How I Met Your Mother – “Right Place Right Time”

himymtitle

“Right Place Right Time”

May 4th, 2009

[Spoiler Alert: Don’t read the Episode Tags if you don’t want to have the episode spoiled! – MM]

When it comes to the combination of comedy and mythology on How I Met Your Mother, the show has always operated on a tight rope of sorts as it relates to the identity of the eponymous mother. The reason for this is not that the mystery isn’t interesting (it is the very premise of the show, of course), but rather that the character at the center of the drama is the show’s least funny, often least interesting, and at times most frustrating. Ted Mosby is really only tolerable when he’s being sweet and romantic, and even then he’s rarely funny in those scenarios. He’s better when he is taking a supporting role, not so much the center of the drama than he is an observer who just happens to be our “lead” character.

What “Right Place Right Time” does is position itself as an episode about Ted but really spend almost all of its time with the characters that are more capable of being funny. Utilizing a traditionally unique structure (at what point does it become its own cliche? I remain unsure), the show lets Bob Saget take us through how a series of random and ridiculous events force Ted to end up at the right place at the right time where, holding the epic yellow umbrella we’ve seen in previous episodes, when a woman taps him on the shoulder.

I like this approach because it minimizes being repetitive with Ted’s various destiny speeches, but the show at this point is running a serious risk with its mythology. What happens in this episode appears to actually answer the titular question, but I don’t think it does: there is more than enough wiggle room for them to pull the rug out from under us yet again. Considering who ends up tapping him on the shoulder, I’ll be happy when I’m vindicated and they pull out the “Just kidding!” next week, but the more the show does this the less we’ll be able to trust them, and the mythology will only be getting in the way of the comedy.

And that’s the last thing the show needs.

I’ll be upfront with it: the person at the crosswalk is Stella, and I am not happy about it. I remember, back around “Ten Sessions,” I was all angry at Bill Lawrence for continuing Scrubs and keeping Chalke from joining the cast full time, as she was charming and engaging. But the problem is that Stella was never actually funny, and the show never knew what to do with her as a character outside of being part of one of Ted’s romantic escapades. Stella ended up being an obstacle to humour, the worst possible thing a sitcom can introduce, and my issue now is that the show kind of even acknowledged it: she left Ted at the altar, was never willing to really make any sacrifices for him (forcing him to Jersey, trying to keep Robin from attending the wedding, etc.), and even when she was being reasonable (I understand the Robin thing, for example) it just felt like she was being used as a source of drama and not as an actual character.

So forgive me for holding onto the hope that she is not, in fact, the Mother. It would kill me to see the writers try to take this character that Ted said goodbye to, who Ted put behind him in a very visceral way in order to move on with his life, and resurrect them as the person we’ve all been dying to meet. It’s too much a task for them to achieve, and will take too much time out of the show’s comedy in order to rescue a mythology hampered by a character the show itself made unlikable. I had been spoiled that Chalke would be returning for the end of the season, and I spent the entire episode hoping that it wouldn’t be her at the end, and that the writers would throw us a real curveball instead of the same one we saw at the end of last season when Ted proposed in the arcade.

But, for me, there is still hope: you will notice that the show never explicitly noted that Stella is the mother, but rather that Ted being with Stella at that moment would eventually lead to him meeting her mother. I think it’s also important to note that there’s no reason why Stella would recognize the yellow umbrella, or NEED to recognize the yellow umbrella in order to know that it was Ted (yes, I’m grasping at umbrellas); my impression was always that the umbrella belonging to the Mother would create a moment of recognition, and Stella was in Ted’s apartment and likely would have found the umbrella last season. Combine with the fact that Future Ted never makes any mention of stepchildren in the future stories, and that the daughter can’t possibly be Stella’s child because she would remember Ted first arriving on the scene as a child, I just don’t think that Stella adds up – I think they want us to think that Stella is the Mother because it’s a good Sweeps trick, and that next week we’ll discover that this is yet another step along the road towards that final discovery that may or may not come before season’s end.

There, at least, is my take on it: it’s possible that it’s just an easy one to one equation, but the show has never been that clear and may never be. I worry that they’ve done this too many times, and that one more piece of subterfuge is going to test the audience’s patience, but they were smart to mix it up in this episode by making it not so much about Ted. Robin, Barney and Marshall where all given their own stories that led Ted to that particular corner at that time, and while they weren’t all winners I will say that they made me alugh.

