January 18th, 2010
When Marshall and Lily got married, their friends were worried that they would no longer hang out with them, and their lives would change. And while that never entirely materialized, the show has had a bit of a tough time writing the characters since that point. Putting them into debt never really went anywhere, their new apartment has become an afterthought, and it feels as if they’re just marking time until the point where they decide to have a baby. I don’t meant to suggest that the characters are no longer funny, but they lack a drive forward, and surrounded by characters like Ted and Robin who have a more uncertain future they can sometimes feel less interesting to viewers, and to some extent the writers, as characters. Lily, after all, disappeared for part of last season without the show losing a beat (although, as I’ll get to below, there have been exceptions).
“Jenkins” demonstrates that the writers are self-aware to this point, as the title story basically turns into Marshall doing everything in his power to convince Lily that their relationship is not almost problematically safe and secure. It’s not a bad story idea, and it reaches a satisfying conclusion, but it’s another sign that the kind of storytelling that often sets How I Met Your Mother apart from other shows just no longer jives with Marshall and Lily’s day-to-day lives. They will always remain an integral part of this ensemble, but I think they’re going to have to get moving on that baby before they can carry an A-Story.
While some might point to the relative absence of Neil Patrick Harris’ Barney as the episode’s biggest problem, but I didn’t particularly miss the character so much as I was annoyed by the way they chose to inject him into the script. NPH was, of course, behind the camera directing the episode, but the few scenes he had were Barney at his most one-dimensional, discussing a Robin Drinking Game of his own and talking about sleeping with Jenkins. I understand why he wasn’t in the script, but I think he could have had a more or two or lucidity as opposed to very derivative behaviour. Plus, considering how much of the episode took place in Marshall’s office, it was kind of odd for him to not be around somewhat more often, although I don’t think this fundamentally hurt the episode.
The episode’s best story was its smallest, in my eyes, as the Robin Scherbatsky Drinking Game was a lot of fun for all parties involved. It’s a bit of a “small world” scenario in terms of Ted’s class happening to be addicted to it, but it fit in nicely with Robin’s vanity surrounding her job and also gave Ted an opportunity to try to play the “cool professor” that fits well with his personality as well. Combine with the drinking game filtering through the other stories, including justifying Jenkins’ sexual pass at Marshall, and you’ve got the kind of running joke that felt like it delivered without becoming overcomplicated. The drinking game could have been something elaborate, but (um) instead it’s realistically simple – people have distinct phrases they use to fill gaps when speaking in public, and I thought that this was a logical one that allowed the joke to be how people responded as opposed to what the line actually was (which would have grown tired). Plus, I like stories that come full circle, and having Robin start as the butt of the joke but then turning it around on Ted and his class made for a nice coda, which is always nice to see.
As for the Jenkins story itself, I thought Amanda Peet did a fine job in the role of the temporarily androgynous lawyer, although the story was clearly not built around her. It was really all about the moments with Lily and Marshall discussing who is the Settler and who is the Reacher, and their argument about whether the kiss actually happened, and Lily eventually punching out Jenkins. This was a great showcase for Alyson Hannigan (whose fake outrage over Marshall kissing Jenkins was only matched by her actual outrage), and I think that it did touch on a few of the cornerstones of their relationship that it’s nice to be reminded of. It’s not that I think Marshall and Lily aren’t fun to watch, or that the show shouldn’t do stories about them that deal with them being a normal couple who is meant to be together without any sort of drama; Hannigan and Jason Segel are a lot of fun to watch, and with NPH behind the camera they really threw themselves into the episode. However, the show can only play this card so many times before the point becomes moot: Lily and Marshall are together forever, and no other woman is going to get in their way.
There just isn’t any drama there, which is nice on a show where Ted’s relationship drama can be problematic (see: Stella). But considering I prefer the show when it’s asking questions about the future and probing characters beyond the surface level, Lily and Marshall are just boring on that front. They’re very cute, and I like what they bring to the group dynamic when Ted is suffering through his problems or when Robin and Barney were testing the waters of a relationship, but there just wasn’t enough uncertainty here for me to buy this story. This is not to say there can’t be uncertainty: I loved “Three Days of Snow” last season when Marshall and Lily reconsidered where cutesy affection sat in their married life, so these kinds of episodes about considering how their lives have changed (whether they reach or settled) can be done in a way which feels more eventful.
For the most part, though, they’re a charming but boring married couple, and while that’s not a sitcom curse it does mean that this wasn’t quite a home run in my eyes.
- I’m not entirely sure why Big Fudge was speaking as if he were in Renaissance England, but I approve.
- I really enjoyed Ted’s mostly unseen architecture lectures, in particular his story of the legacy of the man who invented the gazebo. I want to take that class just for the drinking game it would surely inspire. And I don’t even drink!
- One scene I thought seemed a bit overwritten was Lily and Marshall’s epic Reacher/Settler discussion: it felt false to fastforward through it, and the joke when they came out of it about Oprah and their children on a plane completely fell flat for me.
- I enjoyed how the show got past the “Marshall didn’t tell Lily Jenkins was female” part of the story quickly: My Boys did a similar storyline with Nia Vardalos a while back, and it went on too long on that level for me to continue to find it funny.