September 27th, 2010
Barney Stinson is a very broad character, but Neil Patrick Harris has always specialized at emphasizing his vulnerability. Mind you, this vulnerability always disappears, but the series’ emphasis on serialization has allowed for Barney’s arc to avoid feeling too reductive. Yes, he resets every once in a while, but “Cleaning House” quite clearly identifies that there remains a sense of progress in the character.
While the episode wasn’t particularly fantastic, it felt more emotionally honest than the incredulous nature of the story would indicate on the surface. As someone who appreciates this level of emotional complexity, I like what the episode does for the overall narrative and for Barney as a character, even if it doesn’t fundamentally change the character in future episodes.
On Twitter, @Inessentials noted that if this had been the first episode of HIMYM he had every watched, he would never watch it again. I think this oversells the episode’s problems, as I think it was very much dependent on experience with the series. While it was arguably a standalone episode in terms of the broader narrative of the search for the Mother, the focus on Barney’s family brought back memories of “Showdown,” “The Stinsons,” and other episodes which dealt with this question. On its own, the episode is a collection of comic setpieces of limited effectiveness: the ongoing race confusion is never really developed, Robin and Ted’s subplot is awfully slight, and the efforts to tie Marshall and Lily into the scenario are cursory at best.
However, I liked what they did with Barney and his family to the point where I’d consider the episode a success. The story spoke to things we’ve learned in the past: it makes sense that Loretta had a penchant for lying connects nicely with Barney’s elaborate fake family, and we already knew that Barney has romantic notions of his childhood. The episode didn’t necessarily come together around it, but that final moment with Barney and his mother sitting on his bed, or Sam and James enjoying their reunion, really worked on an emotional level. This was especially true with Barney and Loretta, as Barney successfully put together that his childhood was romantic, just not in the ways he had been sold by his mother. Frances Conroy and Neil Patrick Harris were both really strong in the half-hour, and that is really the most important contribution the episode tried to make to broader understandings of narrative or character.
No, the efforts to connect Robin and Ted’s story to the main one (talking about underselling and overselling), and as noted the racial issues made Barney seem dumb in a way which seemed designed to exaggerate and emphasize his return to reality, but I’m fine taking away that final moment as part of broader character arcs and calling it an episode.
- NPH’s efforts in the music sequences was strong in and of itself, but watching Cobie Smulders in the background was certainly a highlight.
- Ben Vereen didn’t get much to do with Wayne Brady, but their scenes were a decent little shorthand bit of emotion for the episode.
- That is definitely what I imagine a postmaster general looks like.
3 responses to “How I Met Your Mother – “Cleaning House””
So Ben Vereen is Both Barney Stinson’s father and Will Smith’s father. In both cases he was absent. hmmm.
As my earlier twitter comment suggests, I cut HIMYM a good deal of slack when it has an off episode, like I would for any show. But “Cleaning House” was like a bad parody of the HIMYM that I love.
Some critics complain about the show getting too wrapped up in Ted’s relationship drama, but there’s just as much potential for the show to get caught up in “who is Barney becoming?” NPH is remarkable for making so-so material work, but even he struggled to find a way out of the middle third of tonight’s episode.
What worries me about tonight’s episode is that none of the ideas were bad ones: Barney returns home, faces his past, wonders about his father; Ted & Robin on overselling vs. underselling; Marshall vs. Lilly on helpful lies, tied to parenting styles. But the jokes mostly fell flat, the B & C stories competed for time and neither developed into anything interesting, and NPH was left to act his way out of a paper bag (which he can do, but why make him?). Barney-centric episodes are fine, but they’ve only really worked when he’s got (a) decent material and (b) regular cast members to work off of. He had neither tonight.
I think the race confusion didn’t get played up so much because it was probably hard for them to do it without Barney delving into a lot of stereotypes.