Pamela Fryman directed 196 episodes of How I Met Your Mother, a sitcom that did not receive nearly enough credit for its cleverness, humor, and warmth. While Fryman would later receive multiple Emmy Award nominations for Outstanding Directing for a Comedy Series, it could be argued that “The Pineapple Incident” in Season One really set the tone for the show.
The episode begins with the narrator, Josh Radnor’s Ted Mosby, drinking with his friends, promptly blacking out, and then waking up in bed next to a mystery woman… and a pineapple. He turns to his friends for clues, which Fryman delivers with twists, plants and pay-offs, and classic HIMYM non-linear storytelling.
Let’s take the mystery of Ted’s burnt coat:
Ted discovers his burnt coat after waking in his apartment. A flashback reveals Barney’s threat to burn said coat (performed exquisitely by Neil Patrick Harris). In this moment, the audience is welcomed in on the joke and anticipates the coming fire, but Fryman’s choice to cut to Robin (Cobie Smulders) on the phone with Ted when the coat goes up in flames is perfect comedy. His scream would have been satisfying enough, but hearing it from Robin’s perspective — a scream without context — heightens the pay-off further.
Comedy thrives in surprise. The director’s role in a multi-camera sitcom is to orchestrate camera reveals and actor adjustments; when done well, the director is forgotten and the glory goes straight to the actors and writers. Fryman seamlessly sets up her entire cast and crew for success in this episode (and in 195 more, just to reiterate that achievement).
Here’s another great example:
Barney sets up the punchline: what will Ted do next? “I don’t know, but I want to find out.” So do we, Barney. So do we. The answer calls from the jukebox in the form of “Voices” by Cheap Trick. Every reaction to Ted’s move is perfection, down to the background actor who startles at Drunk Ted’s performance. From Fryman’s cutaways to her camera angles, watching this scene — and this entire episode — feels like partying with your best friends.