Just when they announced Joey had been cancelled and you thought it was safe to turn on your TV set and see something that wasn't either Friends or something Friends begat, YES Stars pulls us back into the pit... Okay, okay, maybe we're being a little harsh on How I Met Your Mother (Thursday, 21:05), but that's because it seemed to have something going for it. First of all, there's the twist - this isn't just a story of singles and engaged people living in New York City (what a concept!), but the story of a father flashing back 30 years to 2005 to explain to his kids how he met their mom. Not only that, folks, but the first episode threw us a curve ball. Because just when you think annoying single guy Ted (Josh Radnor, Judging Amy), a romantic architect just itching to find Ms. Right and settle down, has finally met his match (and the "Mother" of the show's title) in lovely TV reporter Robin, it turns out - it's not her. Snag, and to be continued. Of course, Ted can't do it alone - he's got to have, well... friends, of course. In this case that would be goofy roommate Marshall (Jason Segel, Freaks and Geeks), a law student who never seems to be studying, and Marshall's vivacious fianc e, Lily (Alyson Hannigan, Willow from Buffy, who is the best thing in this show), who never seems to not be interested in having sex. Worse yet, there's also Ted's friend Barney, an annoying metrosexual type played by former Doogie Howser, M.D. star Neil Patrick Harris. Someone should definitely drop a dime to Harris, however, because it seems that ever since he went through puberty, he's been playing annoying, stupid characters. Nonetheless, damn it, there is something here that seeps through some of the lame jokes and clich d characters: it's got heart. Yes, this is a romantic sitcom, one where people look for "the signal" before kissing, or assume someone is their life's mate because he or she doesn't like olives, or can remember obscure lines from Ghostbusters. It's a series that has Ted saying to Robin (Cobie Smulders, Veritas), after falling head over heels for her, that "you can't tell a woman you just met you love her - it sucks that you can't." And when Ted first sees Robin, he describes it to the kids as "like something from an old movie, where the sailor sees the girl across the crowded dance floor and says: "See that girl? I'm gonna marry her some day." Pass the Kleenex, dude. But hold on - this is supposed to be a comedy, and for that you certainly need many more laughs than are provided here, unless you want to include spanking jokes and two mentions in one show of the words "Smurf penis" - and believe us, you don't want to go there, not even if your name is Sneezy. It's full of burning questions, like "how do I ask her out without asking her out," and such. And when you have to use a wet law book for jokes, it's time for viewers to sue for better fare. So who's left to keep tuning in to How I Met Your Mother? Probably romantic teenagers and 20somethings home without a date on Thursday night. Because while this show's heart may be in the right place, it's missing a funny bone. How I Met Your Mother heads in a new direction, but we're not sure anyone should follow too long. Friends and i>Seinfeld have pretty much been down this road, and done it better. As Ted observes in the bar (replacing the Friends or Seinfeld coffee shop as the meeting place for group scenes), the mating game in NYC is "a game - I just gotta keep playing it." Thanks, but although this show was picked up for another season, we prefer backgammon.