September 28th, 2009
I love when episode titles aren’t what you’d expect. As a television critic, it means that I’m taking notes after I’ve looked to see what the title of the episode is (so you can more easily find this post), so I went into this one expecting the show to take advantage of their newfound pairing in order to provide some sitcom-style double date antics.
I should have known, of course, that How I Met Your Mother isn’t that kind of show. The “Double Date” at the center of the episode was a clever sort of “instant mythology,” where Ted relives a previous blind date all over again seven years later, which allows the show to do what it does best. We get healthy doses of both the show’s time-twisty structure as well as its heart within the storyline, while the other (also double-themed) story with Marshall and Barney helps to provide some levity while both work in tandem to create a whole new element of the HIMYM Lexicon.
On the whole, it’s a clever and well-executed episode that further cements the show’s strong sense of narrative, and one which provides a pretty darn good showcase for a somewhat maligned character.
The device of having Ted and Jen relive their 2002 date all over again was perfectly executed for two reasons. The first is that no set of jokes went on for too long. Early, it’s a joke about how they don’t realize they’re on the same date, so we as the audience are the ones picking up the parallels (her unemployed after the internet bust in 2002 and thinking about going into something more secure, like banking, paid off with the 2009 banking bust unemployment). In true Ted-like fashion, it’s a terrible joke about oysters that wakes them both up to the fact that they’ve done this before. And after that, the humour we get is not through broad gags or similar disparities, but through some pretty realistic dialogue and a slow realization that perhaps the date wasn’t so bad after all. The storyline had various twists and turns, but none of them beyond the point of our pre-ordained knowledge of the connection (provided by Ted, the Narrator) felt forced.
What I found most interesting about it is that it had a tinge of sadness to it, as well as a pretty good heart. In Jen’s case, she was always going to be weird with her cats who dress up in costumes, so her ending up in this position is less surprising. But 2002 Ted was an architect who dreamed of painting the skyline, and yet here he is teaching architecture and getting books at 50% off. While he is just as annoying now as he was then, he was young and naive at that point. His frustration during the date was that she hadn’t played the role of pretending to want to attempt to pay for the cheque. While he and Jen share what made their experience a poor first date, Ted’s friends are even more cruel, ripping into him for any number of poor traits. For Jen, this was a chance to get some pointers to avoid this happening again seven years from now, but some part of me felt like this was an intervention for Ted, but one which was less worried than it was hyper-critical.
And yet, I think the show wants us to find Ted’s sadness to be at least a little bit funny. The character has always been a bit of a sadsack, but here he was really trying to learn how he could change, and he clearly differentiated himself from bearded Ted. While the opening shot is of 2002 and 2009 Ted with the same date preparation and everything, the episode ultimately confirms that some part of him has changed, or at least the has figured out which parts of 2002 Ted (the decision not to call, knowing that they would never truly be happy even if they put on a good show) were worth keeping. There’s a chance that in 2002 Ted was making excuses, but to some degree the Ted we know in 2009 (and even the romantic Ted we met in the pilot) is simply looking for a soulmate, a fact which strikes to the heart of the series. The episode may not have been “about” the Mother, by any means, but it’s the kind of instant mythology story which speaks to why some part of us still wants to see Ted find happiness. Josh Radnor did a good job of making Ted likeable but honest here, and I was really charmed by the whole storyline.
While we went most of the final episodes of last season without Lily and Marshall time thanks to Hannigan’s pregnancy, I was great to have them back in full force here. The discovery of Stripper Lily (which gets added, we learn, to Lesbian Robin and Moustache Marshall in the group’s collection of Doppelgangers) was really secondary to a story about Marshall being unable to fantasize without first staging a hilariously elaborate scenario whereby Lily gets chronic hiccups, dies after six months, and on her death bed tells Marshall to find his fantasy and plow her like a corn field. It’s a clever bit because it confirms Marshall’s hyper-active imagination, and it allows them to play around with how Lily takes the news. Marshall believes her to be a wounded dove, who would be hurt to hear that he’s fantasizing, but she’s far more put out by the idea that he murders her in his dreams even if she has a charitable foundation in her name and that they’re that close to a cure. Lily loves the fact that there’s a stripper version of Lily, loves that Marshall went to a strip club, and fully embraces the experience at hand. Hannigan had a lot of plan playing both Jasmine and Lily’s excitement about Jasmine in this one, and the connection with the other story (bringing the “Double” idea into play) helped bring it all together.
However, the one downfall of “Double Date” is that Barney and Robin are the relationship which needs the most development and yet it kind of got shortchanged. What we saw was that Barney, who believes that Robin (who, remember, once played laser tag and drank scotch and smokes cigars with Barney) would be perfectly cool with him being in a strip club, has overestimated her ability to tolerate his ways. It’s a fun storyline because it allows Neil Patrick Harris to play out the fun-loving partying side of Barney, which does need to stay out there even with him in a relationship. And the storyline is a good way to indicate that he’s going to have to change in this relationship, and that she’s more jealous and concerns than perhaps she thought she would be and not quite the “cool” girlfriend. However, I’m largely reading that into the scenes: the show spent too much time with Barney pretending to be oblivious about her discomfort (which is funny) and not enough time allowing them to have “the talk.” It was there, in one scene at the strip club, but I barely remember what happened, so something was lost in trying to handle all three storylines.
Perhaps it was an issue of editing (it seemed like we were jumping back and forth between the stories without much warning), or perhaps they had to cut an extra little scene for time in what was a pretty complicated episode, but it’s just one complaint. Otherwise, this felt like a very unique and enjoyable way to spend a half-hour of television comedy, which is exactly what I want HIMYM to be week in, week out.
- In case you were curious, the song played during Ted’s rewriting of the date to where they get married with cat bridesmaids was Goldspot’s aptly titled “Rewind.”
- I loved the little gag with the Origins of Chewbacca exhibit tickets for a few reasons. First off, Ted in the Chewbacca costume in the back of the cab. Second, that Barney, Ted and Marshall would all know where it was in a given year. And, finally, that it really is the perfect way to get rid of Robin, considering her legendary hatred of the film when trying to make things work with Ted. I enjoy the continuity.
- Very happy to know that we now have one more thing to look forward to by the end of the season: Ted and Barney’s Doppelgangers.
- I noticed that Marshall took up dollhouse furniture building in his later life, which I’m choosing to take as a Wire reference whether they intended it as one or not. Cool Lester Smooth FTW.
- “A lot cheaper than buying a condom” was certainly the harshest thing that was said about Ted’s date ruining moves, but it was also the funniest.
- The gag with the waitress knowing Barney’s favourite drink/girl was expected, but the announcer noticing him was a nice touch to really dig the knife in.
- If I went to a restaurant that fancy and got understudy lobster, I’d be pissed…mainely because I don’t like Lobster. Gah, I’m such a Ted.