On TV: How I Met Your Mother
Perhaps I'm spoiled by the dizzying plot speed of Melrose Place, but the fifth-season premiere of CBS's How I Met Your Mother is nearly unassuming. The episode, "Definitions," which airs tonight, follows Barney (Neil Patrick Harris) and Robin (Cobie Smulders) as they refuse to define their affair, much to the detriment of Lily (Alyson Hannigan), who discovers their relationship and eggs the couple into having "the talk."
Confession: I don't get How I Met Your Mother. I don't understand the laugh track, the clear overacting on Neil Patrick Harris's part, or how its viewership ignores that Jason Segel is much funnier than this show allows him to be. Dismissing this show, now and forever, would be easy if its following weren't so large and fervent. I yearn to understand.
That said, I recognize the slight verve and sexuality that keeps this show a step above the colorless contrivance of The King of Queens, and it's enough that I was excited to see a couple key Emmy nominations thrown its way. Josh Radnor remains a likable presence as he becomes a college professor and botches his first day at work, even freezing at the chalkboard to make sure he spelled "professor" right. Jason Segel meets the wrong end of a whip, which earns a chortle. But within this conventional storyboard, I don't see anything that propels How I Met Your Mother far beyond the shows CBS was making ten years ago, the very efforts that look ridiculous when compared to anything on cable, or the sublime 30 Rock. For instance, Harris and Smulders turn making out into a go-to device for avoiding having "the talk," and it's safe to say that's the funniest part of the new episode. Hannigan finds a way to corner the couple into a confrontation too, and while this results in enjoyable treacle, isn't this humor played? Wasn't this mastered by Seinfeld and Friends in a (thankfully) much different time?
I don't deny that the cast of How I Met Your Mother can showcase more than what little this 22 minutes gives us, but I don't think they're ever going to do it on this show. Neil Patrick Harris needs a fur-burger-free movie role, and Alyson Hannigan needs to learn to play a few lines straight. Otherwise, like the couple in this episode, it seems like everyone involved doesn't know they're lying about themselves.