A love story in reverse: How I Met Your Mother is a fresh new comedy about Ted (Josh Radnor) and how he fell in love. When Ted's best friends Marshall (Jason Segel) and Lilly (Alyson Hannigan) decide to tie the knot it sparks the search for his own Miss Right. Helping him in his quest is his bar-hopping "wing-man" Barney (Neil Patrick Harris), a confirmed bachelor with plenty of wild schemes for picking up women. Ted's sites are set on the charming and independent Robin (Cobie Smulders), but destiny may have something different in mind. Told through a series of flashbacks, Ted recalls his single days, the highs and lows of dating and the search for true love.
If the end of Friends left a hole in your life, take a look at How I Met Your Mother. Quirky young urban folk grappling with life and love--check. Charming, good-looking actors who aren't afraid of looking like idiots for the sake of a good joke--check. Crisp, solid writing that sticks comfortably within the sitcom format, but is fresh enough to nudge the show into surprising and inventive moments--check. In fact, the creators of How I Met Your Mother should be embarrassed by how close they hew to the Friends formula--except that they do it so well. Let's face it, Friends didn't invent this territory (tales of twentysomething life), they just refined it. How I Met Your Mother quickly cultivates its own flavor: A little more openly romantic than most sitcoms, willing to let a scene take a quiet or off-kilter turn, trusting that not every viewer has to get every joke.
The hub of the likable cast is Josh Radnor, who keeps Ted (a single guy ready to settle down) from being annoying, despite his neuroses and perfectionism. Cobie Smulders gives Robin (the girl Ted thinks might be the one, but who doesn't want to settle down) enough goofy, tomboyish charm that she feels like a person and not an idealized love interest. Jason Segel (Freaks and Geeks) and Alyson Hannigan (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, American Pie), plays Ted's soon-to-be-married best friends Marshall and Lily with enough lingering doubt in their engaged happiness to keep them from becoming too comfortable. And rounding out the cast is Neil Patrick Harris (Doogie Howser, M.D.), shedding his good-guy image as Barney, a crass, lecherous cad who, nonetheless, comes through for his friends. Episode plots are pretty straightforward (Ted signs up with matchmaking agency; Marshall takes a well-paying job he doesn't like; when Ted gets a girlfriend, Robin realizes she has feelings for him after all; and Lily has second thoughts about getting married), but the show maintains a nice balance of single-episodes stories and a season-long arc--and as you grown attached to the characters, even fairly routine stories are made to feel fresh. This is good comfort television: Smart but not snotty, earnest but not cloying, oddball without being forced or wacky. Check it out. --Bret Fetzer