Okay, what is wrong with the two of you? Seriously! He likes you and you like him, and just be together! Jeez Louise, happiness is not that difficult.
—Lily (Alyson Hannigan) to Robin (Cobie Smulders), “Drumroll, Please”
We like the idea that [Ted] just literally says, “Yes, I wanna get laid.” ‘Cause sometimes the tendency with this character is to make him so sort of nobly Cusackian, kind of just the best guy of all time… and we liked just having him admit, “Yeah, Robin’s hot. I want to have sex with her.” He’s just a guy.
—Craig Thomas, commentary on “Nothing Good Happens After 2 A.M.”
Narrated by an older Ted (Bob Saget), as he talks to his kids in the year 2030, How I Met Your Mother considers late-20something adults in progress. With all but rich, womanizing Barney (scene-stealing Neil Patrick Harris) chasing dreams and planning for the future, the result is richer and more earnest than your typical sitcom. This is no static workplace comedy or rinse-repeat tale of funny family life. As the narration from the future reminds us, life, as Ted (Josh Radnor) and his friends know it, is destined to end.
As demonstrated in the First Season, new to DVD, this transformation begins right away, in the pilot. Marshall (Jason Segel), Ted’s best friend and roommate, proposes to Lily (Alyson Hannigan), his girlfriend of nine years. This shift sparks Ted into action. Imagining a future as weird, bachelor “Uncle Ted” to the couple’s children, he vows to find his soul mate and then promptly falls for Robin (Cobie Smulders) when he spies her at the gang’s favorite pub. When he dithers about how to approach her, Barney characteristically cuts straight to the chase, with a tap on Robin’s shoulder: “Haaaave you met Ted?”
Though sparks fly, Robin isn’t in the market for a sweeping love story. A TV reporter assigned to the fluff pieces on New York’s least watched cable news show, her focus is career, not marriage. It’s a nice twist on gender stereotypes as well as rom-com clichés: the star-crossed, would-be lovers aren’t hampered by misunderstanding. They communicate, and find their ambitions and dreams put them at odds.
Questions of identity and career pop up throughout the season. Though law student Marshall has dreamed since childhood of working for environmental causes, the episode titled “Life Among the Gorillas,” finds him postponing in favor of a lucrative corporate internship that will bring in money for the wedding. By the 20th episode, “Best Prom Ever,” Lily is having second thoughts. When the group infiltrate a New Jersey prom to hear a band Marshall wants for their reception, she flashes back to her own prom, when she dumped her high school boyfriend by announcing her plans to spend college painting, living abroad, and perhaps having a lesbian relationship. Instead, she met Marshall on their first day in the dorm.
Even Victoria (Ashley Williams), the baker Ted falls for at a wedding, finds herself with a love vs. work dilemma when a chance to study in Germany comes through two months into their romance. Since long distance relationships never work (as Ted says, “Long distance is a lie teenagers tell each other to get laid the summer before college”), is she a bad feminist for considering staying in New York for Ted?
Yet the series is not all love and angst. Though creators Carter Bays and Craig Thomas aren’t above going all out for romance (for “Drumroll, Please,” they liken Victoria and Ted’s dialogue to a Billy Wilder film: “People don’t talk like that anymore”), the series more typically balances dreaminess with cold practicality (and the occasional joke about “do-do”). “Zip, Zip, Zip” turns the tables on young romance, with Ted and Victoria uttering the most nauseating drivel to one another (something about the soul and fleeting moments) while eavesdropping Marshall and Lily mock them from the bathroom where they’ve been forced to hide out. What Bays and Thomas do so well, director Pamela Fryman tells them during the “Drumroll” commentary, is stop the big speech with a joke or a prod to action. The show’s nutshell description, Thomas says, would be “Ted getting all romantic and Barney telling him to shut the hell up.”
Just as often, however, Lily’s telling Barney (if only via a glare) to do the same. The quintet has a crackling, loopy rapport as a group and as mismatched pairs; when Robin takes Ted’s place on a night on the town with Barney, she proves a better “bro” than Ted. The actors exhibit a similar rapport on three episode commentaries included with the DVD, but they don’t offer too much information of use to fans who already know the basics.
Bays and Thomas are similarly guilty, as they feel the show should speak for itself. Though they cough up a few good anecdotes, they delight too much in talking about their band, whose song “Hey Beautiful” is excerpted as the series theme. The “Video Yearbook” featurette, featuring interviews with the cast, creators and director, offers more information. Until Harris auditioned, Bays and Thomas say they envisioned someone more like Jack Black or John Belushi as Barney. The admission only underscores the serendipity of relationships and sitcoms.