Tag Archives: HIMYM

Television, the Aughts & I – Part Five – “Late to the Comedies”

“Late to the Comedies”

December 17th, 2009

[This is Part Five in a six-part series chronicling the television shows which most influenced my relationship with television over the past decade – for more information and an index of all currently posted items, click here.]

Flipping through the three channels I got using my rabbit ear antennas in my dorm room late one night (okay, early one morning), I stumbled across a very snowy episode of television. In it, a group of office employees organize an “Office Olympics,” which ends up both funny and quite sweet, and I wanted to know more about this single-camera comedy.

Following internet chatter, I heard of a cult-favourite show that my only memory of was my confusion at its victories at the Emmy awards.  Fan response was overwhelmingly positive to the point where my very credibility as a television viewer was in jeopardy if I didn’t join in for its upcoming third season.

Although no one I knew actually watched the show, I heard word of a multi-camera comedy with some recognizable faces that was slowly building a cult following of its own with what it called a “Robin Sparkles,” and since I was wrapped up in a “Save this Show” campaign for a different show at the time I figured I should see if another bubble show might be worth getting behind.

A decade ago, my only recourse in these situations was to find out when the various shows (which, for the unawares, are The Office (US), Arrested Development and How I Met Your Mother, respectively) aired and just pick up wherever they happen to be, hopeful that some day reruns could fill in the gaps.

However, we live in an age where I was able to catch up with twenty episodes of The Office to be up to date a mere week later, and where I marathoned two seasons of Arrested Development to be able to join the Bluth family in progress, and where I spent the summer before HIMYM’s third season learning what a Slap Bet was and watching Barney Stinson own the Price is Right. As a result, I became a vocal supporter of all of these shows, getting in on all of their jokes, despite having been late to the party with every single one of them.

And I’ll admit right now that I probably broke a law or two doing it.

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How I Met Your Mother – “Last Cigarette Ever”

“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.

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How I Met Your Mother – “The Window”

“The Window”

December 7th, 2009

There are moments where it feels as if Robin Scherbatsky exists entirely to be ignorant to the various long-standing mythologies that exist in How I Met Your Mother’s universe. Inevitably, when something new to us is introduced, Robin is the one asking “what’s that?” And such we enter “The Window,” as we discover (through Robin) that Ted Mosby has been on a nine-year journey to bag a college pal and yet has been foiled every time.

The way the show is able to use Robin to justify its exposition, almost always told through a casual conversation at McLaren’s or in Ted and Robin’s apartment, is part of why these stories are able to move so smoothly. In just moments, the stage has been set for what is yet another potential love story waiting to happen, fate and destiny fighting against reality. And by nicely balancing some more emotional beats for Josh Radner’s Ted with some broader comedy as the rest of the gang tries to keep the window from closing, the episode manages to entertain while also providing the sort of heartwarming conclusion (albeit with a twist) that HIMYM is so great at.

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How I Met Your Mother – “Slapsgiving 2: Revenge of the Slap”

“Slapsgiving 2: Revenge of the Slap”

November 23rd, 2009

I’ve been having a back and forth with other critics over the past few weeks about the current state of How I Met Your Mother, as there’s a general consensus that the show got rid of Barney and Robin before its comic potential had been fulfilled but a disagreement over whether this is all part of a broader plan. And, on Friday, co-creator Carter Bays did an interview with Michael Ausiello that managed to do absolutely nothing to settle this argument. On the one hand, Bays noted that this could just be one part of a larger journey between the two characters, which seems encouraging. However, on the other hand, he also said the following:

“None of us wanted to see Barney wearing a sweater-vest and going to bed-and-breakfasts,” says Bays, adding that it makes sense the relationship would “flame out fast” given that “neither of them, at their core, really wanted to be tied down.” Bays also believes that, deep down, viewers prefer single Barney to attached Barney. “It’s one of those things where you can give people what they think they want, or what they really want.”

It’s one thing that Bays is remaining coy about their future, but for him to have internalized what I feel is a close-minded and limiting audience reaction to the character is highly problematic for me. The show didn’t give Barney a chance to adapt Single Barney into Attached Barney so to judge so quickly is so short-sighted that it is either a misquote or a sign that my faith in Bays/Thomas is lower than it’s ever been.

And while “Slapsgiving 2: Revenge of the Slap” seems built to regain my trust and sympathy by tapping into the show’s most slaptastic mythologies and by actually giving Lily and Marshall a story of their own, it does nothing to deal with my overall concerns about Barney as a character (proving a wash in this area) and disappoints by feeling like a strange mash-up of sentimental and comic that feels far less organic than the original “Slapsgiving.

Accordingly, How I Met Your Mother remains “on notice,” even during this holiday season.

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How I Met Your Mother – “The Playbook”

“The Playbook”

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.

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How I Met Your Mother – “The Rough Patch”

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“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.

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How I Met Your Mother – “Duel Citizenship”

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“Duel Citizenship”

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.

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Season Premiere: How I Met Your Mother – “Definitions”

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“Definitions”

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.

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Season Finale: How I Met Your Mother – “The Leap”

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“The Leap”

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.

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How I Met Your Mother – “Right Place Right Time”

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“Right Place Right Time”

May 4th, 2009

[Spoiler Alert: Don’t read the Episode Tags if you don’t want to have the episode spoiled! – MM]

When it comes to the combination of comedy and mythology on How I Met Your Mother, the show has always operated on a tight rope of sorts as it relates to the identity of the eponymous mother. The reason for this is not that the mystery isn’t interesting (it is the very premise of the show, of course), but rather that the character at the center of the drama is the show’s least funny, often least interesting, and at times most frustrating. Ted Mosby is really only tolerable when he’s being sweet and romantic, and even then he’s rarely funny in those scenarios. He’s better when he is taking a supporting role, not so much the center of the drama than he is an observer who just happens to be our “lead” character.

What “Right Place Right Time” does is position itself as an episode about Ted but really spend almost all of its time with the characters that are more capable of being funny. Utilizing a traditionally unique structure (at what point does it become its own cliche? I remain unsure), the show lets Bob Saget take us through how a series of random and ridiculous events force Ted to end up at the right place at the right time where, holding the epic yellow umbrella we’ve seen in previous episodes, when a woman taps him on the shoulder.

I like this approach because it minimizes being repetitive with Ted’s various destiny speeches, but the show at this point is running a serious risk with its mythology. What happens in this episode appears to actually answer the titular question, but I don’t think it does: there is more than enough wiggle room for them to pull the rug out from under us yet again. Considering who ends up tapping him on the shoulder, I’ll be happy when I’m vindicated and they pull out the “Just kidding!” next week, but the more the show does this the less we’ll be able to trust them, and the mythology will only be getting in the way of the comedy.

And that’s the last thing the show needs.

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