The sitcom is in an awkward place. Everyone hates traditional four-camera laugh track sitcoms, including writers. Everyone wants to write a clever single-camera show. But no one watches them. Arrested Development, Scrubs, The Office, Bernie Mac, Malcolm in the Middle—all quality shows, all virtually ignored. A lot more people must like laugh tracks than are willing to admit it. Maybe the public actually wants traditional sitcoms, except there aren’t any good ones. (My Name is Earl started strong and may change this. Let's hope so.)
So here comes How I Met Your Mother, which is shot in traditional four-camera format, complete with audience, except that it’s desperately embarrassed about it. So it tries to disguise itself as an innovative single-camera-esque show with short scenes, split screens, freeze-frames, a voice-over, and a gimmicky Jack-and-Bobby flash-back-from-the-future setup. But it has simple sets and a laughing audience, so maybe it can avoid the single-camera curse.
See, off-camera Bob Saget narrates to his teenage kids in 2030, which lazily looks exactly like right now, since the show makers realize nothing dates faster than things that look “futuristic.” The kids don’t care, but for no particular reason, he insists on boring them with a story about meeting their mother, which takes place now. I hope future episodes have subplots with the kids that take place in the future, because that would be weird but at least in an interesting way, and it will make these two young actors feel like they were hired for a reason. This is probably the first show ever told in voice-over flashback that tells us who the narrator is talking to.
The cast is excellent. Freaks and Geeks alum Jason Segel is earnest and funny (although it looks like he’s getting kind of a big ass—don’t actors have people to keep them from turning prematurely pear-shaped?). Alyson Hannigan acts like her American Pie character and says “bitch” a lot, which everyone loves. Neil Patrick Harris is the broadest and funniest character, a loser who thinks he’s cool and always wears a suit. One running gag in the pilot is that he’s always calling the main character and telling him, “Meet you at the bar in fifteen minutes. Suit up!” and then he’s disappointed when the main guy shows up not wearing a suit. This should get tiresome, but Harris sells it and somehow I never got tired of it. Another good line comes when the main character calls Harris after passing up a laser tag invitation. Harris answers while trading laser blasts: “How’s not playing laser tag? Because playing laser tag is awesome!” And as the gang races with the main character to rendevous with the love interest, he enthuses: "This is totally going in my blog!"
The main guy, Young Bob Saget, well, he’s kind of bland. But he’s okay, and the rest of the cast makes up for it. The episode ends with the reveal that the woman he’s spent the episode meeting is… not the mother! Ha! The teenage future kids are stunned to realize their dad is the most long-winded blowhard ever. I think every episode dancing around meeting the mother will get tiresome, awfully fast, and they need to come up with a way to make this gimmick not annoying.
But again. The cast has great chemistry and the jokes, especially Doogie’s, are surprisingly decent. This show just needs a chance to grow into something that feels more organic, rather than this gimmicky hybrid that seems so forced.