When it was originally on: 2005-2014
Original network: CBS
Where you can stream it now: Hulu
Had I seen it before: I’ve seen syndicated episodes here and there, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen the pilot.
What IMDb says: A father recounts to his children, through a series of flashbacks, the journey he and his four best friends took leading up to him meeting their mother.
Why I picked it: It seems that almost every generation has some version of the hangout sitcom, and How I Met Your Mother seems to have picked up right where Friends left off. I’m always interested to see how such shows approach their pilot episodes. These kinds of shows need to be built on a solid foundation of character development and usually their pilots don’t need to spend too much time establishing the premise. Yet these are perhaps the shows that most often need several episodes before they really figure themselves out. Hence they make for particularly interesting television pilots.
How I Met Your Mother also has a bit of a gimmick to it, i.e. the whole part about Ted telling his future children how he met their mother. I know this gimmick got made fun of more and more as the show lasted. After all, are kids really going to sit around and listen to their dad tell them 208 episodes worth of story? However, I’m curious to see if there was EVER a point in the show’s history when that gimmick worked.
Also, it’s Valentine’s Day, and this seemed like the most Valentine’s-y of my remaining pilots.
What I liked: I love how they picked singles in varying phases of relationships. Marshall and Lily represent the perfect couple that Ted longs to be a part of, while Barney represents the bachelor life he’s trying to escape from. Because it looks like Ted is going to spend most of the series with engaged/married life to his left and single life to his right, the show is going to have tons of opportunities to explore how Ted feels about relationships via his interactions with these other characters. It was brilliant to weave this into the show’s DNA from the very beginning.
They also do a great job of coming up with little quirks to help make these characters pop. I’m talking about Barney’s obsession with suits, or Marshall and Lily’s weird obsession with olives. So much of sitcom writing isn’t about storytelling so much as it is finding weird little things that can become recurring jokes throughout an episode. The pilot proves that the HIMYM writers are more than capable of this. There were definitely some genuine laughs throughout the pilot and I can also see how humor based around odd minor details would help episodes still be funny on repeat viewings.
Neil Patrick Harris is also amazing, but then we all knew that, didn’t we?
What I didn’t like: It’s a little bit bothersome to me that they don’t have any female members of this squad that aren’t romantic prospects for its male members. In the pilot, Lily doesn’t really get much of a personality outside of “Marshall’s fiancée” although I suppose to be fair, Marshall doesn’t really get much of a personality outside of “Lily’s fiancée.”
While I suppose that Robin probably spends at least some portion of the series in the platonic female friend role, the way they go about telling us this feels like a lazy, slapped-on ending. I would’ve been more eager to watch Episode 2 if they hadn’t essentially spoiled their own show by saying “hey, even though we spent the past 22 minutes setting Robin up to be Ted’s love interest, it’s not going to happen.” It also makes me feel like the pilot episode didn’t accurately indicate what makes later episodes worth watching. If Robin is to be a platonic friend for most of the series, we should’ve seen her being a platonic friend here.
What would’ve happened if a voiceover came on at the end of the pilot for Friends or The Office just to say “and Ross and Rachel don’t end up together” or “Pam is going to marry Roy.” It would’ve broken the whole show, and that’s essentially what How I Met Your Mother does. If Robin and Ted are supposed to be a will-they-won’t-they, don’t kick off the whole series by saying “and by they way they don’t end up together.” And if Robin and Ted aren’t supposed to be a will-they-won’t-they, maybe you shouldn’t have written the entire first episode as though this was the game plan.
Do I want to watch Ep. 2: Not particularly. I wouldn’t say the show is bad, but there’s enough other similar shows I like better that I can’t see myself ever really diving deep into How I Met Your Mother.