How I Met Your Mother premiered on CBS in the fall of 2005 as a combination of the high and low concept: an occasionally complicated time-jumping storyline married with a traditional, multi-camera laugh-track sitcom. The series (and many episodes) begin with middle-aged Ted (never seen, but voiced by Bob Saget--wait, come back!) telling his teenage daughter and son the story of how he met their mother. We then flash back to the mid-2000s (though, throughout its run ,the series has dipped as far back as the mid 90s and well into the future), where young Ted (Josh Radnor) shares an apartment with his best friend Marshall (Jason Segal) and Marshall's girlfriend (and later wife) Lily (Alyson Hannigan), bar-hops with smarmy ladies' man Barney (Neil Patrick Harris), and pines for Robyn (Cobie Smulders).
If the series can be summed up on a season-by-season basis, you could say that season one kept Ted and Robyn apart, season two put them together, and season three pulls them apart again (with some bumps) while finding Ted a new potential romance. The fact that so much of the series has been (entertainingly) devoted to the Ted-Robyn relationship in spite of the fact that Robyn is clearly not the mother of the title (it's announced at the end of the very first episode, and she is referenced as "Aunt Robyn" in the narration to his kids) tells you something about the loose nature of the show and its central premise.
In fact, the series is mostly about five clever New Yorkers hanging out, cracking wise, and falling in and out of love and lust. Some have said it is reminiscent of Friends, which is certainly accurate, but I find it closer to Seinfeld, with its often-clever story construction, breakneck pace, and wickedly funny euphemisms (the third season episode devoted to the pursuit of "riding the tricycle" is one of the best uses of comedy code words since "master of your domain"). Granted, it's not that show's equal, but few TV comedies are.
What it shares with both of those programs is an emphasis on character comedy; the laughs come more from what we know about the characters and their reactions to the situations and less from a traditional set-up/punch-line writing structure (though there's plenty of that as well). As a result, the show took a few episodes to get going, and Radnor and Smulders, the show's lesser-known actors, took a bit longer to warm up to. However, by season two the show was firing on all cylinders; season three doesn't quite top its predecessor (perhaps as a result of the mid-season hiatus due to the writer's strike), but it's still whip-smart and funny as hell.
Radnor has an easy, likable charm (even when his character acts less than admirably), while Smulders has impressively fleshed out her original, somewhat bland characterization with some funny and unexpected quirks. Segal (Forgetting Sarah Marshall) and Hannigan (Buffy The Vampire Slayer) can each nail a punch-line with ease, and by this point in the series they wear their characters' decade-old relationship with the comfort of an old bathrobe.
But the show's real stand-out is Harris, whose Barney Stinson is one of the great sitcom characters in recent memory. Always "suited up" and on the prowl, forever turning a phrase and ready to party, Harris is a joy to watch. His crackerjack timing , paired with the smart writing from the show's staff (of mostly-female) writers, made his work a highlight of the first two seasons; this year, the writers continue to peel back and analyze Barney's past, particularly on an entertaining episode called "The Yips," where Barney makes a disturbing discovery about his first sexual experience and loses his touch with the ladies.
Other highlights of the season include "We're Not From Here," where Ted and Barney masquerade as tourists to meet girls; "The Platinum Rule", a time-jumping episode with multiple stories about resisting temptation to avoid awkwardness; "Ten Sessions," in which Ted tries to woo his dermatologist (wonderful new semi-regular Sarah Chalke of Scrubs) over the course of ten appointments; and "The Bracket", which revisits some of Barney's most abhorrent transgressions. Few of them match his betrayal of his friend Ted, however, which leads to an interesting late-season story arc, nicely resolved on the funny and unexpectedly moving season finale, "Miracles."
Season three is also marked by two guest appearances/public image rehabilitations from Britney Spears, whose turn as Abby the receptionist in "Ten Sessions" garnered the show some of its biggest ratings, following a troubled year or so for the singer. She's not bad, but not a strong enough actor to hold the screen well with this ensemble, and her return to the show on the season's penultimate episode feels like a ratings stunt, pure and simple.
A couple of other episodes also don't quite land. "Slapsgiving" feels like a missed opportunity, comedically-speaking (Marshall and Barney's "slap-bet" being one of the second season's funniest running gags), while "Sandcastles In The Sand" tries to re-mine the fertile comic ground of Robyn's past as a Canadian pop star, but feels more like a re-tread. So those serve as a reminder that the show isn't perfect; it can be occasionally too cutesy or clever for its own good (but only occasionally), and the obtrusive laugh track is a continuing distraction. But compared to what passes for television comedy these days, those flaws are certainly forgivable--overall, How I Met Your Mother is one of the funniest shows on network TV, and season three is thoroughly enjoyable.
We have Audio Commentaries for a total of seven episodes, each featuring at least one cast member and one crew member, sometimes more. The people who put the show together have clearly developed a camaraderie, as the commentaries are (mostly) funny and entertaining, in addition to containing some pretty good stories (including how the show dealt with the strike and how Britney Spears ended up popping in). All five of the stars appear at least once, as does guest star Chalke, frequent director Pamela Fryman, and series creators Carter Bays and Craig Thomas, in addition to several writers and creative personnel.
Disc 1's special features begin with a Series Retrospective (2:44), a clever (and quick) wrap-up of the first two seasons (quite handy if, for reasons unknown, you're starting with season three). Next up is Lily and Marshall's Honeymoon Videos (10:39), executed as a series of first-person (or tripod-held) camcorder videos of their between-seasons honeymoon in Scotland. It's a funny idea, and cute enough, but a little strained and certainly skippable.
Cast Favorites (5:00) asks each of the five cast members to name their favorite episodes; most are from season two, and include clips. Behind the Scenes of "We're Not From Here" (05:43) is a fast-paced and funny featurette that zips us through the season's second episode, from table read to rehearsal and through production. The first disc's special features close out with Additional Scenes: How It Really Happened, a collection of modestly funny deleted scenes, selectable by episode or with a play-all option.
Aside from the aforementioned audio commentaries, disc 2's special features also include the "You Just Got Slapped" Music Video (1:52), a funny and stylized performance of the song Segal performs at the end of the "Slapsgiving" episode. Honestly, the song works better in this stand-alone format than blended awkwardly into the episode. We also have my favorite of the bonus features, an Unrated Gag Reel (11:12) that's very funny and more than a little dirty.
Disc 3 includes five more audio commentaries and a stand-alone version of the Robin Sparkles Music Video (3:42) for "Sandcastles In The Sand." Most odd is the "Ted Mosby Is A Jerk" feature (20:44), a long and rambling song, presumably affiliated with the website mentioned during the season. The song runs as an additional audio track on the episode "The Bracket", and maybe the joke pays off, but I wasn't patient enough to find out.