For Robin’s short story, it was really quite simple: giving Robin food poisoning allowed them to explain Ted’s initial left turn away from Schlagel’s Bagels, but it also let them make the “I’m Pregnant” joke that we’ve been waiting for. I enjoyed Ted and Barney’s different reactions to the crisis, and the existence of Galoshes the weather clown, but Smulder’s pregnancy keeps them from doing much more with her character.

Robin actually had more to do in the second story, in a sense, as she helped peruse over Barney’s list of 199 girls he has slept with in preparation for the conquest of his 200th, or “the one” in his world. I actually am frustrated with this storyline, because it felt like it needed a whole episode to itself. I wanted to see Barney have to question whether or not his behaviour was hurting his chances with Robin, or at least show us Robin considering how she feels being on that list with the other 198. I’ll admit that I’m always a bigger fan of sentimental Barney than I am of the obnoxious Barney we got here, so I would have rather seen an investigation of how that 7th Grade lie about 100 girls created the Barney Stinson that we know today than an investigation of how gross it is for Barney to sleep with the “sexxy” body builder from his gym and actually end up ruining the race for 200 in the process.

I just felt like the storyline reduced Barney to one side of his personality, and it’s another moment where you wish Barney was the lead character instead of Ted. It even ignored part of his back story: considering that Barney transformed into his 20s after being burned by a corporate tool, why would he still hold onto that 7th Grade goal? Short stories like this need to flow organically or feel like nothing but a gimmick, and this was too far on the gimmick side for me. Yes, Neil Patrick Harris is hilarious and there was some fun comedy throughout, but considering the episode’s coda ended with a nod towards Barney and Robin (as if this was his transition from one life to another), I needed a more substantial Barney episode to get to that point.

Instead, I preferred the last story, which really did feel organic. Marshall getting addicted to charts not only explained his earlier use of a chart with Barney (My favourite part of the Barney storyline, in many ways: 20 girls a week, 1040 girls a year, 16640 girls = 1% success rate and a .012 batting average, worse than one-armed pitcher Jim Abbott), but it also connected back with two previous storylines: they hold an intervention for Marshall (guess they missed the intervention about holding too many interventions), and when Marshall doesn’t have his charts for his big meeting he reverts to his hilarious(ly bad) standup comedy routine about fish. Both of those were funny stories, and I thought Jason Segel totally nailed every scene involving a chart (My favourites were, of course, the Bar Graph of his Favourite Pies and the Pie Chart of his Favourite Bars, although I want screengrabs to hear how the latter one was quantified in pie chart form). Whereas I wanted the Barney storyline to feel bigger, Marshall’s was just a whole lot of fun.

And I want HIMYM to remain fun, which is why I don’t understand Stella’s return: yes, the show is always creating drama towards the end of the season, but I feel as if we’ve drained that well. I didn’t like Stella at the end of last season, and she became a black hole of funny earlier this season, so what about her should make me in any way root for her? That’s why Ted’s giant run through the rest of the episode, a really cool idea that should have been a lot of fun in execution with the help of Guided By Voices’ “Glad Girls” as its soundtrack, just rings false for me: I am both male and not at all glad about Stella’s return…unless it is just another stepping stone. In that instance, Ted’s elation makes sense, and all of my qualms with the storyline will go away if they manage to let Sarah Chalke be funny and give us a Mother I can stand behind.

Because when I make my chart of potential Mothers, trust me: Stella is going to be at the bottom of that list. Don’t test me, HIMYM: I’ll be at the Print Shop on campus in the morning, I swear. For now, when I ask myself “Is Stella the Mother on How I Met Your Mother,” I can’t help but answer no for the sake of my own sanity.

Cultural Observations

  • Okay, have we met this Cecilia person (the person at the center of Marshall’s venn diagram)? Maybe I’m just daft, but it was a really random throwaway, and it was actually indicated as the turning point in chart-related interest in Marshall’s later charts on the subject. Or is Marshall just being a big sustainable growth?
  • As Dan Fienberg pointed out on Twitter, it seems as if HIMYM poked some fun at its own lack of racial diversity, as Robin noted that there was a distinct lack of diversity in Barney’s 200 list – you’d think someone with a black brother would be more open to it.
  • Guest stars all over the place this week: Lady from Scrubs was Fran the Graphics Department lady, and Dan Castellaneta (the voice of Homer Simpson) stopped by as Milt, the homeless man who Ted will be giving a dollar to every day for one million days.
  • In Ted’s hugging montage, really enjoyed the health inspector at Schlagel’s Bagels, really stood out for me for some reason.
  • Still waiting for CBS to release every one of Marshall’s charts: but I got down most of his Dirty Presidents’ name one: Johnson, Bush, Harding, Polk, Filmore. I think that Polk is only funny in a post-Facebook world, whereas Filmore is timeless.

