How I Met Your Mother – “The Rough Patch”

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“The Rough Patch”

November 9th, 2009

One of the intriguing elements of How I Met Your Mother is its use of skewed memory, as what we’re seeing is not reality so much as it is Future Ted’s perception of reality. In some instances, the show uses it for subtle jokes such as the opening one here, when Future Ted manufactures a preposterous story for how a pornographic movie happened to find its way into the VCR. In other instances, however, the show creates more of what I’d call gags, like how Robin’s older boyfriend at Thanksgiving was played by Orson Bean so as to exaggerate his age for the sake of the story being told. These are unique because, unlike those established mainly through voiceover, they become a running gag in their own right.

Last week’s “Bagpipes” used a combination of the two in the running gag of sexual noises emerging as bagpipe music, which was clever and underplayed. However, “The Rough Patch” fails because it uses such a gag at the heart of a fairly substantial bit of character development, one which is not capable of transcending the pop cultural stereotypes. Putting Barney into a fat suit as a one-off gag is fine, but using it as a representation of an integral piece of character development feels both false (in that the exaggeration seems too central) and rushed (in that the story doesn’t feel like it has come to its conclusion).

It results in an episode that is wholly dissatisfying, a failure both in terms of its premise and in its execution.

If we go back to “Slapsgiving,” where we last saw this type of exaggeration for a long term story, it was a joke that was always present but never really important: it was a gag, something that could help contribute to the chaos of sorts surrounding Lily’s first Thanksgiving dinner. Here, however, Barney’s fat suit was the sort of exaggeration that was literally just a fat suit joke that never stopped. The idea that Barney and Robin were going through a rough patch didn’t need a fat suit, and Barney could have easily gone with slovenly appearance as opposed to maximum gluttony to largely the same effect. However, something about “Neil Patrick Harris” in a fat suit tickled the writers’ fancy, and as such we got an episode where Barney’s behaviour was one Eddie Murphy joke after another.

The setup for the episode, by and large, wasn’t bad: Barney hiding the video message within his porn collection, and in particular his choice to play it on a copy of Archisexture to ensure that Ted wound find it, was a good way to bring this to the surface, and the opening had an energy to it that was quite enjoyable if perhaps too reliant on porn puns. And Barney’s “Relationship Gut” was distracting (and unattractive) enough that it could have sufficed throughout the episode, and Barney’s behaviour could have simply been in his playboy personality being overwhelmed by a less obsessive hair regiment or less attractive clothing. There was nothing in that story that required a fat suit, as he could have looked in that window at episode’s end and seen a hippie, or a hobo, or something else that didn’t require such a cheap gag to persist throughout the episode. Robin was able to hold up her side of the storyline without such exaggerations.

And what makes this episode an outright failure, at least on a plot level, is that there was no logical reason for Barney and Robin to break up as they are. To this point the show has quite clearly indicated that these two could be a match, and it was willing to give them a fair shake of things. And while I think there is an argument to be made that they’re not ready for each other, and perhaps even an argument to be made that they’ll never be ready for each other, this episode did not successfully make that argument. The conclusion attempted to make the argument that Barney and Robin getting back together as friends is something the audience would want, but I simply don’t see it: Barney in a relationship gave the show a new dynamic to play, one which hadn’t been tapped out heading into this episode and isn’t tapped out as we leave it. And the fact that it tried to use a fat suit to elevate that point, as if that would actually help its case, demonstrates that at every level this was a storyline doomed to fall on deaf ears at least for this critic.

As for the rest of the episode, Alan Thicke’s cameo was quite enjoyable and the entire “Stormtrooper/Stakeout/Robot/Alan Thicke/Van vs. Station Wagon/Pizza Guy Citing Porn” Lines sequence was manic enough to work as simple comedy. But when the episode so hinged on an emotional moment, but did everything in its power to undercut that moment and further disconnect it from the reality we as viewers have witnessed thus far this season, it can’t help but feel like a misstep, perhaps the most substantial one for the show in quite some time. I’m really curious to know what it was that rushed the writers into making such a decisive action, and why they chose this particular method to do so: it’s created a rough patch in the season that is going to need some time to undo, and a brief hint at a Canadian Variety show w/ Robin and Alan Thicke isn’t enough for me to call this a success.

Cultural Observations

  • Marshall and Lily sneaking porn out of Ted’s new collection was a fun moment, largely because it involved Lily being “one of the guys” more than usual.
  • I like that Robin and Lily are both Star Wars illiterate, and more importantly that Robin’s attempts to make fun of the Stormtrooper were a failure of imagination. “Starpooper” wasn’t even close to clever, but rather than feeling like the writers’ failure it was just Robin being really petty about Star Wars, which I buy in the context of a combative relationship.
  • I’m curious to know just what this show would be like if, as opposed to always following Ted’s perspective, an episode like this one leaned more heavily on Barney and Robin: by increasing the power of Ted’s observations, we’re never really able to witness what is really happened, and even when we do glimpse what was really happening in the diner it feels like a different camera angle as opposed to learning something about these characters that we didn’t see before.
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7 Comments

Filed under How I Met Your Mother

7 responses to “How I Met Your Mother – “The Rough Patch”

  1. Sam

    It wasn’t really a good episode at all. What confuses me more though, is that the writers didn’t even seem to attempt to write a relationship based on Barney and Robin’s personalities. They just shoved them into a run-of-the-mill coupling, had most of their meaningful interaction off screen then broke them up in an oddly tacky premise that was even more unsatisfying than the portrayal of the relationship itself. Unless there is some masterplan going on here, it’s simply bad writing. Probably the worst I’ve seen on this show.

  2. so…let me see if I get your review straight… you didn’t like the fat suit? Does that sum it up?
    seriously, I do think IF that is the end of Barney & Robin it was a waste of a story line, I’ll try to give them some leeway though. On the other hand, I did laugh a lot at this episode and that I do like =)

  3. Thank you for putting the Weekend at Bernie’s tag. That gag made me laugh, the idea that he would put a message in Arcasexture or whatever it was called, cuz he knew ted would be the only one who’d watch it (while also taking a dig at Marshall/best friend-ness again).

    But yeah, I didn’t really enjoy this episode either. And wow, Alan Thicke, hope that cameo was fun for you.

    Btw, what OF the remaining slaps from Slapsgiving? I’d almost forgotten until you mentioned it.

  4. Totally agree with your review. “Rough Patch,” and quite frankly the whole Barney/Robin relationship, seemed to suffer from a lack of imagination. The fat suit was distracting and one-note. It reminded me of Monica in the Friends flashbacks. I would have rather seen a more disheveled Barney, with some scruff, no suit jacket, and even with some stomach padding.

    The whole seeing the show through another perspective would be great. I often wished when Sex and the City was on they would switch it up sometimes. But here, it could work within the premise of the show because we know they remain friends. Why couldn’t Uncle Barney come by and narrate an episode? The question left I guess is would they use Neil Patrick Harris’ voice or keep with the strange trend of assuming people’s older voices are vastly different from their younger ones.

    I didn’t like the bagpipes gag from last episode though. I wrote about why on my blog but am curious why you thought it worked.

  5. Pingback: How I Met Your Mother – “The Playbook” « Cultural Learnings

  6. Pingback: How I Met Your Mother – “Of Course” « Cultural Learnings

  7. I had no problem with the idea of a relationship between Barney and Robin. I had a problem with the writers’ unwillingness to explore it and their decision to break it up on such a contrived note.

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