January 11th, 2010
I picked up the fourth season of How I Met Your Mother on DVD over the holidays, and I watched a few episodes over the course of the break. I came to realize that there are a number of highlights in the season, but that many of them hinge on a story element that has since that point been entirely wasted. Episodes kept pointing towards Barney coming to terms with his playboy identity in order to confront his feelings with Robin, and those episodes are painful for me: they’re a sign of the storyline that the show cut loose before I felt it should have been cut loose, and before it had been given time to develop into something that could have become a meaningful part of this universe.
If we view “Girls vs. Suits,” scripted by co-creators Carter Bays and Craig Thomas as the show’s 100th episode, as a celebration of what they consider the show’s two most enduring elements, we find that the mythology surrounding the Mother and the audacity surrounding Barney Stinson are the show’s constants. But considering my frustration over Barney’s regression from his relationship with Robin, and considering how the story surrounding the Mother has been dragged out to the point where it has ceased being about Ted and become more about the show itself, this isn’t what my ideal 100th episode of the show would look like.
And yet, I found “Girls vs. Suits” managed to crack my cynical exterior with one of its storylines, although the other (although eventful and charming at points) simultaneously confirmed that it may have to be in desperate need of some reinvention to ensure it can “make it work” in the future.
Noel Kirkpatrick makes an interesting point in his review of this episode at the new Monsters of TV blog, arguing that the show’s problem this season has been a lack of Ted. I will admit that I don’t share his affection for the character (I like Josh Radnor well enough), but I will agree that Ted has been a sort of wanderer this season. However, one of its best episodes (“The Window”) was explicitly about Ted and his relationships, so I don’t think wandering has done Ted a disservice. That episode was so strong because it allowed Ted to come to terms with his desire to be in a long term relationship, which felt like it actually said something about his character.
My issue with the mythology-heavy elements of this episode is that they say absolutely nothing about Ted. Rachel Bilson was charming and funny, and Radnor gave a strong performance, but the storyline was so much from Future Ted’s point of view that it felt like a play being staged for the audience as opposed to an actual storyline. We’re being shown a moment that is apparently important to Ted’s life, and yet we’re being told that as opposed to seeing it in the moment in question. This, I understand, describes most episodes which deal with these kinds of “close encounters” with the Mother, but those episodes did a better job of making the story feel more eventful in and of itself. I rewatched “Right Place Right Time” over the break, and it uses a unique structural dissection of fate in order to establish the role of contrivance and coincidence in the scenario, and it also allowed Future Ted to imagine Present Ted’s reaction to that moment had he known it would eventually land him a job at the college where he would become attracted to the roommate of his future wife-to-be. Yet here, all of the heavy lifting was handled by narration, which at some point crossed the line between clever and overbearing.
I don’t think the show necessarily needs more Ted, but I think it needs to be extremely careful about trapping Ted amidst the mythology elements of the series. While I don’t necessarily think it’s a problem for Ted to be single, or a problem for the show to “put off” the Mother’s arrival into the future, I think they need to more carefully connect Ted’s storyline with the various manipulations going on behind the scenes to keep the story alive. There’s this perception that Ted stories are only relevant when they have to do with the Mother, and I find this extremely problematic: I like Radnor, and think that Ted plays an important role in the series’ dynamic beyond serving as the narrator, so it seems as if these mythology stories are only creating a battle between Future Ted and Present Ted for relevancy that distracts from his true potential. In an episode like this, Future Ted wins, and as much as I like Bob Saget I don’t know if that’s what the show wants to be accomplishing at this point in its run. I believe the show will reach a point in the future where they will need to actually meet the Mother, but the solution to growing concerns over the show’s mythology don’t require this process to be hastened so much as more closely tied to Ted’s present character as opposed to the dual forces of fate and the omniscient Saget.
By comparison, while I still feel Barney is better served in more nuanced storylines, I can’t argue against a love letter to the suit done in the form of a song and dance number. I understand why the writers wanted to be able to tell stories like Barney choosing between an attractive woman and his love for suits: Neil Patrick Harris is a great comic performer, and seeing him sell the tragedy of a suit being ripped and the tearful decision to donate its buttons to save a Jacket in the Lower East Side is a lot of fun, only improved by the undeniable greatness of Tim Gunn. So even if I don’t agree with that decision, I can’t deny something as fun as “Nothing Suits Me Like a Suit,” which captured the show at its most blindly enjoyable. Yes, I like my big moments to have a bit more meaning to them, so I’m still partial to montages like the one from “Right Place Right Time” or scenes like the two-minute date from “Ten Sessions,” but for a 100th episode spectacular I felt the music number was both funny enough and catchy enough to justify the frivolousness of the story overall.
My one complaint about the story was that I wanted to see a bit more of Marshall, Lily and Robin – I liked the running gag about Marshall refusing to see how attractive the waitress was, and Robin proving that it was simply circumstantial hotness relating to her vocation, but the reliance on guest stars in the episode meant that the “gang” didn’t get much time together. This being said, I liked their cameos in the big musical number, so it’s not as if they were entirely shut out of the storyline.
A 100th episode doesn’t mean all that much in the end. The episode certainly holds a unique place in the HIMYM legacy, being the closest we’ve ever come to meeting the Mother, but I don’t know if outside of that it was eventful for reasons unrelated to big budget musical numbers (and one which, although enjoyable for me as a fan of broadway musicals, still ranks as the show’s second-best original song). I don’t think it’s a definitive sign of the show going off the rails, and it was certainly well-executed, but I think there are some signs here that what the creators are treating as the heart of the show might need a bit more heart.
- Stacy Keibler, best known to laypeople as a runner-up on Dancing with the Stars, did an admirable job here: I thought she sold the attractiveness without feeling defined by that attractiveness, and her acting chops were up to snuff in trading barbs with NPH. I’ve known her since her pro wrestling days, and I think she could see some more TV work after this.
- A majority of my music collection comes from my brother (including, not surprisingly, a copy of the Unicorns album Ted finds in Cindy’s room), so I’m now imagining a scenario where I find myself in Cindy’s awkward position. I personally plan on lying.
- The Mother had enough to live up to already, so it’s almost unfair that now she needs to be someone who’s in a band and who makes watercolor paintings or robots playing sports.
- Loved the suits coming alive and whispering to/haunting Barney.
- I’ll admit it: the whole yellow umbrella thing seems way too contrived. That it has been present on so many different occasions has made it a “symbol” of the plot instead of the story, if that makes any sense, so for it to play such a silly role here just doesn’t ring true.
- I’ll include a link to the download of the song once it goes up in the morning.