The Three Strike Rule: “How I Met Your Mother” (CBS)

Written by The Three Strike Rule

TV LOOKOUTIn honor of the Three Strike Rule’s move to Mondays, I want to highlight the best series airing on Monday nights. No, I’m not talking about Heroes, which pretty much blew for the duration of its 13-episode run in the fall. That they managed to make Kristen Bell seem like a mediocre actress only drives home how badly the producers of Heroes need to get their act together or risk losing even more viewers next year. Instead, I am speaking of CBS’s How I Met Your Mother, the funny, smart sitcom on CBS that has just switched to a new timeslot (8:30 PM Mondays). I own a TiVo, but I still manage to watch this series within 15 minutes of its airing. Why? Plain and simple: Character development. I’ve grown to love the characters on How I Met Your Mother and look forward to their exploits each week — and the mystery of just who Ted will end up with as his future wife (and the “mother” of the show’s name) has kept me tuned in for three years.

Wait, rewind. Let’s go over a few things for those of you who aren’t familiar with the show. How I Met Your Mother is the ongoing story of five friends living in New York. They are likable, sincere Ted (Josh Radnor); his roommate, Marshall (Jason Segel) a goofy, but intelligent lawyer; Marshall’s bride, the bubbly Lily (former vampire slayer, Alyson Hannigan); their swinging bachelor friend, Barney (the scene-stealing Neil Patrick Harris); and Robin (Cobie Smulders), the girl who appeared to be the love of Ted’s life, but, as we learned in the very first episode, is not. How do we now this? Because Ted (from some yet-to-be-determined point in the future) is narrating each episode to his teenage children, detailing to them exactly how he met their mother. Future Ted is always off screen, which is convenient because future Ted, the narrator, is voiced by Bob Saget.

Are you following me? Good. The show is shot in the single-camera style (popularized by Malcolm in the Middle and Scrubs, revolutionized by Arrested Development). The writing, albeit using somewhat stock plots, has done its best with innovative, sometimes Rashomon-style storytelling to let the characters offer their own viewpoints of situations; sometimes jumping forward and back in time, and always being funny and more importantly, heartfelt. Last week’s “two-minute date” was just plain wonderful, and a perfect example of the quality of the show. We’ve seen the good and bad aspects of single dating, and with Marshall and Lily tying the knot, we’re actually getting to see a young couple go through marriage growing pains in a humorous and caring manner.

Since How I Met Your Mother premiered in 2005, it’s slowly found its footing. I recall watching the pilot and thinking, “this one’s got potential.” And while it doesn’t have the laughs-per-minute ratio of its Monday-night counterpart Two and a Half Men (which is just plain wrong at times), what the show does have is a romantic quality that makes it more akin to the great romantic comedies Rob Reiner was directing in the ’80s and early ’90s. Maybe you don’t laugh at every line, but that’s okay, because the characters are so sincere and true, sometimes it’s nice just to smile at what they do and how they treat each other. Credit the show’s creators, Carter Bays and Craig Thomas, as well as primary director Pamela Fryman, for setting the tone that has endured over the course of three seasons.

I didn’t intend for this column to be “the bubble” column (what with my writeups of Friday Night Lights and Reaper — which both appear to be coming back next year), but for the life of me, I can’t figure out why the hell CBS has a hard time renewing this show. I’m not sure of the ratings, but it can’t be doing that poorly.Moreover, the show has a loyal fanbase, and is a critical darling.What’s the deal, CBS?

This past week, a much-publicized Britney Spears guest appearance boosted ratings, and Spears was actually very good in a minor role. What was more exciting was Sarah Chalke (from Scrubs, apparently headed to ABC next year) in the first of a multiple-episode arc as a love interest for Ted. Man, I almost wish Scrubs wasn’t coming back, so that Chalke was free to join the show — she was the perfect foil to Randor and slid right in with the show’s type of humor. My point is, if having Spears appear on the show helped attract viewers, I say bring on some more stunt casting. It worked for Will & Grace, and look how long that show lasted. So far, Megan Branman and Dylann Brander, the casting directors of How I Met Your Mother, have done a good job with the guest stars, and have consistently brought in actors that slip into the mentality of the show quite easily. So I say bring back John Cho just in time for him to promote the next Harold and Kumar film (which also happens to costar one NPH). Find a way to lure some of Segel’s Judd Apatow friends into an episode, like Seth Rogen or James Franco. Better yet, bring Segel’s Forgetting Sarah Marshall costar, the fetching and talented Kristen Bell (hey, remember her?) on for an episode. Whatever can draw more attention to the show should be done; we don’t need to lose another great comedy series.

For no other reason, CBS owes it to the loyal audience to resolve the number of slaps Marshall owes Barney. And we haven’t seen enough of Robin Sparkles! I would explain, but I really think you should check out the show and become a fan.