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How I Met Your Mother – “Bad News”

“Bad News”

January 3rd, 2011

How I Met Your Mother is willing to make sacrifices.

In its balance of a long-running serial narrative and episodic storylines, the show is always looking for ways to balance one with the other: sometimes heavy mythology means slightly weaker standalone work, and sometimes a lack of mythology creates a lack of meaning to a particular story. Often, the mythology is emphasized to evoke pathos, and yet in the process the series has sort of fallen into certain patterns: the show can still hit Ted’s romantic notes well, for example, but it’s hit them enough times that the novelty may well have worn off.

In “Bad News,” we have an example of sacrificing coherent storytelling for the sake of slowly revealing an ongoing gimmick which, once fully comprehended by the audience, becomes the driving force behind a moment which was legitimately affecting. In doing so, the writers all but admitted that “Bad News” wasn’t going to be an all-time classic, but that seemed a conscious decision which allowed for that final moment to hit as hard as they wanted it to hit.

It was manipulative, to the point of damaging the structural integrity of the episode, but that final moment was perhaps worth that sacrifice.

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How I Met Your Mother – “The Front Porch”

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“The Front Porch”

March 16th, 2009

In bringing in Karen, Ted’s ex-girlfriend from his high school days, How I Met Your Mother has returned to the temporality that often sets it apart from other sitcoms. The show’s basic premise is one of its defining legacies, as the very idea of this being one large story told by Future Ted to his own children has given the past (and memory, and revisionist history) a very important meaning. Even further, episodes on occasion create alternate futures, showing that Ted and the rest of the characters are just as concerned with their own prospective futures as we are about the future we know is inevitable.

“The Front Porch” is ultimately a mediation more on this last idea than the former, the past serving as evidence for the concern for the future. The result is an episode that is less about Karen and more about what Karen could represent, and a more subtle than expected refocusing on the answers to the episode’s central question: how does Ted, exactly, meet this mother? Flanked by some simple but effective little pieces of comedy, the episode avoids sending Ted into a place too annoying, and Lily to a place too mean, in its navigation of what is quite an important issue in the show’s future, and one that could well be heading to a conclusion before the season is over.

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The Office – “Stress Relief”

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“Stress Relief”

February 1st, 2009

I am not conditioned to enjoy this hour of The Office.

First off, I don’t think the show should be in this position in the first place: Chuck has a special 3D episode ready to go tomorrow night, and is much more vulnerable to audience erosion than what is quickly becoming NBC’s flagship series.

Second, I don’t like hour long episode of The Office: they are often overblown, and rarely is there enough comedy to justify the longer running time. Combine with the always frustrating reality that they will eventually be split into two parts in syndication, so they’re forced to split into two separate stories at some level, and they are rarely worthwhile (“Goodbye, Toby” and “Weight Loss” could be seen as a reversal of the trend, but the Amy Ryan variable is the more likely explanation for their quality).

And third, as if that all wasn’t enough, we have the blatant stuntcasting of Jack Black and Jessica Alba, a principle that has been a bit of an achilles heel for NBC’s other Thursday comedy, 30 Rock, all season. The Office has always been pretty immune, being as it is about the mundane life of office employees, but now even that is bleeding its way into the series.

So going into “Stress Relief,” my expectations were fairly low, and I was fully prepared to harp on all three of the above points for 1500 words.

And, well…old habits die hard, I guess – this was a mess of an episode that tried too hard to be worthy of the Super Bowl, was too scattershot to be a cohesive hour, and represented the most superfluous and tangential use of guest stars that I could possibly imagine. So in the end, my opinion remains the same: it shouldn’t have been an hour long, it shouldn’t have cast celebrities, and it shouldn’t have even been airing after the Super Bowl in the first place.

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