“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.
- 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.