“Old King Clancy”
March 23rd, 2009
As a Canadian, I’m kind of madly in love with the pastiche rendition of Canada that How I Met Your Mother has been propagating, in particular this season: between “Little Minnesota” and “Old King Clancy,” Canada has become something entirely unrealistic but, through the show’s sheer exuberance, a fairly powerful force within the show’s universe. When Barney, towards the end of this week’s episode, curses Canada for ruining what should have been a momentous story by making it as obscure and Canadian as possible, we fundamentally disagree: for us, it only makes it funnier.
That part of “Old King Clancy,” ostensibly the B-Story, was definitely its strongest, especially when combined with the latest viral website that the show has so wonderfully put together: CanadianSexActs.org. The rest of it wasn’t particularly inspired, but the show used its jokes to good effect, throwing enough of the show’s hallmarks into the equation that it never felt like a simple sitcom story, always maintaining something that makes the show distinct. The show was essentially doing its “economic downturn” storyline with this one, but it always felt like they were doing it in a way that only this show would do, and showing it to us in the most narratively interesting fashion.
Of course, considering that the Halifax Fudge Badger made it into the list of Canadian Sex Acts (I’m from outside of Halifax), I was going to love this episode regardless.
If there’s one thing that bugs me about this episode, it’s that Ted’s characterization doesn’t make much sense. We’ve seen Ted be proud of his designs before, but this kind of moralistic rant against corporate America wasn’t the type of thing that has really been his calling card: in fact, it was Marshall’s calling card, as he struggled between corporate America and the environmental law he had wanted to study. It feels as if we’ve just transposed that onto Ted, as he talks of starting his own firm and building zen gardens and reflecting pools as if he had always been focusing on those ideas. From past experience, Ted was a classic designer, with buildings that would fit in with the existing skyline. For him to suddenly turn into Mr. Sensitive here isn’t entirely out of character, but felt a bit forced when it came to the actual project at hand.
I liked the idea of the project getting scrapped as the first real sign of the economic downturn, although Ted was really the show’s only option: Barney’s upper management, Marshall is a lawyer with a huge mortgage and crippling debt, Lily also has crippling debt and needs a place of employment with globes to hide her pregnancy, and Robin already had her employment crisis this season. I just hope, at this point, Ted doesn’t become quite as annoying as Robin did during her unemployment: while Robin’s annoying is funny, Ted’s annoying remains annoying, and the less of that we have to deal with the better off the show will be.
The storyline was handled well in this episode, though, because we got to see Ted experiencing the turnaround Marshall and Barney designed when they knew he was going to be fired, and then got to unravel it as Ted did. I thought the almost Ocean’s Eleven-esque recruitment of the fake task force was charming, and while I would have loved to see some footage of Ted’s game-winning walk it was fine to do a little bit of tell, don’t show, when there was a lot going on in the rest of the storyline. The ending, with Ted going overboard with the ETR (Employee Transition Room) and eventually going all professional wrestler on Bilson, was a fitting way to justify the tangential, but awesome, surveillance footage of Barney firing people (not that Barney haven’t sex under the desk with a female employee before then firing him needs any excuses, it was hilarious either way). Barney and Marshall are good in those types of storylines, especially when they’re forced to team up, and letting them carry most of the comic weight was a smart way to handle a Ted story like this one.
As for Robin and Lily, they’re apparently on strict orders to only stand up when required – Hannigan is pregnant enough that she sits down the entire episode, and so Lily is reduced to a reaction machine, but a solid one: her hiccups anger was a small little gag that Hannigan turned into something that lasted the entire episode without getting old, which is at least something of a contribution. Robin’s story, meanwhile, was really all about the website, with the actual content being all about the punny sexual acts and much less about anything approaching a plot or a storyline. However, I will give them credit: the turnaround at the end, where we find out that it was Robin who suggested the Old King Clancy (Like the Sacramento something or other, but with maple syrup) and not The Frozen Snowshoe, collector of Harvey’s trays, was a nice turn of events that really capped things off.
But it didn’t need to be a major plotline, and the show knew it: instead, it built CanadianSexActs.org, which is funny for many more reasons than positions such as the Saskatoon Totem Pole or the Musty Goaltender. First off, that it’s a government-made website creates some wonderful viewpoints of the government structure of the show’s imaginary Canada, as the idea of Canadian Sex Acts gets much funnier when it’s an issue of public importance. And, perhaps my favourite thing, is the “Sorry, this site is being serviced!” photoshops featuring Alan Thicke, who the show used before in the “Sandcastles in the Sand” video. He’s totally in on the joke, the images of him smashing computers or smoking cigars photoshopped hastily into shots of Parliament or the Canadian flag. The very idea that the site doesn’t actually give any explanations is potentially lazy, in that they only had to think up witty names, but also kind of genius, especially with the special photoshops lurking behind them.
It all adds up to the realization that few shows do what HIMYM does with websites, make the show itself almost secondary to what you’ll do after the fact. It’s something the show has used more often as of late, but I don’t think it’s going to get old as long as the sites keep delivering. That this site actually played a role in the episode itself took things one step further, and perhaps even made the actual site less interesting, but this type of audience interaction is a fundamental principle of what makes the show so great.
- Phew! I just turned 23 two weeks ago, which is lucky since you have to be 23 to view the site if you’re from the Maritime provinces.
- I feel as if there was an episode in the season where Ted talked about the experience of seeing his building as part of New York’s skyline, which wouldn’t be possible since the building was scrapped – is that a continuity issue, or am I misremembering that scene?
- I always love Marshall’s innocence: how he has to leave to hear Lily’s voice when Bilson paints a depressing image of work as darkness, or when he chooses Lily as the celebrity he’d have sex with even as Lily follows by saying she’d sleep with Hugh Jackman.
- I thought it was quite clever that the three things Robin ended up using in her story were fairly interchangeable in terms of which were which of her categories: all three could have been names, two could have been sex positions, and two could have been things you’d collect.
- On that note, this episode taught me something: I wasn’t aware that Harvey’s was a Canadian thing. Mind you, I don’t eat hamburgers, but I’ve been to Harvey’s, and never felt it to be particularly quaint or Canadian in its focus.
- Always great to see Aaron Hill, who I know best as Beaver on Greek but who was also Pam’s quasi-blind date in Season One of Mad Men, and he was great in his brief stint as The Frozen Snowshoe.
- Marshall’s Fish List reminded me of the “Funny Place Names” sequence of Homer’s stint in Clown College, where he found Seattle so uproariously funny – and hey, Salmon’s a damn funny word.