It is both its greatest credit and biggest detriment that the new CBS series, “Mad Love,” is as similar as you can get to being “How I Met Your Mother” without nuzzling into infringement territory. A couple of years ago, there was talk during Sarah Chalke’s (“Scrubs,” BAJINGO), arc on “HIMYM” that she and Ted would marry and that she’d become a series regular (maybe even the mother). That didn’t pan out, but if it had, “Mad Love” would be the show that it would have morphed into.
That’s not necessarily a bad thing: Both shows have a similar sense of humor, similar characters, the same storytelling device, and both are set in New York, which are all OK things. If I’m not completely mistaken, even some of the same sets are used. In fact, in “Mad Love,” when the foursome sits down for beers, it looks like the same bar from “HIMYM” filmed from a slightly different angle.
Detrimentally, however, they both use the same unnecessary laugh track, and part of the appeal of “HIMYM” is in the running jokes, which “Mad Love” clearly doesn’t have yet. Moreover, although Jason Biggs came first, in the sitcom world, he’s still a poor man’s Josh Radnor, who was already a poor man’s Jason Biggs from the movie world, which means that “Mad Love’s” central star is a watered-down Ted Mosby, twice removed from his 90s’ self. But he’s with Sarah Chalke, who is as good as anyone on “HIMYM,” other than Neil Patrick Harris, except even NPH can’t say “tinkle” with as much alluring charm as Chalke.
Moreover, what “How I Met Your Mother” doesn’t have, and what gives us an inkling of hope for the future of “Mad Love” despite a mediocre pilot is Tyler Labine (“Reaper”) and Judy Greer (“Arrested Development”), two terribly funny people that have been historically relegated to bit parts in bad shows and movies. Here, they are again the best friends to the central couple — Ben (Biggs) and Kate (Chalke), who find an instant attraction atop the Empire State Building (*groan*) — but their roles are substantial. It is their job to navigate Ben and Kate through their courtship, while engaging in what appears to be something of a love/hate relationship themselves. Labine is essentially Barney from “HIMYM,” and because he’s husky, he can deliver the same lines, only they come off as amusingly delusional. Meanwhile, Greer is the wisecracking sourpus, who delivers weak insults that sound more cutting coming from Greer than most sitcom actresses.
The storytelling device and the conceit, however, may drown “Mad Love” before it can raise its head above the water. It’s narrated by Labine — the best friend — and he’s meant to be telling the story not of how Ben met his future wife, but what happened between the time Ben met his future wife and, presumably, they got married, which means that if “Mad Love” goes beyond a single season, Ben and Kate are going to break up frequently. Because of the show’s conceit, we’ll always know they’ll end up back together, which sounds an awful lot like Ross and Rachel over the course of the last four seasons of “Friends,” otherwise known as the seasons that are never to be spoken of.
For now, however, consider it a super-sized episode of “How I Met Your Mother” with slightly different characters, and if you’re into “HIMYM,” you’ll likely find “Mad Love” agreeable enough.