Category Archives: How I Met Your Mother

How I Met Your Mother – “Home Wreckers”

“Home Wreckers”

April 19th, 2010

Ted Mosby’s search for a nuclear family of his very own has always been at the heart of How I Met Your Mother, and the romanticism at the heart of this quest is one of the show’s distinguishing qualities. Ted isn’t just looking for a wife, let’s remember: he’s got a very clear picture of the sort of life he wants, and so “Home Wreckers” focuses less on the eponymous story and has Ted trying to rush his way to the end of the story in a way that some viewers tend to do on a regular basis.

While the episode as a whole feels a bit repetitive, struggling to get over the fact that it’s effectively a long conversation about a subject that the show has discussed a lot in the past, there is an emotional honesty to the conclusion of the episode which demonstrates the value of Ted’s romantic point of view to the show as a whole. If no one on this show followed their instincts and desires, willing to be reckless and go against what everyone expects them to do, Marshall and Lily may not be together, Robin and Barney may have never tried to make it work, and Ted may never have purchased a house.

By pitting reckless agency against the show’s usual focus on fate and circumstance, “Home Wreckers” manages to offer some intriguing commentary on the show’s future, even if the comedy was largely limited to the wonderful game that is “Drunk or Kid.”

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How I Met Your Mother – “Zoo or False”

“Zoo or False”

April 12th, 2010

Predictability is one of those intriguing parts of sitcoms in general: by nature, sitcoms fall into particular patterns, either in terms of classic situational comedy or in terms of a show establishing a certain rhythm or style that tends to be repeated.

“Zoo or False” is ultimately one of the most predictable episodes that HIMYM has done in quite some time, but that doesn’t mean it was a particularly bad episode. You could call the episode’s conclusion from a mile away, and as Jaime Weinman pointed out the act breaks weren’t particularly subtle, but the story’s predictability came through the original episode setup going wildly out of control. And because those circumstances, as forced as they may seem out of context, stemmed from a character’s attempt to derail an in-show narrative, the derailment of the show’s actual narrative felt entirely natural.

And of HIMYM’s predictable qualities, that’s one of my favourites.

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How I Met Your Mother – “Say Cheese”

“Say Cheese”

March 22nd, 2010

I often write in my reviews of the Big Bang Theory that I feel the show needs to spend more time showing me why its central characters are still friends: Sheldon has done enough mean things, and been the recipient of enough poor treatment, that the dynamics of their friendship have more or less been reduced to “because they make a good sitcom cast on good days.”

By comparison, I rarely question the dynamics of the central five characters on How I Met Your Mother, but “Say Cheese” wants me to interrogate why these people are still friends. In the process, the episode takes both Lily and Ted to some unfortunate places, showing sides of their characters which make them seem quite unpleasant.

However, while the Big Bang Theory doesn’t have to resolve its tensions since it will simply ignore the events of one week’s episode in the next, How I Met Your Mother is all about continuity, and by the end of “Say Cheese” they find a way to turn Ted and Lily acting like jerks into a healthy investigation of what it means to be friends. That doesn’t mean it’s a particularly strong or enjoyable episode of the show, but it’s another sign that even some unfortunate premises can be improved when the core values of a show and its cast dynamics are there to keep you watching.

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How I Met Your Mother – “Of Course”

“Of Course”

March 8th, 2010

When How I Met Your Mother threw in the towel on Robin and Barney’s relationship earlier this season, I was angry.

The reasons I was so frustrated were, just to be clear, not simple. I was not just a “shipper” of the couple or someone who thought they should stay together forever, someone who responds negatively because the show doesn’t go in the direction I want it to. Rather, I was also annoyed that it felt like the show was abandoning a story which had untapped potential in order to return to its status quo, shallow Barney stories where he turns into a complete womanizer. I prefer Barney when he shows some sense of humanity, some shred of awareness of his own actions, and his relationship with Robin felt like it had the potential to bring that out more often.

