January 17th, 2011
Response to “Bad News,” HIMYM’s last original episode, was decidedly mixed. What struck me most was the way the episode-ending reveal that Marshall’s father had passed away became so problematic despite the fact that this is the kind of show which should be capable of handling such delicate matters. I’ll certainly agree with those who felt that there was some potential incongruity between the playful nature of the countdown and the eventual reveal, requiring a sudden gear shift which made the episode considerably divisive.
However, while the series is no so heavily serialized that we need reserve judgment on an individual episode until seeing how it carries over into the next, I would say that “Last Words” is in a position to sort of payoff the buildup offered in “Bad News.” The result, I feel, is an infallible merging of the comic and dramatic elements mashed together two weeks ago – with more time to establish the balance, Bays and Thomas emphasize the way in which well-drawn, longstanding characters offer great potential to take even a fairly rote storyline to a truly emotional place through some sharp writing and some stellar performances.
And that’s the sort of self-actualization the show was missing last season.
November 8th, 2010
Always ostensibly interested in the passage of time, “Natural History” has How I Met Your Mother very purposefully digging into both past and future. In fact, the season as a whole is structured around the passage of time: the Arcadian was once a beautiful building, and yet it stands in the way of urban progress and has decayed to the point of ill repute.
Here, through a trip to the Museum of Natural History, that storyline is merged somewhat awkwardly, but ultimately effectively, with two more storylines that deal with memories of the past and their relevance in the present day. It’s one of those rare episodes which in and of itself doesn’t necessarily resonate, but the way in which it consolidates the entirety of the season is a really sharp pivot heading into the remainder of the season.
October 11th, 2010
This is precisely the kind of episode which is particularly dangerous for a show in How I Met Your Mother’s position. “Subway Wars” feels like a gimmick from the very beginning, and the show is at a point where it risks seeming unsubstantial. Back in the second season, something like “Subway Wars” might have seemed novel, but in the context of a sixth season it seems almost a bit desperate.
That being said, I think “Subway Wars” ends up working because it quite successfully ties the race towards Woody Allen into a personal journey for each of its characters. By grounding the journey in Robin’s belief that New York is turning on her, and Marshall and Lily’s struggles to conceive, the episode manages to make broad subject matter transition into legitimate character stories without too much difficulty.
It isn’t quite as well-oiled as it may have been four seasons ago, but I think that the risk ended up enough reward to make “Subway Wars” a solid entry.
September 27th, 2010
Barney Stinson is a very broad character, but Neil Patrick Harris has always specialized at emphasizing his vulnerability. Mind you, this vulnerability always disappears, but the series’ emphasis on serialization has allowed for Barney’s arc to avoid feeling too reductive. Yes, he resets every once in a while, but “Cleaning House” quite clearly identifies that there remains a sense of progress in the character.
While the episode wasn’t particularly fantastic, it felt more emotionally honest than the incredulous nature of the story would indicate on the surface. As someone who appreciates this level of emotional complexity, I like what the episode does for the overall narrative and for Barney as a character, even if it doesn’t fundamentally change the character in future episodes.
“Robots vs. Wrestlers”
May 10th, 2010
With its timey-wimey narrative, How I Met Your Mother usually tends to join traditions and ongoing storylines at a point somewhere along the road rather than at the very beginning. So when “Robots vs. Wrestlers” starts talking about the eponymous event being a tradition, it seems premature, but that’s part of the episode’s conceit: the very idea of it is too awesome not to become a tradition, and that’s something that Barney (especially) is concerned with as the group discusses their different trajectories in the wake of Robin trying things out with Don.
I like a lot of what the episode is trying to accomplish, showing each character enough of a potential life without this group to make them both understand their desire to have a life of their own and how important their friends are, so I think this is ultimately a good step for the series. I do think, though, that there were a couple of points in the episode which seemed underdeveloped, like the focus was spread out so much in the episode that details were overlooked that kept it from becoming an outright classic.
