Networks often seem to be casting about in an effort to find and replicate the smashing success achieved by "Friends" ever since that iconic Nineties sitcom went off the air. The precise mixture of love, jobs, twenty-somethings and comedy is a difficult one to concoct, but that doesn't stop programming execs from cranking out one failed attempt after another, year after year. So rare is the sitcom that gets most of the elements right that it's practically cause for jubilant celebration when a show like How I Met Your Mother comes along.
Premiering in Sept. 2005, created by Carter Bays and Craig Thomas and billed as "a love story in reverse," How I Met Your Mother turns the "Friends" formula on its head by having one of its main characters, Ted Mosby (voiced by Bob Saget), some 30 years after the modern day events of the show, relaying the twists and turns of said events to his two, often disinterested children (David Henrie and Lyndsy Fonseca). It's a nifty approach to what would otherwise be well-worn material, although the chemistry of the ensemble cast goes a long way towards smoothing over any feelings of seen-it-before-ness. Joining the modern day Ted Mosby (winningly portrayed by Josh Radnor) are his quartet of New York City-dwelling companions: the goofy couple Lily Aldrin (Alyson Hannigan) and Marshall Eriksen (Jason Segel), former flame Robin Scherbatsky (Cobie Smulders) and the scene-stealing maniac Barney Stinson (Neil Patrick Harris).
How I Met Your Mother wouldn't be nearly as entertaining as it is without its cast -- it's unquestionably the show's biggest strength, although some interesting creative choices by Bays and Thomas run a close second; the pilot episode ends with a mildly shocking twist: The woman that Ted has been avidly pursuing for the past 22 minutes is not, in fact, the mother of his children. It throws you off-balance and guarantees that you'll tune in for ensuing episodes to see exactly how Ted ends up telling stories to two youngsters 30 years hence. It's a pretty nifty narrative trick and one which ensures the show will have some longevity, provided the creators don't slip up and ruin all the goodwill they've generated to this point. As of this writing, How I Met Your Mother is cruising through its second season and will continue into a third. Hopefully the show can remain the unforced delight that it is, delivering a solid half-hour of entertainment without resorting to bachelorettes or tribal challenges. Have you met Ted?
The first season -- 22 episodes -- of How I Met Your Mother is spread across three discs by 20th Century Fox, packaged in a cardboard slipcase housing two slimline cases. Material for the episode synopses is taken from the cases and for those who want their How I Met Your Mother experience untainted by advance knowledge, be aware that some spoilers can be found below.
In 2029, Ted explains to his offspring how he came to meet their mother, starting back in 2005 with his friend Marshall becoming engaged to his friend Lily. Overly eager to find his own soulmate, Ted sets his sights on Robin. (Features commentary from show creators Carter Bays and Craig Thomas, director Pam Fryman and cast members Alyson Hannigan, Neil Patrick Harris, Josh Radnor, Jason Segel and Cobie Smulders.)
Ted becomes something of a party animal in an effort to see Robin again, while Lily's over-active libido distracts Marshall from completing his law school homework.
Sweet Taste of Liberty
Barney, whose plan to meet hot girls at the airport backfires and lands he and Ted in Philadelphia, tries to reason with airport security while Robin hogs all the guys on her and Lily's night out on the town.
Return of the Shirt
Ted finds himself hanging out with former flame Natalie, soon re-discovering why he split up with her; Barney and Robin have an ever-escalating dare war, with Robin saying outrageous things at work.
Robin, Ted and Barney head out to one of the city's hottest clubs, while Lily and Marshall indulge in the more adult (read: boring) evening of wine tasting. (Features commentary from cast members Alyson Hannigan, Neil Patrick Harris, Josh Radnor, Jason Segel and Cobie Smulders.)
Ted heads out to a lame-o Halloween party in search of a girl he met there years ago while Robin tags along with Lily and Marshall for a double date.
After signing up with a matchmaking service, Ted quickly discovers that love is far from being a science; Marshall and Lily do battle with a frightening creature living in the apartment.
After Lily officially moves in with Ted and Marshall, Ted begins to feel like he's being edged out of his home, so he and Marshall decide to start living like real men.
