November 16th, 2009
Last week’s episode of How I Met Your Mother proved enormously divisive, despite the fact that for the most part most critics read the episode itself in much the same way. For example, Todd VanDerWerff and I both liked elements of the episode, but our overall impressions of the episode were fundamentally different. He chose to believe that the writers still have more in store for Robin and Barney, the episode representing just a bump in the road, whereas I chose to assume the worst and believe that the writers had truly bungled the conclusion of this relationship that still had a lot of mileage in it.
In the end, Todd convinced me that I was perhaps being too hasty to judge where the show was going, but forgive me if “The Playbook” doesn’t somewhat prove my point. If the writers dumped Robin and Barney’s relationship so quickly because they were that desperate to be able to tell stories where Barney gets to be his usual, philandering self, then it feels like the sort of regressive move that I thought the show was above. This episode could have worked within the context of their relationship had the show been willing to do so (I’ll explain how after the jump), but the end of the episode confirms that Barney has reverted to a one-dimensional caricature and Robin is already moving on.
And while the show is certainly more clever than your average sitcom, that sort of character regression is the sort of thing that I call out other shows for – as such, this is another disappointing episode for me.
May 18th, 2009
“The trouble doesn’t seem so troubling”
As I was taking a look at a really enjoyable spec script for How I Met Your Mother last night, I was forced to consider the question of whether or not the show’s defining characteristics are necessary components of its success. The show is known, at this point, for its time-bending narratives, ridiculous life theories, and its continuity in regards to both tiny throwaway jokes and the eponymous question of the Mother’s identity, but are those qualities necessary to create a good episode of the series or, in the case of “The Leap,” a fitting season finale?
In many ways, “The Leap” isn’t an episode that relies heavily on HIMYM’s signature story-telling methods, but they’re all present in a way: it features some narrative shuffling designed to assist the dramatic end of its storyline, it uses the show’s own continuity to create another life theory, and the continuity of the four-legged farm animal mistakenly inserted into Ted’s Birthday last year makes an appearance. But, outside of a brief mention at episode’s end that promises yet again that we are closer than ever before to the identity of the Mother, the episode was not about Ted’s love life.
The result is, without question, a stronger finale than last season: Ted’s relationship with Stella was an element of the series that never quite worked, and I was worried a few weeks ago that it was going to rear its ugly head for the finale, creating drama where drama was not necessary. Instead, Ted ends up facing his dramatic arc of the season with a lady of another species, and the drama comes from the right place and, more importantly, at the right pace considering what has come before it. Combine with the return of Lily, and Marshall being Marshall, and this felt like vintage HIMYM without feeling as if they were relying too heavily on those broader signifiers.
They weren’t exactly stepping out on a ledge and leaping across a metaphorical alleyway with revolutionary plotting, but in many ways the finale felt more grounded as a result.
“As Fast as She Can”
May 11th, 2009
After “Right Place Right Time” was sold as a rather ‘epic’ episode in the grand scheme of things, evoking the titular story while providing one of those stories that separates itself amongst the various characters, “As Fast As She Can” was perhaps necessarily slower and less eventful. While it doesn’t directly connect the dots as to how these events relate to Ted’s discovery of the future mother of his children, it does provide events that feel like they put Ted into a particular location where those events could take place.
I just wish that it could have been a stronger episode overall: whereas last week was ostensibly about Ted but realistically more about Robin, Marshall and Barney, this week’s episode was primarily Ted and more Ted, and that’s problematic. I don’t mean to rag on poor Josh Radnor, who really wasn’t bad in thise episode in terms of acting like a total tool, but the character just isn’t that funny, and since we’ve already established Stella (Sarah Chalke) as a black hole of comedy it meant that the drama and the comedy were isolated within the episode.
So while I’m still excited for the finale, this didn’t do anything to build any momentum and, in actuality, probably slowed things down a bit too much.
February 2nd, 2009
I feel at this point that Bays and Thomas have conditioned us long term viewers on how to watch an episode of HIMYM: the second Barney announces that he has an online video resume, I’m in Firefox typing in the address and making a note that the site is, of course, real. If the show had a resume, it would include many of these types of moments, the little throwaway lines built into entertaining side projects or the quirky facts we learn show up on each person’s resumes emerging as quick flashbacks.