For their relationship to end – according to interviews with the creators at the time – just so that the show could return to a more one-dimensional version of Barney’s character felt like it ignored the show’s emotional complexities, and it has in some ways tarnished the entire season for me. While Barney’s womanizing is still funny, it has seemed spiteful and at times even hurtful as the season has continued without giving the breakup time to settle in. Instead of laughing at Barney’s antics, I found myself focusing on Robin, and how she must be feeling to know that Barney is moving on so quickly. In some ways, it bothered me that the show was moving on so quickly, that it was so willing to turn its back on comic and dramatic potential for the sake of returning to something familiar that, let’s be honest, won’t remain fresh forever even with Neil Patrick Harris at his Emmy-nominated, should be Emmy-winning, best.

“Of Course” is effectively the show’s apology, where they admit that there were unseen consequences to Barney’s quick return to his normal self, and where they admit that there was unresolved tensions surrounding their breakup. So, as one of the most vocal critics of the way in which the pair were broken up and certainly the critic most unable to look past it as the season wore on, the question becomes whether this retconning was enough to convince me that the show made the right decision.

The answer to that question is “No,” even though “Of Course” is a damn fine episode of television.

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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.

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How I Met Your Mother – “Rabbit or Duck”

“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.

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A Canuck in an American Sitcom: The Spatial Construction of Canadian Identity in How I Met Your Mother

A Canuck in an American Sitcom: A Paper

February 8th, 2010

Over the weekend, I had the pleasure of presenting at the 16th Annual McGill English Grad Students’ Conference in Montreal, where I gave a presentation on the subject of Canadian space in How I Met Your Mother. I had a fun experience at the conference, but I was never entirely satisfied with my paper: I thought it was a decent representation of the basic argument I wanted to make, and people responded to the clips and were able to “see” what I was talking about, but the paper didn’t represent the depth of the show’s depiction of Canada. I only had 20 minutes, so my time was limited, but it felt like those limitations were keeping the paper from reaching its full potential.

So, rather than posting the truncated version of the paper, I spent part of my 21-hour train ride home from Montreal adding some additional material, expanding on ideas that were only hinted on before. As a result, the paper has been transformed into something far longer than I had intended it to be, a lengthy treatise written in the form of a journal article but with the focus of a blog post (in that I don’t spend a great deal of time with sources and the like, focusing primarily on the show itself). It’s a bit of a bastardization of both forms, too informal for one and too long for the other, but I think it’s the closest I’ve come to feeling as if I’ve done the subject justice, and as a result I’m posting it here for you to peruse at your leisure – enjoy!

A Canuck in an American Sitcom:

The Spatial Construction of Canadian Identity in How I Met Your Mother

The greatest challenge facing a multi-camera sitcom is creating a world that feels real even when it is unquestionably fake. Although we are almost always aware that the locations in such shows are only sets, that they have been meticulously crafted and designed by a series of people behind the scenes, the sitcom depends on building a relationship between the audience and its characters, and their homes (like Jerry’s apartment on Seinfeld) or favourite drinking establishments (Cheers on Cheers) are important reflections of who they are and how we relate with them. Setting is, to adopt John Fiske’s use of Roland Barthes’ term, an important ‘informant’ that identifies or locates in time and space, but the falsehood apparent in a multi-camera sitcom can potentially complicate this process. However, over time, the fact that these are only sets becomes irrelevant, as the sets become synonymous with the characters who habitate them: Central Perk goes from a strangely well-lit coffee shop to “the place where Rachel, Joey, etc. hang out,” and the locations become synonymous with the show’s reality through their continued presence in the characters’ lives.

However, while this explains how regular sets in which a sitcom’s characters consistently interact gain meaning beyond their initial construction, it has only limited effects on additional spaces the show may introduce. What I want to address is how CBS’ How I Met Your Mother manages to create distinctly Canadian spaces within a series set and filmed in the United States in order to develop the show’s Canadian character, Robin Scherbatsky. Although the audience is aware that these spaces are ‘fake,’ the show’s writers establish a real connection between the spaces and Robin – a journalist who moves to New York to make it big – that establishes her Canadian identity as a facet of her character which can be played for humour rather than as a joke which defines her character. Robin’s actions and mannerisms place her comfortably within an external conception of how Canadians act or speak, but through the depiction of cultural, expatriate and significant commercial spaces, the series develops its own complex image of Canada’s national identity that fuels both comedy and character within its universe, all within the spatial limitations present in the multi-camera sitcom.

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