a doubt steals the show as the oddball Barney, who frequently proclaims "suit up" and his love for Lebanese women.

The plot in a nutshell: The show opens in 2030, as Ted (an off-camera Bob Saget) is telling his children - you guessed it - how he met their mother. Cut to 2005 where the present-day Ted (Josh Radnor) learns his best friend Marshall (Jason Segel) is going to ask his long-time girlfriend (Alyson Hannigan, channeling her character from the "American Pie" movies) to marry him. Disgruntled by his current romantic prospects, Ted wonders when he'll meet his future wife. And with that Robin (a delightful Cobie Smulders) enters his life during his latest foray into the bar scene with his very single friend Barney (Neil Patrick Harris). Sure enough, he scores a date with her, convinced this is the girl he's going to marry one day. But like all sitcom relationships, Ted manages to quickly torpedo his chances - in this case, by accidentally blurting "I love you" right before their first kiss. But a few rolls of the romantic comedy mainstay dice later, he finds himself back in her good graces and well on his way to making her his bride. Or is he? The future Ted reveals a pseudo-"Jack & Bobby" twist at the end that will throw you for a loop as, well... it would be unfair for me to spoil any more.

What works: To its credit, "Mother" somehow manages to make warn-out romantic comedy conventions - including the always reliable behaving like an insane person to prove your love - work within the context of the show. While I didn't find myself laughing until the second act (during the "Smurf penis" incident - that's right, Smurf penis is funny, fake dog testicles aren't - it's all about the context, and of course, not beating a joke to death), I couldn't help but be entertained through the drier spots. Likewise, Radnor and Smulders have a fun chemistry that makes you forget the show's more unbelievable aspects. The big winner though is Harris, who fully embraces his character's insanity without bordering on annoying.

What doesn't: At the same time, there's quite a few cheeseball aspects that even the best actors would have a hard time overcoming - including a cutesy story about olives and Marshall's fear of champagne bottles. Nevertheless, one can't deny "Mother's" pilot is a strong enough beachhead in the always-hard-to-break romantic comedy genre. (Really when's the last time a multi-camera show pulled something like this off?) Here's hoping plenty of entertainment lays ahead.

The challenges ahead: Can "Mother" sustain the audience of its popular lead-ins/lead-outs "The King of Queens" and "Two and a Half Men?" And more importantly, will viewers accept the "out of nowhere" twist at the end? We'll find out this fall on CBS.

  [august 2005]  


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