“Last Cigarette Ever”
December 14th, 2009
There are many shows that, in later seasons, like to do a bit of revisionist history in order to create new storylines. The Office keeps introducing new traditions even though the documentary camera crew should have logically spotted them years earlier (an observation I saw on Twitter last week, although I forget who made it), which is a necessary stretch but one that has no easy “out” for the show.
However, How I Met Your Mother has an easy excuse: because the show takes the form of Future Ted telling stories to his kids, there are logically parts of these characters’ pasts that he wouldn’t tell them out of fear of revealing too much about his past. Accordingly, it makes perfect sense that Ted wouldn’t reveal to his kids that he and the gang are occasional recreational smokers, and that he would wait this long into the series’ narrative to tell a story about how everyone’s smoking habits came together.
The problem with episodes like “Last Cigarette Ever” is that the show needs to either be in a natural place for this story to concur or construct a story that justifies the sudden introduction. And while it isn’t perfect for every character, the show finds enough of a heart in Robin’s journey and enough of a future-forward conclusion to make the story a charming chapter in a larger story as opposed to a single episode of a television series.
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.
“The Rough Patch”
November 9th, 2009
One of the intriguing elements of How I Met Your Mother is its use of skewed memory, as what we’re seeing is not reality so much as it is Future Ted’s perception of reality. In some instances, the show uses it for subtle jokes such as the opening one here, when Future Ted manufactures a preposterous story for how a pornographic movie happened to find its way into the VCR. In other instances, however, the show creates more of what I’d call gags, like how Robin’s older boyfriend at Thanksgiving was played by Orson Bean so as to exaggerate his age for the sake of the story being told. These are unique because, unlike those established mainly through voiceover, they become a running gag in their own right.
Last week’s “Bagpipes” used a combination of the two in the running gag of sexual noises emerging as bagpipe music, which was clever and underplayed. However, “The Rough Patch” fails because it uses such a gag at the heart of a fairly substantial bit of character development, one which is not capable of transcending the pop cultural stereotypes. Putting Barney into a fat suit as a one-off gag is fine, but using it as a representation of an integral piece of character development feels both false (in that the exaggeration seems too central) and rushed (in that the story doesn’t feel like it has come to its conclusion).
It results in an episode that is wholly dissatisfying, a failure both in terms of its premise and in its execution.
October 19th, 2009
So, this was pretty awesome, eh?
I don’t know if there’s many episodes of an American comedy series that likely work far better for Canadians than Americans, but I think this is probably one of those examples. Much of “Duel Citizenship” took the form of a pretty standard episode of the show, with Ted turning into an unwilling third wheel on a trip with Lily and Marshall, but the story of Robin’s need to consider becoming an American citizen turned into a love letter to Tim Hortons (which is a famous Canadian coffee chain, in case you weren’t aware) and in many ways another sign that this Robin’s character (and the show) has more of an appreciation for Canada than the jokes might initially indicate.
The result is a solid episode of How I Met Your Mother from the perspective of someone who finds the jokes to be at Canada’s expense, and a kind of fantastic episode for those of us who “get” the Canadian side of the storyline in a way that others cannot. All in all, it’s an episode I had a lot of fun with, albeit for the love of my country more than my love of the rest of the episode.
September 21st, 2009
How I Met Your Mother (How-Eye-Meh-Ett-Yo-Err-Mah-thur) Noun.
1. CBS Comedy Series.
2. Probably the most “anticipated” comedy return of the fall season for this particular critic.
While The Office might be more consistent, and 30 Rock might be more uproarious, I think that I find myself most honestly excited about How I Met Your Mother, a show that just a few years ago I didn’t even watch on a regular basis. I think it’s because while The Office thrives on awkward comedy, and 30 Rock plays the absurdist angle, HIMYM tends to operate most often by either charming us as viewers (something The Office can do but which 30 Rock rarely attempts) or by introducing some really interesting intermingling between serialization and concept episodes of unquestionable quality.
So heading into its fifth season, more successful than one could have imagined two years ago, How I Met Your Mother finds itself closer than ever (we presume) to the identity of the Mother, and finally pulling the trigger on a long-gestating relationship (Barney and Robin). This means that, quite similar to the Office’s premiere, “Definitions” is more about defining (Yeah, I went there) how the show is going to handle Ted’s new job and Barney and Robin’s relationship rather than surprising us with anything even remotely considering a twist.
But, done in typical HIMYM style with plenty of flair and a whole lot of laughs, one can’t really complain about the execution, although the evasion of definition and expectation is certainly a theme.
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.