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.
May 24th, 2010
How I Met Your Mother has always been a show about ideas: the central premise of the show is more complex and philosophical than your traditional sitcom, leaning on themes of fate and narrative which are not necessarily what one would call common comedy fare. However, it was also a show where things happened within the thematic realm, where characters felt like they were making decisions and potentially heading “off course” from our expectations.
In its fifth season, HIMYM has lost that dynamism, as seen in a finale where nothing that happens feels of any consequence. “Doppelgangers” has a plot, and some “big” things happen in the series’ realm, but none of it feels organic or noteworthy. Instead, the episode feels like a rumination on the idea of controlling your own fate which just happens to relate to things characters happen to be experiencing at this point in time.
And while I still value that part of the series’ identity, and still appreciate these characters, the heart of the series has been notably absent in what I would easily call the show’s weakest season, and unfortunately “Doppelgangers” does nothing to change this even while providing one of the emotional moments we’ve been anticipating since early in the series’ run.
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.
“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.
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.
December 8th, 2008
After a season that got off to a bit of a slow start figuring out how to balance the arrival of Stella, and that has been much better in the aftermath of the broken off wedding than leading up to it, “The Fight” continues to demonstrate that the show is back in its sweet spot. Like “The Naked Man” before it, this week’s episode was democractic and monumental: this felt like one of those memories that the group would keep, it involved all of our major characters in some capacity, and it really hit some intriguing comic notes throughout.
The show is still content to play lip service to recurring storylines as opposed to really digging into them, but this feels like the right note for a show reaching its midseason break and heading into the second round metaphorically floating like a butterfly.
“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.