The fall of 2005 was a good season for comedy on TV. How I Met Your Mother premiered on CBS and the second season of The Office (aka the first good season) was on NBC. Six years later both shows are still on the air, and I’m sorry to report that it’s a bad thing.
Out of blind loyalty I still watch The Office and How I Met Your Mother, but now it’s more of a chore than a treat. These once-great comedies have lost their luster, and while I wish they were just not as good as they once were, I’m afraid the truth is much worse. These shows are just plain bad.
This week’s How I Met Your Mother represented everything wrong with the show this year as it attempted to get laughs by bringing back a slew of past guest stars. Wayne Brady, Chris Elliott, Frances Conroy, Bill Fagerbakke and Cristine Rose all reprised their roles as relatives of the gang as they realized that their significant others resemble their own parents.
Herein lies the problem. It’s not enough just to make a callback, HIMYM actually has to do something with it to make it funny. For many of these actors, the appearance counted as little more than a cameo (Brady had just one embarrassingly thankless scene). This is what HIMYM has become, a pale imitation of its former self, bringing back old jokes as if to say, “Remember when we were funny?” Unfortunately, reruns accomplish the same thing and don’t make me feel so sad.
There’s also the matter of the new significant others played by Nazanin Boniadi and Kal Penn. Nora and Kevin are two incredibly boring characters who add nothing of substance to the show. When you think back to Sarah Chalke as Stella or Alexis Denisof as Sandy, it makes you wonder why the writers can’t create decent love interests any more.
The problem of new characters is also a reason why The Office is so bad this season. James Spader was impressively creepy in the initial job interview at the end of last year, but the show has done a huge disservice to the Emmy winner by instantly promoting him to CEO. Every single episode of The Office this season is built around the anticipation of Robert California’s arrival to Dunder-Mifflin, which makes it less special than it should be.
Spader has also been given nothing to do. Michael Scott was such an effective character because his ineptitude and absurdity was balanced by moments of genuine humanity and intelligence. He was a joke, but he was also surprisingly good at his job when need be and he genuinely cared for all of his employees. Comparatively, Spader’s character is one dimensional.
It also seems obvious that The Office is getting old because the supporting characters are becoming pointless. There was a time when Rainn Wilson was an Emmy-worthy performer, but now Dwight just sits there like a bump on a log. John Krasinski and Jenna Fischer seem to be biding their time until they can jump ship and move on in their lives, and B.J. Novak is still in the opening credits despite the fact that Ryan has fewer lines than Creed and gets more screentime in webisodes than on the actual show.
There was a time when How I Met Your Mother and The Office were the two funniest shows on TV. They had clever jokes, brilliant characters and heartfelt emotions. Now both shows are on their last legs and rather than going out while they’re still on top, they’re both struggling to make it to the finish line, running on fumes. I hope this is the last year for both shows, because watching them last any longer would be too embarrassing.
(Images courtesy of CBS and NBC)