“The Possimpible” doesn’t try to be overly sentimental, or even overly ambitious: it just looks back on its past, makes a reel of the various ways the show has been charming in the past (most related to Barney) and then crafting an episode around them. It’s something that doesn’t always work for the show, sometimes feeling more like a pastiche of its better episodes, but this one really worked for me. Between the invented words, the humorous websites (Barney’s Video Resume and Ted’s Mysterious Dr. X Website), the continued tension between Barney and Robin and the clever and humorous way of working Alyson Hannigan’s pregnancy into the episode, this one earned a spot on the show’s resume.
“Not a Father’s Day”
November 10th, 2008
If there was a checklist of HIMYM tropes, this episode tried to tick off every single one of them. You had a new Barney-ism (“The Cheerleader Effect”), a new egotistical celebration of bachelorhood from Barney (the titular “Not a Father’s Day”), Ted and Robin clashing over the value of having children, and our characters facing more realities of being 30+.
It isn’t breaking any new ground, no, but it’s a solid piece of comedy that feels distinctly HIMYM, instead of feeling distinctly like a traditional sitcom as it can sometimes do. There’s a certain pace that “Not a Father’s Day” keeps, helped mostly by Alyson Hannigan’s ability to play drunk with such wonderful abandon and Cobie Smulders being let loose as Robin to a degree that was almost too over the top, which really keeps things moving here: even though this was really a setup episode for two major plot shifts (one involving the living situation at the apartment, the other a life-changing decision for Marshall and Lily), it was a mighty fine concoction while it went down.
“Happily Ever After”
November 3rd, 2008
After reading Alan Sepinwall’s impressions of Scrubs’ upcoming season on ABC (which are very positive, and might convince me to give the show another shot), I remembered something: I had once hoped, wished even, that Sarah Chalke could abandon that comedy for this one, a show where her character of Stella once felt like a breath of fresh air. But, there was no happily ever after for Ted and Stella: once their relationship left its romantic side behind in “Ten Sessions,” the original impact was wearing off and, by the time we got to Stella leaving Ted at the altar we were all ready to more or less throw Stella out the door.
And in one scene in “Happily Ever After,” we get that moment: Ted tears Stella apart for putting him through hell, and for making a huge mistake. It’s a scene that we needed to see, but it’s also a scene that wouldn’t have worked outside of its imaginary context: while we needed Stella to hear what Ted had to say, she has chosen a life that is reunites her daughter with her father, and the series is smart not to exist in a universe where Ted is that self-centered, especially since he has his issues with that as is.
Overall, this week’s episode is one that wasn’t quite as definitively strong as one might hope, using some oddly cliched constructs to eventually make this poignant realizations, complete with some enjoyable comedy from Robin’s Canadian roots along the way. The real question now is, with Stella out of the picture, where the show goes from here on the road to its own…well, you read the title, you know where that cliched transition sentence is going.
“Do I Know You?”
September 22nd, 2008
There’s a lot of things that we don’t know about Stella – she walked into the series in a guest appearance, returns to make Ted realize the brevity of life, and then all of a sudden at the end of last season she was, potentially, about to become Ted’s fiance. Our limited knowledge of her is what has me convinced that she can’t be the titular Mother – there is just something about the way they met, and the way they are progressing, that makes this feel like one of those emotional rollercoasters that leads Ted to self-awareness and his eventual soul mate.
And the show isn’t pretending, as other shows might, that this is a match made in heaven – the opening episode is all about two relationships, each that has either a lack of information or damaging preconceptions standing in the way of their future. As Ted struggles to get to know Stella, Barney struggles to get over himself in order to show Robin a new Barney. The episode jumps back and forth between the two, connecting these two narrative threads and their importance to the future of the series.
The end result is an episode that never transcends to laugh out loud, that doesn’t feel like a showcase for any one of the show’s elements, but nonetheless represents a good investigation into the insecurities and indulgences of this series. So while the characters might be struggling to find their own footing in this new frontier, this is likely to serve as a foundation of growth and, hopefully, a strong fourth season.