“The Front Porch”
March 16th, 2009
In bringing in Karen, Ted’s ex-girlfriend from his high school days, How I Met Your Mother has returned to the temporality that often sets it apart from other sitcoms. The show’s basic premise is one of its defining legacies, as the very idea of this being one large story told by Future Ted to his own children has given the past (and memory, and revisionist history) a very important meaning. Even further, episodes on occasion create alternate futures, showing that Ted and the rest of the characters are just as concerned with their own prospective futures as we are about the future we know is inevitable.
“The Front Porch” is ultimately a mediation more on this last idea than the former, the past serving as evidence for the concern for the future. The result is an episode that is less about Karen and more about what Karen could represent, and a more subtle than expected refocusing on the answers to the episode’s central question: how does Ted, exactly, meet this mother? Flanked by some simple but effective little pieces of comedy, the episode avoids sending Ted into a place too annoying, and Lily to a place too mean, in its navigation of what is quite an important issue in the show’s future, and one that could well be heading to a conclusion before the season is over.
The idea that Lily is responsible for some of Ted’s breakups is one of those scenarios wherein revisionist history is quite a useful dramatic tool: there’s very little comedy in Lily’s general scheme, even if using Creed as a killing blow is certainly quite genius on her part, but rather that awkward sense of well-meaning cruelty that is quite difficult to place within a moral spectrum. Yes, Ted and Karen are an awful couple, and Ted is entirely justified in breaking up with her at episode’s end, but there is something to be said for letting Ted come to that conclusion himself. I’m aware, as Lily is, that Ted is a lost cause when it comes to making logical decisions, but there comes a point where he can’t be goaded and where her attempts at fixing situations are nothing but her lording her relationship superiority over Ted.
The confrontations between Ted and Lily had the right level of drama in the episode: it wasn’t laugh out loud funny by any means, but Ted’s anger never went to the point where he was being irrational, and Lily’s reasoning taking the form of the Front Porch test, wherein she imagines them joining her and Marshall on a front porch well into their old age, was a romantic and idealistic notion that worked to justify her own behaviour. The show doesn’t often turn Lily and Marshall’s happiness against Ted, but it works in this scenario because Karen was a potential Lily, someone who if they had stayed together would have been just like them. Ted has always wanted that, and to learn that Lily (in trying to micromanage his happiness, and thus her own happiness) had potentially ruined it made him justifiably angry.
The old age makeup and heavily blurred lenses were effective, if not particularly hilarious, in the various scenes, and I thought that Laura Prepon continued to do some great work as Karen – I particularly enjoyed her cold-hearted revelation of Marshall’s death in the Front Porch scene with just the two of them, as she really did play the archetypal girlfriend who Lily is totally justified in kicking to the curb when it is clear that Ted isn’t up for the challenge.
I’m not quite as convinced in the Ted and Robin “Backup Wife” scenario, if only because I thought that ship had sailed: we have been pretty focused on Barney and Robin as of late, here getting a quick glimpse of how parts of paired living would suit Barney just fine, so to suddenly turn around and even tease the idea of these two together seems antithetical. I don’t think there’s anyone out there really hoping for them to get together, or anyone that was actually mad at Lily for breaking them up, so the hypothetical they raised was really only for their own benefit, and I question whether even that would be a logical progression for them. They should be beyond that at this point, and was the one part of the episode that felt downright off.
The rest was just kind of there: Barney got to play comic relief with his Suitjamas, and then eventually adopting Marshall’s Nightshirt attire, but outside of his initial string of insults about Barney’s nightgown (which were less funny in and of themselves and more funny based on Neil Patrick Harris’ awesome delivery) he never really got any major laughs outside of the all too obvious bumper. Marshall’s nightshirt was enjoyable (I particularly enjoyed the way his five reasons involved Ted instructing him to cross his legs then Lily undoing said action), and the flying parts were charming if nothing else, but it was all background to the episode’s central conflict as opposed to being successfully integrated into it.
More successful was the runner about nobody watching Robin’s show, and then the gang arguing their way through it on mute as we watched Robin put out someone’s arm after it was set on fire, revive a weatherman who had a heart attack, and birth a baby as one of the guests went into labour. It was a great piece of absurdist background comedy that only the audience was in on, which made for a really interesting element to the episode and kept the drama from being overpowering. My favourite moment in Robin’s storyline, though, was when she was first admonishing everyone for not watching her show: Barney’s honesty, at every stage of that interrogation, just really cracked me up for some reason.
Overall, a solid outing that refocused on the issue of the Mother and, misguided return to Ted and Robin aside, took the character of Ted in a solid direction which could lead to some forward momentum in the future.
- Of Barney’s nightgown jokes, I enjoyed “Something about Scrooge!” the most, just because it wasn’t even a joke at all.
- I’m fairly certain that most viewers awake at 4am would still choose Kim Jong Il riding a horse over Robin’s show, fire or no fire.
- Interesting to see that Lily had no part in breaking Ted up with Victoria and Stella – while Victoria and Ted broke up over their long-distance relationship and his relationship with Robin, he and Stella had a lot of problems in terms of “what they wanted.” I don’t know if it was the kid in the picture that scared Lily off, but I’d think losing Ted to New Jersey would have warranted a planted earring or two.