25 Comments

Filed under How I Met Your Mother

25 responses to “How I Met Your Mother – “Right Place Right Time”

  1. JoAnnie

    Not being spoiled myself, Stella’s reappearance at the end there surprised me and caused me to pound my fist against the table and go, “Noooo!” The severity of my emotional response surprised me a bit. I’m holding onto the fact that they’ve shown the alternative universe in which Ted does end up with Stella and has very, very blond children, which he obviously doesn’t in the true reality.

    By the second time they mentioned Cecilia’s name, I assumed was simply the name of the girl who at the graphics front desk. I’m not even sure why.

    Harding’s really only funny in a dirty context when you consider the 1920 Harding-Cox election.

    LOVED when Barney mentioned how suspiciously quiet and non-critical Robin was about Barney’s list of conquest.

    You’d think that a guy with a black brother and whose favorite type of woman is “Asian. With some boob.”would also have some more diversity.

    • Fran was the girl at the graphics front desk, it’s in my notes. I was personally not surprised at my anger – I’ve got a little “Streetcar” in me, I guess.

  2. Danny

    Cecilia is a reference to the Simon and Garfunkel song:

    Cecilia, you’re breaking my heart
    You’re shaking my confidence daily
    Oh, Cecilia, I’m down on my knees
    I’m begging you please to come home

    And I agree with much of what you said about the episode. I think that Stella cannot be the mother because of the many reasons that you mentioned and most all that we already met her and wouldn’t the kids have realized that they were being told a post-“how i met your mother” story? I hope they move the story along, but I guess it’s problematic when moving the story along means Ted meeting his future wife and that possibly requiring the end of the show?

    • Huh! I guess I totally missed that memo, I’ll have to go back to see the different meanings in the chart.

      As for how they’d go on past the Mother story, one presumes they filmed a few reaction shots with the kids when they first started the series – my presumption is that one of them may or may not be the kids reacting to the news in kind of a “yeah, so what – that’s boring. What other stories do you have?” sort of way, which would allow them to continue the narrative method beyond the point where they actually meet the Mother. As long as said Mother is funny and fits in with the ensemble (ie. Not Star Wars-hating Stella), I think the show could sustain itself a while longer.

      • That seems like a ridiculous statement to be making. The show is call How I *Met* your Mother, not How I Met you Mother and then went on to fold her into our friends group and eventually marry here. The show has to end with the meeting of the mother, the entire series is one big lead up to that moment, so the kids reacting in a “let down” fashion would also lead the audience to that same emotion which certainly isn’t what the creators of the show want. I realize I am making these statements with 3 1/2 season more knowledge than you had at the time of the post, but I would have said the same thing at the time– Stella isn’t the mother and the show will have to end with the MEETING of her. Obviously fans don’t want their favorite show to end but they also have to accept that it has to unless you can the show to run itself into the ground by trying to go on longer than it was ever intended it.

  3. So let me preface this by saying that I’m totally on your side. I don’t want Stella to be the mother at all.

    However, I just wanted to poke one little hole in your “umbrella” so to speak (ha ha… oh.).

    Back when Stella was originally proposed to, I was pondering the clues that were given before this time and I’ve always thought about this particular piece of information:

    Somewhere around, or possibly even during “Ten Sessions”, Stella brings up the fact that the last party she had been to was a St. Patrick’s Day party, but she went home sick because she wasn’t feeling well.

    I’ve always thought that could link her to the party that Ted and Barney attend in “No Tomorrow” (3×12), the yellow umbrella, and the fact that Ted states that the mother was at that party that night, but he never met her.

    Just food for thought.

    P.S. I hope your possible mother chart includes the woman that Ted bumps into during “No Tomorrow” that happens for a brief second, in a quite awkward and suspicious manner.

    • I have no doubt, Alex, that Stella is connected to the party AND to the Mother, but I don’t think she IS the Mother – I’m fine with her being another puzzle piece, but as long as they don’t all link together in her beautiful but evil face I’m fine.

      And my list includes said woman, although she didn’t seem like she was much of an actress in her brief appearance. I vote red herring.

      • I would be quite happy if these were all just pieces in the puzzle, and I have faith in the creators that they all are.

        As for said woman, it was such a throwaway moment that I feel like they could totally pull it back into focus and name her the mother, but eh. Maybe they’ll get someone more prominent/talented and throw her face over the mystery-lady, effectively retconning the whole deal a la Will Sasso as Doug the Bartender.

