January 12th, 2009
Ted Mosby is a jerk.
This is a fact that, when How I Met Your Mother addresses it, is one of the character’s most entertaining qualities. When Ted is held on a pedestal like the last great defender of romance in today’s young people, though, the show screeches to a halt: unless the result is as charming as “Ten Sessions,” it is inevitable that we will not feel nearly as in love with Ted as he and the show are in love with his view on love and marriage.
But when the show is willing to actively present Ted as a jerk, someone who is doing something that is kind of cruel, kind of mean, and ultimately hurtful towards people he cares about, I like him a lot more in terms of his role on the show. As Ted and Robin enter into a friends with benefits relationship, we know as an audience that this is hurting Barney, who is in love with Robin, and the show is smart to let that period linger in a series of entertaining montages as opposed to swept under the rug to keep our “good guy” from being sullied.
We know from moment one that this is all a monumentally bad idea, but letting it play out in “Benefits” (even if the conclusion could have been, well, more conclusive) gives us a great chance to see these characters in some of their best roles.
As noted above, the one problem with “Benefits” is that it doesn’t really go anywhere: all it establishes is that now Ted, along with Lily, is aware that Barney is in love with Robin. I thought that this was something that needed to be done, don’t get me wrong, but at a certain point they’re going to need to go beyond baby steps with this one. It seemed like Ted finding out was going to be a big event, but I was quite frustrated by the moment when Barney told Robin the truth and she just passed him off as a guy who (unlike Ted) doesn’t let his emotions get in the way of sex.
This is fine, but it’s been done before: the show did the exact same scene, almost, when Robin was out with Barney on a date and basically told him to his face that she knew he was above all of that, and so glad he didn’t think that way. We get that people don’t expect that of Barney, but considering that we as an audience have seen this side of Barney for quite some time it feels false for Robin to be so oblivious towards it. They are going to have to deal with this sooner or later, and this felt like a bit of a “Oh, right, we have recurring storylines, let’s make a quick pit stop, play the usual notes, and head back to less serious topics.”
And I’m not even complaining about that: I thought they got a lot of mileage out of Barney’s discomfort, in particular his TV smashing. It was an example of the way the show can make very simple and kind of illogical jokes work: just as soon as we start to question why they have so many TVs lying around for Barney to smash, he finds no TVs and ends up at the electronics store finding out which one would be best for smashing. Neil Patrick Harris is so good at this type of comedy, and from beginning to end he nailed the right level of Barney attempting to maintain his usual persona while his seething frustration with the injustice before him peeking to the surface. And when we reach episode’s end and he’s starting longingly at Robin, we don’t care that he’s done the same thing in numerous episodes: our hearts still all break in unison with an elongated sigh.
The episode’s other major storyline worked alright, although it was a bit simple and I thought that the Heidi/Spencer and Kim Kardashian cameos were a little bit unnecessary. What I did really like about it, though, was how it integrated with the other characters: Marshall was the one who caught Ted and Robin in the act thanks to his need to “read a magazine” in peace, and eventually even Barney plays a role in his storyline after revealing his carefully concealed personal bathroom at Goliath National Bank. I thought that the “read a magazine” euphemism of sorts was a lot of fun, so in the end it seemed a decent counterpart to the more serious material in the main storyline.
All in all, an enjoyable episode of HIMYM that only raises alarm bells because we might go back next week to not talking about Barney and Robin at all…and in many ways this episode might as well have not happened. Let’s hope that’s not the case, and the show surprises me with some serial continuity.
- My favourite Barney moment? When he kidnapped the Share Bear from Lily’s school, and was so paranoid that Marshall was there to ask for him back. He’s not above stealing from children, which I find incredibly entertaining in a sitcom character.
- I don’t know which of Robin and Ted’s reasons for having sex were really all that entertaining: I liked that the comedy was more in Ted’s jerkish retelling of the conquests to Barney and in Barney’s reactions than in the acts themselves. It let Ted be even more of a jerk, getting some downright awful double entendres and puns in that only make me enjoy douchey Ted even more.
- Biggest laugh of the episode: the return of the “Private Matter!” runner. It was a bad joke that was funny because of how not aware of its badness Ted and Robin were, but to see it return was like the ultimate warning sign, and a great note of continuity for the show.