Season Premiere: How I Met Your Mother – “Do I Know You?”

“Do I Know You?”

September 22nd, 2008

There’s a lot of things that we don’t know about Stella – she walked into the series in a guest appearance, returns to make Ted realize the brevity of life, and then all of a sudden at the end of last season she was, potentially, about to become Ted’s fiance. Our limited knowledge of her is what has me convinced that she can’t be the titular Mother – there is just something about the way they met, and the way they are progressing, that makes this feel like one of those emotional rollercoasters that leads Ted to self-awareness and his eventual soul mate.

And the show isn’t pretending, as other shows might, that this is a match made in heaven – the opening episode is all about two relationships, each that has either a lack of information or damaging preconceptions standing in the way of their future. As Ted struggles to get to know Stella, Barney struggles to get over himself in order to show Robin a new Barney. The episode jumps back and forth between the two, connecting these two narrative threads and their importance to the future of the series.

The end result is an episode that never transcends to laugh out loud, that doesn’t feel like a showcase for any one of the show’s elements, but nonetheless represents a good investigation into the insecurities and indulgences of this series. So while the characters might be struggling to find their own footing in this new frontier, this is likely to serve as a foundation of growth and, hopefully, a strong fourth season.

It’s not really the show’s fault, but Neil Patrick Harris and Cobie Smulders’ chemistry ultimately makes me more interested in the story of Barney’s struggle to become a new person than in Ted’s struggle to get to know Stella better. When Stella says “Yes,” it feels like we’re heading on a new trajectory with a storyline, sure, but this is right in line with Ted’s usual behaviour: he’s overly emotional, he commits too quickly, and now he’s finding his romantic self dealing with a potentially life-changing decision.

Now, sure, we’ve seen this sensitive and conflicted sign of Barney in the past, but I just find him far more interesting as a character in these moments. Neil Patrick Harris brings such life to this kind of episode, one where the inner Barney is so clearly juxtaposed with the outer, obnoxious Barney. His appreciation for Robin did not wane during these summer months, and for good reason: he’s in love with her, something that seems far more game-changing than Ted being engaged to be married.

And while it may seem like a bit of a cheat considering that it worked so well the last few times we got to know Barney’s softer sides (whether when we first found his apartment, or in “The Bracket”), placing Lily as Barney’s confidante is a smart comic choice. Alyson Hannigan is rarely given enough to do on the show, but placing her as a voice of reason for Barney gives her the closest thing to a real storyline she’s had since San Francisco – NPH is clearly the star of the show, and with her as his wingman there is a lot of potential in the storyline.

I do think that there are some potential long term stability issues in terms of where this relationship heads: their dinner date was a great little scene, as Robin keeps trying to get Barney to react to her sexually-related puns, but how long can we go through this? I think that the two of them have more than enough chemistry for this storyline to last quite well, and Barney’s episode ending pledge to continue to love Bimbos for all of time does certainly give the show the opportunity for Robin to come around just as Barney does not. But the most effective moment in the episode was quite easily when Robin throws Barney a bathroom pickup, choosing Wingwoman before anything close to a relationship.

Which isn’t to say that Ted’s storyline is bad, just different: he and Stella, with unemployed Marshall stalking along, stumble through the realization that they really don’t know anything about each other. But what we learn in this episode, first and foremost, is that Stella is the woman for Ted – sure, she doesn’t actually like Star Wars, but she is willing to live a lie her entire life in order to make him happy. Sarah Chalke remains extremely engaging in the role, and even though the relationship seems like it could be dramatically challenging one for the series I do hope that she sticks around long enough to enter full time once Scrubs comes to a conclusion.

At the end of the day, though, it’s good to have HIMYM back – it’s a show that always feels familiar, and in this episode in particular there was plenty of moments where you realized that even in less eventful episodes it’s hard to be too critical of characters this enjoyable to watch.

Cultural Observations

  • There was a lot of cute little Star Wars gags at play in the episode, but none of them felt that clever – it’s already very heavily mined territory, and while Marshall and Ted’s overreaction was funny it felt like we’d been there before, in a way.
  • The same goes for Barney’s Barneyism, his various booty calls he makes as a night progresses: yes, the “?” pickup is a nice piece of comedy, but it felt like it was a bit small scale. I think this is logical, since the episode had a lot of dramatic as opposed to comic lifting to do – still, with Barney back in fine form with his defence of the bimbo, I’ve got hope for the future.
  • Cobie Smulders had a lot of fun with the various newscasting gags – if she were to get the new cable job, I’d miss hearing the puns that are so simple yet so charming for her character.

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