“Sandcastles in the Sand”
April 21st, 2008
Robin Cherbotsky is the perfect example of a character adrift in their own series – ever since breaking up with Ted at the end of Season Two, she has been an unnecessary footnote to How I Met Your Mother. This isn’t to say that she was unwelcome or grating, but you keep asking the question of “Why doesn’t she get her own life?” She’s not dating any of them, we never see her work or go out on her own, and outside of being Lily’s only friend there isn’t much holding her in the group dynamics.
But she does have one thing: Robin Sparkles. Used to great effect in the show’s second season, Robin’s teenaged pop star in Canada self is something they haven’t gone back to for quite some time, but the buzz is building: “Sandcastles in the Sand” is her grand return, and the first time in a while that Robin has featured prominently in the series in any capacity. We flashback to her teenage years in Canada (“Did he take your maple leaf?” and so many Canadian jokes that they needed a fast-forward mid-rant) where we see James Van Der Beek (Dawson’s Creek, seemingly playing an Irish guy as far as I can tell) and really, really, really bad Canadian accents.
For the series, it all boils down to winners and losers as Robin and her old squeeze reunite…but which side of the spectrum are the viewers on considering that recapturing the magic of “Let’s Go to the Mall” is nearly impossible?
We see the return of a certain insecure Robin, who for some reason fawns over the now middle-aged, balding and pudgy version of James Van Der Beek – the group doesn’t understand her attraction, but she is defensive about it, along with the revelation that there is another Robin Sparkles video floating around the internet. The result is an interrogation of how we face our own pasts: how everyone reverses back to their past lives when around their former acquaintances, something that Marshall (But not Ted) refers to as “Revertigo” (Ted isn’t convinced the word works – the real word is associative regression, according to Lily’s behaviour psychology major friend).
The basic comic bones are decent – I love Marshall and Lily playing parents to the newly immature Robin, the various gags about people re-engaging with their pasts are entertaining, and Simon’s band is named the Foreskins and are effectively awful. But if we’re drawing comparisons here, it didn’t really feel that eventful: the joys of “Slap Bet” were found in how the video was so surprising and connected to the gang’s reactions. Here, it hung over the episode and had me waiting to see when it would pop up, and whether I really cared about the rest of the episode when there didn’t seem to be any sort of storyline building.
But then, in two scenes, a storyline emerges (One that has largely been noticed by some observant viewers) – Barney and Robin are the two characters without major storylines right now, and there has been some tension between them. A moment of niceness for Barney after Robin is dumped, and bonding over viewing the video in question, has them making out on Robin’s couch. If there’s anything we can count on in comedies of this nature, single characters will need to be paired up over time.
This one, of course, is somewhat strange: Barney is the ultimate womanizer, and while I think there’s a lot of comic and dramatic potential here I don’t know where (long term) Robin can go after this point. It seems like a hail mary to justify the character, but at a certain point I’d rather see Sarah Chalke added to the cast than having Cobie Smulders stick around (Not a slight on her, but just logistically speaking).
Something just felt forced about the whole thing, including the Robin Sparkles video (Which you can watch by heading to MySpace). Not only was it not that funny (Ballads never can match up to pop hits with rap breakdowns), but its cameos felt too self-knowing – the show knows this will be a success, so they throw in Tiffany and Alan Thicke in lieu of (in my view) the same level of wit as we saw in “Let’s Go to the Mall.” I don’t remember any of the lyrics, the visuals weren’t that interesting, and even the banter was way less satisfying: Barney’s observations were incredibly forced, as an example.
I don’t really believe that the newly highly rated HIMYM is any different than its old counterpart on the whole, even with Britney Spears (Who is reportedly coming back later this season, likely along with Chalke’s Stella). However, I kind of felt it here: a show leveraging one of its elements in a shallow fashion that doesn’t resonate even close to the previous attempts. It feels like a show trying to create a viral success rather than trying to create great television, and I really hope that this isn’t part of a broader trend for the series.
- I may not have really enjoyed “Sandcastles in the Sand,” but I heart the robot so very much (I really wish that Barney hadn’t so clearly pointed it out so that we, as the viewer, could enjoy it silently).
- The rest of the cast didn’t have too much to do, but this was really Robin’s story so it’s not surprising. I do wish we would have had a bit more Barney leading into the final scenes, but them’s the breaks.
- James Van Der Beek really wasn’t that funny, but he’s just enough of a celebrity and just enough at that threshold of teen heartthrob and elder statesman that he worked for both sides of the role.
- My favourite interactions: the water park discussions. Whether it was the Wave Pool factor (Without a wave pool? Terrifying!), or Ted killing piles of children, it was a nice running bit that I enjoyed.