How I Met Your Mother – “Hooked”

“Hooked”

March 1st, 2010

“In this story, I’m just a jerk.”

Future Ted, as voiced by Bob Saget, pretty much has his kids on the hook. You see, they’ve been sitting on that couch for what seems like years, patiently waiting to hear the story of how he met his mother, but it seems as if there are times when Future Ted has no interest in that story. Instead, he tells other stories, stories where the character switches from a romantic idealist to an unfortunate jerk. Those are the episodes where people turn on Ted as a character, where some viewers (and potentially his children) find him to be unlikeable to a degree that seems strange considering how enjoyable he is when he is in that romantic mode.

In some ways, what I liked so much about “Hooked” is that his kids (or, in other words, the audience) off the hook right off the bat: Future Ted informs us that in this story, he is a total jerk, which prepares us for an episode where Ted’s romanticism (and, frankly, romanticism in general) is completely absent. And so we’re able to laugh at Carrie Underwood’s Tiffany without wondering if she’s the Mother, and not feel as if the show (or Future Ted) is unaware that Ted is being a little bit douchey throughout the half-hour.

In some other ways, however, what I liked so much about “Hooked” is that the audience is just as hooked on the show (and Ted as a character) by episode’s end, even when that ending has all of the characters acting like jerks.

First and foremost, let’s get this out of the way: Carrie Underwood works as a guest star here because she is both a pretty good actress and extremely attractive. This allows for all of the jokes that the episode wants to deliver in terms of how people get hooked and the attractiveness of Pharmaceutical Sales Reps to land quite solidly: there is no joke that feels like it was written for someone else but then weakened by her performance. This was, after all, the problem that Britney Spears had on the show: the secretary role could have been funny if it were in the hands of a better comic actress, but Spears was out of her element and gave a performance that was passable but felt out of place. Here, Underwood fit in perfectly with the story that was being told, and thus earns quite a bit of respect as an actress.

The episode took the form of what we normally expect from the show, with the gang taking a single concept (getting “hooked”) and showing various examples of the formula. And so we meet Lisa, Henrietta and Mike from Marshall’s past and Ted and Robin’s present, and are reintroduced to Lily’s major league umpire hopeful turned cafeteria lady Scooter, and so we get to see all of the characters splinter off into their own perspectives on the storyline. We get Lily and Marshall practicing letting Scooter off the hook, we see Ted still in denial about being both hooker and hookee, we witness Robin taking advantage of Mike the Cameraman, and we find Barney with no interest in the central concept beyond its introduction since he’s too focused on the Pharmagirls.

All of these stories are in the show’s wheelhouse, as the show gets great mileage out of the teacup pig, Henrietta’s insanity (which is exactly the type of person that romantic Ted would attract), and the various ways that one gets hooked (“I was really into the Wu-Tang Clan!”). And so the episode was funny, and because we knew going in that Ted was going to be a jerk, and because Future Ted occasionally told us that Ted was being a jerk and ignoring how destructive the situation with Tiffany was, we always knew exactly how it was funny. It may be cheating, but it was a good use of the show’s narrative construct to prepare the audience for the type of story that was going to be told.

More importantly, though, it also psyched us out a little. It hooked us onto the episode as something that heading towards a particular conclusion, but then most of the stories took a turn of sorts. Ted was, indeed, a jerk to Henrietta, but he did it because he had to, and while we were prepared to judge Ted harshly for his behaviour it was actually done in the best interest of the woman involved. Similarly, we were prepared for Lily to be unable to tell Scooter how it was, but it’s Marshall who is unable to look past his sad puppy dog eyes, incapable of being a jerk even when it means having someone else be in love with his wife. The episode begins with the pretence of being “different” from past stories, but in the end the characters are the same as they always are, not quite perfect but consistent to their past behaviours and experiences. This isn’t a show that goes for hijinks at the end of the day, so Ted didn’t go through with his “marriage due to pure awkwardness.” Ted being a jerk is, often, realistic for who the character is, just as Marshall being unable to follow through on forcing Lily to be a jerk felt like something Marshall would totally do (he was, after all, just as hooked by the mere mention of the teacup pig as Robin and Lily).

Sure, I have my quibbles with the fact that the show drew attention to the awkwardness of Barney bragging about conquests to Robin without actually delving into Barney’s side of that psychological equation, which is consistent of the show’s worst instincts in regards to that relationship, but the rest of the episode showed a keen understanding of guest casting, managing the audience’s expectations, and delivering an episode that gets plenty of laughs without blowing situations out of proportions. Much like “The Naked Man” before it, if not quite to that level, “Hooked” took a concept and played out its human side, demonstrating that for all of the novelty of a new catchphrase or concept within the show’s universe, it comes down to how that relates to our characters. And so it makes sense that Ted would be honest with himself and release the hook he cast, while Robin would resist reeling it back in until her last load of delicates is finished; and to be entirely honest with you, HIMYM making sense is one of its best qualities in my eyes, so “Hooked” passes that all-important test.

Cultural Observations

  • I think this was a fine example of the right amount of Barney: too much would have overwhelmed the storyline, but he got the great “Hot Occupations through history” montage as well as some fun one-liners throughout. There’s a point where Barney could overwhelm the human side of a story like this, and while I’d prefer if his human side was made part of the story, I’ll take a minimal but effective supporting role.
  • The show continues to get good mileage out of Marshall’s teenage rat tail.
  • I liked the way they told most of the ring story from the perspective of Ted telling the story to Robin: as itself, the setpiece might have felt too jokey for the conclusion the episode was going for, but like with Future Ted narrative the episodes as a whole, Ted narrating that story made sure individual events were placed into particular contexts. It can be overdone, but I thought it helped streamline the conclusion.
  • I’ll be curious to see the ratings for this episode: was Carrie Underwood another “Teacup Pig” (See: Spears) that could hook in potential viewers, or just another guest star that will see only a small bump in the ratings? We’ll find out tomorrow morning.
  • Alan Sepinwall, who was at the table read for this episode, felt that the episode failed to live up to that expectation, and is especially harsh on Underwood: I don’t necessarily agree that the episode needed any more than what she offered in that part, but I can see how hearing it in script form and imagining something more would have created certain expectations.
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