  4. I DVR’d the episode myself, and was able to catch the chart, within minutes of the episode finishing I was off to the computer and created this.

    http://www.zazzle.com/ranking_of_presidents_tshirt-235653868018310830

  5. kato

    I too, gasped, and yelled out “Nooooo” when Stella’s face appeared at the end of the episode. It has occurred to me before that my favorite episodes (Rebound Bro, I Heart New Jersey) are marred by Stella whining and Ted talking her off the cliff.

  6. I don’t think Stella’s the mother. If she was, then where’s Stella’s daughter? Wouldn’t we have gotten some sort of reaction out of the children upon first meeting Stella aka Mother? I think we’ll just see this being used to eventually lead to the real Mother.

    http://spoilertv.blogspot.com/2009/05/how-i-met-your-mother-is-stella-mother.html

  7. My question? Where was Lilly this whole time? She’s been getting smaller and smaller parts in the episodes as the season progresses.

    • Alyson Hannigan was so close to giving birth that they weren’t able to use her in these final episodes – as a result, they filmed the finale before she went on maternity leave, and explained away her four-week absence with the “peanut butter joke” at the start of the episode a few weeks ago.

      So it’s not that the show didn’t want to use Lily, it’s that they really couldn’t.

  8. Dave Myers

    They all ready acknowledged that Stella isn’t the Mother. Remember the scene with the kids when Stella leaves him at the alter.. He says something to the affect that “it was a good thing she did, or this story would be completely different” and the show a scene of blond kids and Stella ruffling their hair and talking about their Dad and his crazy long-winded stories.
    I thought that acknowledged that she isn’t the Mother.

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  10. Toffee

    I believe the actress is on a short maternity leave with Barney’s dirty joke as an alibi 🙂

    Anyway, no doubt to me that Stella is not the mother, but I think she is only here to give the show a new opening, along with Ted trying to give a positive turn to his career with Mosbius Designs…

    The yellow umbrella thing looks more like something meant to leave us on hold, like as said, Ted and Stella were dating, and in the end, she surely knows about this yellowish ‘brelly… Here again I think this is a simply misleading clue…

    As regards Barney’s chances with Robin… As you may have noticed..Robin has remained real quiet over the last few episodes…But I still dont see herself showing any interest in Barney Stinson..
    Remember back in Season 1, only way to realise she had feelings for Ted was seeing him with another woman at the wedding..Unfortunately she has seen Barney messing with over 200+ women so far!

    What does it hide ? From season 4, it looks like Robin is starting to get slightly desperate.. After getting into an argument with Ted about his wedding with Stella, she got hammered and then went to Barney’s for.. wait for it… empathy!!…Then, there is of course the episode of the naked man… And then yet in another episode, she sleeps with Ted again to keep them from shouting at each other..Finally she sleeps with Ted’s assistant because he is the owner of the key to the toilets, before ending season calculating barney’s grand total & suggesting he should start varying his taste?!

    But Barney is also the man of the possimpible… and Ted’s 31st is coming up! Some goat might help these two getting sorted !

  11. I met your mother at a bar.

  12. Flippy

    Cecilia, you’re breaking my heart,
    You’re shaking my confidence daily…
    Oh Ceciiiiilia, I’m down on my knees,
    I’m begging you please to come home,
    Oh oh oh.

    I laughed so hard when that bit came up! It was a brilliant joke. It’s such an awesome song. Whoot for Simon and Garfunkel. ❤

  13. aussie boy

    Stella is not the mother. And if she is there is a very big plot hole. In ‘Shelter Island’ I think it was Ted said something like ‘and if i had married Stella this story would be different’. Then went over to these 2 blonde kids sitting on a couch with Stella walking in.

    Different kids should mean different mother…otherwise why show that.

    So this is my theory that i will cling to it until it is confirmed, and will be bitterly dissapointed if I am incorrect. BTW Scrubs is my fav show (well the early seasons), but this character does not fit.

  14. alpkerem

    Hi,

    When Marshall was talking with Ted on the phone, he said to him ”Jack”. What does that mean? :S

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  16. Kari

    The Cecilia part is supposed to be a joke. “Cecilia” is a song by (or covered by) Paul Simon. Part of the lyrics are, “Cecilia, you’re breaking my heart. You’re shaking my confidence daily.” Which is why it’s funny that Marshall makes a Venn diagram which has “breaking my heart” and “shaking my confidence daily” with Cecilia in the middle. Listen to the song and you’ll get it.

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