March 21st, 2011
There is something hypocritical about the status of Barney Stinson as a character within How I Met Your Mother. On the one hand, he is the character who will change the least: because of his popularity, and because of the broad comedy the character is known for, Barney Stinson will never dramatically alter his behavior. And yet, at the same time, the character is uniquely positioned to engage with more emotional and transformative elements due to Neil Patrick Harris’ dramatic acting ability and the value of having a narcissistic character show signs of selflessness and vulnerability.
Ted Mosby is always on the verge of a dramatic life event, but is never allowed to reach that moment because it would fundamentally change the course of the series. However, because there are assurances that Barney’s essence will not be changed, he’s allowed to do what Ted is not: he’s allowed to meet his father, allowed to confront a potentially life-changing moment on a show which in its sixth season is largely resistant to fundamental change.
The result is a tremendous showcase for Neil Patrick Harris and John Lithgow, achieving an emotional complexity that has been absent from Ted’s story for what seems like a very long time without sacrificing the essence of the character. While there are some who remain frustrated with the lack of momentum on the eponymous story, the show’s sixth season has been quite effective in crafting stories about the other side of the parental coin that have really landed.
Even if they aren’t quite as transformative as Ted’s love life.
January 17th, 2011
Response to “Bad News,” HIMYM’s last original episode, was decidedly mixed. What struck me most was the way the episode-ending reveal that Marshall’s father had passed away became so problematic despite the fact that this is the kind of show which should be capable of handling such delicate matters. I’ll certainly agree with those who felt that there was some potential incongruity between the playful nature of the countdown and the eventual reveal, requiring a sudden gear shift which made the episode considerably divisive.
However, while the series is no so heavily serialized that we need reserve judgment on an individual episode until seeing how it carries over into the next, I would say that “Last Words” is in a position to sort of payoff the buildup offered in “Bad News.” The result, I feel, is an infallible merging of the comic and dramatic elements mashed together two weeks ago – with more time to establish the balance, Bays and Thomas emphasize the way in which well-drawn, longstanding characters offer great potential to take even a fairly rote storyline to a truly emotional place through some sharp writing and some stellar performances.
And that’s the sort of self-actualization the show was missing last season.
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.
September 20th, 2010
Look, I was pretty harsh on How I Met Your Mother last season, but it was harshness which stemmed from love: I care about these characters, so to see their individual arcs subjected in order to make way for standalone stories which fought against the series’ greatest, if not only, strength (its serialized elements) was unfortunate.
Now, I’m not one of those people who believes that the show needs to spend more time discussing the Mother: in fact, I am more or less completely uninterested in that storyline, other than the fact that it largely allows “wistful romantic Ted” to emerge and I’ve got a soft spot for that particular characterization. Rather, my issue is that I need the character to feel like they’re evolving, that they’re reaching a point in their lives when they are considerably less aimless than when they began. My problem, then, is less that Barney and Robin split up, and more that they split up and went back to fairly reductive versions of their respective characters.
“Big Days” is an intelligent premiere in that it keeps things decidedly simple: other than yet another future milestone that we can start counting down the days until, the episode creates a small scenario which speaks to the series’ past, present and future without feeling too strained. Nothing it does feels particularly monumental, but the episode nonetheless captures the sense of purpose that the show was missing for the bulk of last season.
Which, if it holds, will be a welcome return to form.
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.
“Zoo or False”
April 12th, 2010
Predictability is one of those intriguing parts of sitcoms in general: by nature, sitcoms fall into particular patterns, either in terms of classic situational comedy or in terms of a show establishing a certain rhythm or style that tends to be repeated.
“Zoo or False” is ultimately one of the most predictable episodes that HIMYM has done in quite some time, but that doesn’t mean it was a particularly bad episode. You could call the episode’s conclusion from a mile away, and as Jaime Weinman pointed out the act breaks weren’t particularly subtle, but the story’s predictability came through the original episode setup going wildly out of control. And because those circumstances, as forced as they may seem out of context, stemmed from a character’s attempt to derail an in-show narrative, the derailment of the show’s actual narrative felt entirely natural.
And of HIMYM’s predictable qualities, that’s one of my favourites.
January 18th, 2010
When Marshall and Lily got married, their friends were worried that they would no longer hang out with them, and their lives would change. And while that never entirely materialized, the show has had a bit of a tough time writing the characters since that point. Putting them into debt never really went anywhere, their new apartment has become an afterthought, and it feels as if they’re just marking time until the point where they decide to have a baby. I don’t meant to suggest that the characters are no longer funny, but they lack a drive forward, and surrounded by characters like Ted and Robin who have a more uncertain future they can sometimes feel less interesting to viewers, and to some extent the writers, as characters. Lily, after all, disappeared for part of last season without the show losing a beat (although, as I’ll get to below, there have been exceptions).
“Jenkins” demonstrates that the writers are self-aware to this point, as the title story basically turns into Marshall doing everything in his power to convince Lily that their relationship is not almost problematically safe and secure. It’s not a bad story idea, and it reaches a satisfying conclusion, but it’s another sign that the kind of storytelling that often sets How I Met Your Mother apart from other shows just no longer jives with Marshall and Lily’s day-to-day lives. They will always remain an integral part of this ensemble, but I think they’re going to have to get moving on that baby before they can carry an A-Story.