How I Met Your Mother
excels in tossed-off bits of genius, from a saccharine book-on-tape read by Kenny Rogers to "But, uhm" to bagpipes to harmonizing with Will Shortz and Peter Bogdanovich. These little gems of comic absurdity perfectly complement the sitcom's other great strength, which is clever, twisty storytelling--plots that fold back into themselves, unfold in flashbacks, or cross-reference previous episodes. This narrative inventiveness is hardly surprising, given that the premise of the entire series is that it's being told by the future central character, Ted Mosby, to his two children, gradually revealing how he came to marry their mother.
By the fifth season, this premise is growing a little bit threadbare (particularly after some of the red herrings of the past two seasons), yet the show continues to hold abundant pleasures. The cast--Josh Radnor, Cobie Smulders, Alyson Hannigan, Jason Segel, and Neil Patrick Harris--have an effortless lock on their characters, allowing them to pull off some perilously goofy bits that, in less confident hands, could have foundered (a musical homage to wearing suits, for example). The writing is crisp and driven; this half-hour sitcom crams in more plot turns than your average hour-long drama. The fifth season is not good to start with--the humor is much, much stronger if you've grown to love these characters over the previous four seasons--but for everyone who's been following Ted, Robin, Marshall, Lily, and Barney, it's essential viewing. Some surprising moments of melancholy are completely earned and stand out from the typical sitcom overreaching for "significance"; these moments are successfully rooted in the characters, who become more real every season… yes, even Barney. --Bret Fetzer