“Rabbit or Duck”
February 8th, 2010
I strongly believe there is a time and a place for Barney Stinson at his most one-dimensional, so I won’t suggest that “Rabbit or Duck” was written off as soon as it was clear that it would feature that particular version of his character. I think Neil Patrick Harris sells this side of the character better than he has any right to, and as a result it’s a lot of fun…when it’s relevant.
However, while the show gets points for a clever continuation of the Super Bowl narrative, the problem with this particular Barney story is that it is entirely one-dimensional both in terms of how it presents his character and in terms of its position in the episode. Whatever novelty that story gained initially was lost by the time it reached its conclusion, and while it was never asked to do any heavy lifting it also never felt relevant to the rest of the episode, which made it seem that much more frustrating.
It was an episode that had some nice moments, but which never felt like it moved beyond a couple of key hangups.
Since I wrote/talked a LOT about HIMYM over the weekend, these thoughts will be relatively brief. “Rabbit or Duck” has an interesting central premise, in that the same situation can seem like one thing initially can eventually reveal itself to be something else. And if we connect everything on a thematic level, the episode is pretty consistent: Robin initially thinks Don is a rabbit but he turns out to be a duck, Barney’s magic phone starts out as fantastic but ends up driving him crazy, and Ted initially believes that his potential wife-to-be is perfect until he realizes he loves the thrill of dating even if it drives him crazy.
The problem, I would argue, is that none of the storylines themselves held up well enough to make this theme particularly valuable. Robin and Don’s courtship was the closest to feeling successful, in that Don’s use of the Naked Man was a fun bit of HIMYM-specific humour and I thought they nicely sold Don as something more than a guy who wears underwear: they sold me on his transformation from rabbit to duck, and so I applaud them for that. However, the problem is that they told the exact same story last week, as Robin’s runner in that episode was about Robin being oblivious to whether or not a date was into her (just as she was oblivious here in terms of whether Don was actually asking her out). I get that Robin as a character tends to transfer her own feelings onto others in order to protect herself, and the episode eventually took her to a place of self-awareness (as she realizes that she DID fall for the Naked Man before, for example), but it seems like an unfortunate repetition to selling this story as that much bigger than the throwaway a week ago.
As for Barney, my issue about the story is that while the episode points out that the magic phone goes from Duck to Rabbit in a hurry, it doesn’t really give any answer as to why, or force Barney to reflect on what that means. I don’t need a “very special episode” where Barney confronts his issues with women, but I do think that there should be some sort of scene where Barney at least feigns self-awareness before reverting back to his old behaviour. The lesson here, it seems, is that sleeping with all sorts of women is great until there’s too many of them to decide, which says nothing about the way in which Barney enabled this behaviour. It felt like there needed to be an intervention in here or something, the anti-intervention intervention aside, just so that we could at least see Barney come to terms with what was happening in a way which went beyond it driving him crazy. It led to the story being entirely one-dimensional, the theme used not for transformation but rather an extension of the already thin joke.
The Ted side of things was a series of fun scenes (the argument over Rabbit/Duck, Marshall and Lily searching for a wife) that never developed into an actual story. The arranged marriage plan was all sorts of illogical, and having Barney’s story leap over to Ted was perhaps funny but took any sort of life out of the scene. When we eventually got Robin and Ted on the couch alone to end the episode, it seemed like Robin had got there through a genuine story, while Ted had gotten there through something inorganic, and that kind of gap is never good for the show.
There was some fun stuff here (I’ll save some of the smaller bits for the bullets), but it felt like all three stories were hampered by some sort of missing link, a piece of the puzzle that could have given the episode some more life.
- This is the second time that HIMYM has built an episode that could easily slot into the Super Bowl slot but ultimately lost out on the chance – that said, the bit which aired during the Super Bowl was a nice way to potentially draw in some viewers, and I expect CBS will have a big night.
- Always enjoy when Ranjit appears, and his role as Barney’s personal driver made for some fun moments (Ranjit carrying Barney out of MacLaren’s being a highlight).
- Teddy Westside is, in fact, a pretty bad-ass nickname.
- I loved the Don = Donald = Donald Duck = Duck line as it was, but Ted asking for Marshall’s permission to say lawyered took the joke to the next level.
- I found myself enjoying Don more this time since I’ve been watching Big Love, and thus Ben Koldyke is a more familiar face. Kudos to him that I was able to get past his fairly complex Big Love character to see a more subtle balance of douchebag/charm he’s working as Don.
- Wonder how many ring tones they went through until they found one annoying without being TOO annoying.