November 23rd, 2009
I’ve been having a back and forth with other critics over the past few weeks about the current state of How I Met Your Mother, as there’s a general consensus that the show got rid of Barney and Robin before its comic potential had been fulfilled but a disagreement over whether this is all part of a broader plan. And, on Friday, co-creator Carter Bays did an interview with Michael Ausiello that managed to do absolutely nothing to settle this argument. On the one hand, Bays noted that this could just be one part of a larger journey between the two characters, which seems encouraging. However, on the other hand, he also said the following:
“None of us wanted to see Barney wearing a sweater-vest and going to bed-and-breakfasts,” says Bays, adding that it makes sense the relationship would “flame out fast” given that “neither of them, at their core, really wanted to be tied down.” Bays also believes that, deep down, viewers prefer single Barney to attached Barney. “It’s one of those things where you can give people what they think they want, or what they really want.”
It’s one thing that Bays is remaining coy about their future, but for him to have internalized what I feel is a close-minded and limiting audience reaction to the character is highly problematic for me. The show didn’t give Barney a chance to adapt Single Barney into Attached Barney so to judge so quickly is so short-sighted that it is either a misquote or a sign that my faith in Bays/Thomas is lower than it’s ever been.
And while “Slapsgiving 2: Revenge of the Slap” seems built to regain my trust and sympathy by tapping into the show’s most slaptastic mythologies and by actually giving Lily and Marshall a story of their own, it does nothing to deal with my overall concerns about Barney as a character (proving a wash in this area) and disappoints by feeling like a strange mash-up of sentimental and comic that feels far less organic than the original “Slapsgiving.
Accordingly, How I Met Your Mother remains “on notice,” even during this holiday season.
The reason this episode does nothing to do with Barney’s character is that he remains in a supporting capacity. Barney, as a caricature with no sense of emotionality, works so long as he isn’t asked to be the center of attention. Like with last “Slapsgiving,” the slap itself is less about Barney (who simply sits paralyzed by fear, this year trapped by not knowing who is going to slap him as opposed to not knowing when the slap is coming) than it is about Ted and Robin arguing over who is going to slap him. As a result, Neil Patrick Harris simply gets to play the combination of mortal terror and savvy disruption as Barney tries to get them arguing to the point where neither of them will dole out the slap before the imposed deadline of sundown. The result is a performance and a character beat that doesn’t fall short because it has no aspirations: Barney is specifically compartmentalized outside of the dramatic side of the episode, and there’s nothing wrong with this.
However, ignoring the fact that this story would have been just as interesting if Robin and Barney were still together (where Ted and Robin could have still brought the turkey as roommates and her right to the slap could have been about getting retribution for their fights), the real reason that this story doesn’t work is that Ted and Robin have nothing to work out. While the first “Slapsgiving” put a nail in the Ted/Robin relationship (if not the friends with benefits potential) for good in the midst of the slaptivities, providing an emotional depth to the episode, this year’s Ted and Robin story was ultimately pointless. I kept waiting for something to happen to make Ted and Robin’s conflict more explicitly about either Barney (for Robin) or something at all (for Ted, who hasn’t had a real story all year) so that it would have some sort of impact, but it never did. I don’t mean to so clearly cry out for some continuity, but at least start listing off the various ways that Barney has wrong Ted in the past, or bring up Robin’s relationship with him long before the conclusion of the episode. As good as NPH was in the various reactions, especially when Ted and Robin were arguing and he was popping up between them, the only time their argument became interesting was when Ted tried to lie and claim he was still in love with her: at that point, as played out as that card is, it was at least something to give the storyline a point.
In the end, for the episode to claim that the whole “Slapsgiving 2” storyline was all an effort from Marshall to bring everyone together (which makes no sense considering that he raised it before Mickey arrived, and thus before they needed to be reconciled in any major way (Major Way! *Salute*) ) is patently false, and a bit of broad overgeneralizing that the show is normally above. I thought Chris Elliott was engaging as Lily’s inappropriate board game-obsessive deadbeat dad, and I like that Lily was finally given a storyline, but it failed to connect with me both a) because we had never been introduced to it in the past and b) because Lily was kind of unsympathetic throughout. It may be a symptom of the fact that Lily has been somewhat mean all season, but the “You’re Dead to Me” look and her unwillingness to forgive her father lacked emotional nuance. The episode didn’t know if it wanted us to take Lily’s hatred seriously (in overdoing his faults to the point of sending Lily’s grandfather back into the steel mill) or to view it as frivolous and silly (like with her newspaper stealing neighbour or her bridesmaid), mixing Lily’s pride and love for her family with being overemotional and bitter. So when the episode eventually tells, rather than shows, Lily’s moment of realization that the convenience store owner was actually dead to everyone, it’s like we’re so disconnected from Lily’s emotions that any real value in their reunion is lost, a problem only compounded when it gets lumped in with the slap towards the end.
Of course, the episode had its charms. I thought Marshall got a lot of great content in the episode, whether it was the fake arms in his Sunday dinner webchat or him retelling the story of he and Mickey’s meeting so that it wasn’t him who was bawling his eyes out. And Mickey was worth it if only for the endless parade of board game concepts (Tijuana Slumlord, Car Battery, There’s a Clown Demon Under the Bed, Landmine Lunge, Diseases, Dog Fight Promoter, etc.) And even though it could be seen a mile away, the premise of the slap bet hasn’t lost all of its charm, and seeing Jason Segel rip into Neil Patrick Harris remains as entertaining as ever before.
But the episode struggling trying to both use an existing mythology (the slapping throne was a nice addition) and create a new one (with Lily’s father) in the same episode, and both suffered as a result. The two storylines never meshed together as organically as they did in “Slapsgiving,” and the Lily side of things needed more time and focus to allow us to connect with her emotional journey. It wasn’t an unfunny episode, but it didn’t live up to the mythology it tapped into.
It’s not a slaptastrophe, but let’s just say I have my slapsgivings…as in misgivings, not the pural of Slapsgiving. Note the lack of capitalization.
- You’d be amazed how instinctively I added the repeat/salute after “major way” above. No delay at all.
- Of the various new slap phrases in the episode, I think “Slape Diem” was my favourite.
- They’re onto the last slap, and I’ll say this much: it needs to be an event on its own. Don’t worry about other storylines, just give us an epic slap episode worthy of the occasion.
- It used to be that Lily’s different hair was what destroyed any realistic flashbacks, but wigs could at least pretend: Hannigan’s new chest, however, is far more conspicuous.
- And yes, as everyone saw, the 1990s Board Game commercial version of Aldrin Games’ Slap Bet, complete with kids slapping the elderly was a whole lot of fun, especially the 90s commercial interpretation of “You Just Got Slapped.”