Belly Full of Turkey
Lily makes Thanksgiving with Marshall's family extra stressful since she thinks she might be pregnant; Robin, Ted and Barney spend the holiday volunteering at a homeless shelter.
The Pineapple Incident
Ted comes to after a night of heavy drinking with a strange woman -- and a pineapple -- in his bed. (Features commentary from show creators Carter Bays and Craig Thomas.)
Ted rents a limo for a wild night of New Year's Eve party-hopping with the gang.
Ted invites Robin to a wedding, but his romantic hopes are deflated when the bride informs him that he can't bring a date.
Ted meets an exciting new woman, Victoria, at the wedding, which causes conflicting feelings in Robin -- only Ted doesn't exactly know how to get ahold of her. (Features commentary from show creators Carter Bays and Craig Thomas and director Pam Fryman.)
Zip, Zip, Zip
Marshall and Lily hide out in the bathroom, impatiently waiting for Ted and Victoria to consummate their relationship; Barney gets the wrong idea while hanging out with Robin.
Marshall's planned game night leads to some surprising, embarrassing and unexpected revelations.
Ted and Victoria's relationship is blossoming, just as she's offered a culinary scholarship in Germany -- she finds herself torn as to whether she should accept.
Life Among The Gorillas
Ted discovers the reality of long-distance relationships, with Victoria stuck in Germany; Marshall has difficulty fitting in when he takes a job with Barney's company.
Nothing Good Happens After 2 A.M.
Robin invites Ted over for a late-night rendezvous despite his relationship with Victoria. (Features commentary from show creators Carter Bays and Craig Thomas.)
Mary The Paralegal
Ted, in need of a date for Robin's awards banquet, steps out with Mary, hired by Barney and who may or may not be a call girl.
Best Prom Ever
As her wedding speeds towards her, Lily, along with Robin and Barney, crashes a high school prom searching for a band to play her reception.
A matchmaking service claims to have found Ted's soulmate, which excites him, but he has to postpone his date to help Lily, who has a surprising revelation.
Ted tries to prevent Robin from going away with her co-worker in an effort to get closer to her; Marshall is upset by Lily's fellowship interview.(Features commentary from cast members Alyson Hannigan, Neil Patrick Harris, Josh Radnor, Jason Segel and Cobie Smulders.)
DVD foul, 20th Century Fox, big time DVD foul: Broadcast in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen on CBS HDTV, the studio has inexplicably elected to release this first season of How I Met Your Mother in 1.33:1 fullscreen, while retaining a credits sequence in non-anamorphic widescreen. If someone could explain the logic of this decision to me, I'd very much appreciate it. Aside from being severely cropped, the image is fine -- clean, clear and free from major defects. I would hesitate to let this fullscreen choice deter from purchasing a very funny show, but it certainly should give you pause and perhaps inspire you to fire off an angry letter to 20th Century Fox.
Whereas the visuals are a major letdown, the aural end of things is, happily, just what it should be: a robust, defect-free Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack that gives vivid life to the show's well-chosen soundtrack (drawing heavily from indie rock stalwarts such as Belle & Sebastian and Nada Surf; incidentally, from what I could tell, none of the songs have been replaced with alternate tracks). Optional English, Spanish and French subtitles are also included.
The cast, crew and creators sit for six audio commentaries, spread across the season, with the bulk of the special features being found on the third disc: the 20 minute, 29 second fullscreen featurette "Video Yearbook," the nine minute "Happy Hour" blooper reel with a pair of clip montages -- the one minute, 13 second "First Round" and the one minute, 45 second "Last Call" -- rounding out the set.
So rare is the sitcom that gets most of the "Friends" formula right that it's practically cause for jubilant celebration when a show like How I Met Your Mother comes along. Hopefully the show can remain the unforced delight that it is, delivering a solid half-hour of entertainment without resorting to bachelorettes or tribal challenges. 20th Century Fox inexplicably presented the show in fullscreen here, despite it being broadcast in widescreen; this mindless decision keeps the set from earning a higher recommendation. It's the presentation, not the content. Get it right, Fox.