May 3rd, 2010
When you create love connections between cast members on a long-running sitcom, those lingering emotional feelings are always part of the deal. In the case of How I Met Your Mother, Ted and Robin’s relationship ended almost three years ago, and since that point the show has played out their relationship (the “friends with benefits” stage, for example) in ways which demonstrate that remind us of that past without making it the focus of the show.
However, Barney and Robin’s relationship wasn’t given the same treatment: while Ted and Robin were never really “just” friends, Barney and Robin had a normal relationship, and since the show was so committed to forcing Barney back to his “normal” behaviour after the breakup Robin just sort of had to revert to her old self as well. And so the show never really looked at how Robin and Barney would be able to remain “just friends” after their breakup, nor was it something that the show seemed interested in doing at any length due to the necessity of Barney appearing as a human being for more than a few episodes.
“Twin Beds” is the furthest the show has gone towards suggesting that Barney can remain both a boobs-obsessed playboy and in love with Robin, something that I think the show should have dealt with sooner, but it also makes the bizarre decision to return Ted and Robin’s relationship to the forefront. On the one hand you have a story I think has been underserved by the show, and in the other you have something I think would easily classify as played out.
Throw in a silly little Lily and Marshall story, and you have an important (but not particularly spectacular) episode of the show.
March 22nd, 2010
I often write in my reviews of the Big Bang Theory that I feel the show needs to spend more time showing me why its central characters are still friends: Sheldon has done enough mean things, and been the recipient of enough poor treatment, that the dynamics of their friendship have more or less been reduced to “because they make a good sitcom cast on good days.”
By comparison, I rarely question the dynamics of the central five characters on How I Met Your Mother, but “Say Cheese” wants me to interrogate why these people are still friends. In the process, the episode takes both Lily and Ted to some unfortunate places, showing sides of their characters which make them seem quite unpleasant.
However, while the Big Bang Theory doesn’t have to resolve its tensions since it will simply ignore the events of one week’s episode in the next, How I Met Your Mother is all about continuity, and by the end of “Say Cheese” they find a way to turn Ted and Lily acting like jerks into a healthy investigation of what it means to be friends. That doesn’t mean it’s a particularly strong or enjoyable episode of the show, but it’s another sign that even some unfortunate premises can be improved when the core values of a show and its cast dynamics are there to keep you watching.
March 8th, 2010
When How I Met Your Mother threw in the towel on Robin and Barney’s relationship earlier this season, I was angry.
The reasons I was so frustrated were, just to be clear, not simple. I was not just a “shipper” of the couple or someone who thought they should stay together forever, someone who responds negatively because the show doesn’t go in the direction I want it to. Rather, I was also annoyed that it felt like the show was abandoning a story which had untapped potential in order to return to its status quo, shallow Barney stories where he turns into a complete womanizer. I prefer Barney when he shows some sense of humanity, some shred of awareness of his own actions, and his relationship with Robin felt like it had the potential to bring that out more often.
For their relationship to end – according to interviews with the creators at the time – just so that the show could return to a more one-dimensional version of Barney’s character felt like it ignored the show’s emotional complexities, and it has in some ways tarnished the entire season for me. While Barney’s womanizing is still funny, it has seemed spiteful and at times even hurtful as the season has continued without giving the breakup time to settle in. Instead of laughing at Barney’s antics, I found myself focusing on Robin, and how she must be feeling to know that Barney is moving on so quickly. In some ways, it bothered me that the show was moving on so quickly, that it was so willing to turn its back on comic and dramatic potential for the sake of returning to something familiar that, let’s be honest, won’t remain fresh forever even with Neil Patrick Harris at his Emmy-nominated, should be Emmy-winning, best.
“Of Course” is effectively the show’s apology, where they admit that there were unseen consequences to Barney’s quick return to his normal self, and where they admit that there was unresolved tensions surrounding their breakup. So, as one of the most vocal critics of the way in which the pair were broken up and certainly the critic most unable to look past it as the season wore on, the question becomes whether this retconning was enough to convince me that the show made the right decision.
The answer to that question is “No,” even though “Of Course” is a damn fine episode of television.