“Robots vs. Wrestlers”
May 10th, 2010
With its timey-wimey narrative, How I Met Your Mother usually tends to join traditions and ongoing storylines at a point somewhere along the road rather than at the very beginning. So when “Robots vs. Wrestlers” starts talking about the eponymous event being a tradition, it seems premature, but that’s part of the episode’s conceit: the very idea of it is too awesome not to become a tradition, and that’s something that Barney (especially) is concerned with as the group discusses their different trajectories in the wake of Robin trying things out with Don.
I like a lot of what the episode is trying to accomplish, showing each character enough of a potential life without this group to make them both understand their desire to have a life of their own and how important their friends are, so I think this is ultimately a good step for the series. I do think, though, that there were a couple of points in the episode which seemed underdeveloped, like the focus was spread out so much in the episode that details were overlooked that kept it from becoming an outright classic.
The Challenge of Clarity Amidst Chaos
May 7th, 2010
You can follow along with the Cultural Catchup Project by following me on Twitter (@Memles), by subscribing to the category’s feed, or by bookmarking the Cultural Catchup Project page where I’ll be posting a link to each installment.
When I say that Buffy the Vampire’s third season gets off to a rocky start, your immediate response should be “of course it gets off to a rocky start.” The show completely threw a wrench into things by having Buffy leave Sunnydale behind for the bright lights of a rundown neighbourhood in an unnamed urban centre we presume is Los Angeles, and the consequences from that event are going to be significantly more damaging than the more subtle psychological impact felt at the start of the second season. You can’t expect “Anne” to feel like just another episode of the show, just as you can’t expect for “Dead Man’s Party” to quickly bring things back to normal now that Buffy has returned to Sunnydale.
However, I do think that there are elements of both episodes which feel just a smidge too convenient; while the situations may be messy and complicated, the metaphors and themes are all clean and concise. They represent necessary parts of Buffy’s journey, and the emotional conclusions to both stories (first Buffy rediscovering part of her identity and then the gang coming to terms with what has changed over the summer) are well played by all involved, but the linearity of this particular course correction feels odd when watched directly after the depth of the second season’s final stretch of episodes.
This doesn’t mean that the show is off to a bad start, but rather that “Anne” and “Dead Man’s Party” wear their purpose in their sleeve a bit too plainly for my tastes.
May 5th, 2010
There’s a point in this episode where I became very afraid. I really like episodes where the characters are all part of the same situation, but there’s a point where it seemed like the show was intending to play out every airport/flying cliche imaginable. Mitchell left his wallet at home, Claire was afraid of flying, and Manny was pulled aside for being on a “No Fly” list – combine with a lot of unpleasantness surrounding those events and Jay’s outward disappointment about the entire family joining them on their Hawaii vacation, and it just wasn’t coming together all that well.
However, “Airport 2010” ended up coming together rather remarkably well: there were some nice use of some non-linear narratives to keep things interesting, the cuts between different stories provided a real sense of dynamism, and when the show eventually gets to its heartwarming conclusion it feels more earned that most similar stories. This is largely because at a certain point the show lets characters talk to one another about their feelings rather than just getting into wacky comic situations that reveal them, very clearly laying out a reason for them to come together to fly to Maui at episode’s end and very clearly identifying what makes this show better than its sitcom situations.
May 3rd, 2010
When you create love connections between cast members on a long-running sitcom, those lingering emotional feelings are always part of the deal. In the case of How I Met Your Mother, Ted and Robin’s relationship ended almost three years ago, and since that point the show has played out their relationship (the “friends with benefits” stage, for example) in ways which demonstrate that remind us of that past without making it the focus of the show.
However, Barney and Robin’s relationship wasn’t given the same treatment: while Ted and Robin were never really “just” friends, Barney and Robin had a normal relationship, and since the show was so committed to forcing Barney back to his “normal” behaviour after the breakup Robin just sort of had to revert to her old self as well. And so the show never really looked at how Robin and Barney would be able to remain “just friends” after their breakup, nor was it something that the show seemed interested in doing at any length due to the necessity of Barney appearing as a human being for more than a few episodes.
“Twin Beds” is the furthest the show has gone towards suggesting that Barney can remain both a boobs-obsessed playboy and in love with Robin, something that I think the show should have dealt with sooner, but it also makes the bizarre decision to return Ted and Robin’s relationship to the forefront. On the one hand you have a story I think has been underserved by the show, and in the other you have something I think would easily classify as played out.
Throw in a silly little Lily and Marshall story, and you have an important (but not particularly spectacular) episode of the show.
“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.
March 22nd, 2010
I often write in my reviews of the Big Bang Theory that I feel the show needs to spend more time showing me why its central characters are still friends: Sheldon has done enough mean things, and been the recipient of enough poor treatment, that the dynamics of their friendship have more or less been reduced to “because they make a good sitcom cast on good days.”
By comparison, I rarely question the dynamics of the central five characters on How I Met Your Mother, but “Say Cheese” wants me to interrogate why these people are still friends. In the process, the episode takes both Lily and Ted to some unfortunate places, showing sides of their characters which make them seem quite unpleasant.
However, while the Big Bang Theory doesn’t have to resolve its tensions since it will simply ignore the events of one week’s episode in the next, How I Met Your Mother is all about continuity, and by the end of “Say Cheese” they find a way to turn Ted and Lily acting like jerks into a healthy investigation of what it means to be friends. That doesn’t mean it’s a particularly strong or enjoyable episode of the show, but it’s another sign that even some unfortunate premises can be improved when the core values of a show and its cast dynamics are there to keep you watching.
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.
March 4th, 2010
I understand sitcom formulas: I know why they exist, I know why they can sometimes be very funny, and I understand why there are quite a few viewers who are in love with them. And while I’m on the record as amongst those who are not quite on the Modern Family bandwagon, I respect a lot of what the show is doing, and do not begrudge it for being formulaic to varying degrees each week.
If I’m being honest, “Fears” was one of the best episodes the show has done in its most limiting formula, the separation of the three families into distinct stories. The theme was consistent, the comedy was varied, and the show perhaps came the closest yet to earning its saccharine conclusion. None of the stories fell too far into comic farce to feel like they were shoehorned into the corny conclusion, and while every story was on the edge of tipping into that land of love and caring that makes me want to throw up, they mostly stayed within something funny and sweet without going too far.
And yes, that’s the most convoluted way of saying “this was a pretty good episode of Modern Family” you’re likely to find.
March 1st, 2010
“In this story, I’m just a jerk.”
Future Ted, as voiced by Bob Saget, pretty much has his kids on the hook. You see, they’ve been sitting on that couch for what seems like years, patiently waiting to hear the story of how he met his mother, but it seems as if there are times when Future Ted has no interest in that story. Instead, he tells other stories, stories where the character switches from a romantic idealist to an unfortunate jerk. Those are the episodes where people turn on Ted as a character, where some viewers (and potentially his children) find him to be unlikeable to a degree that seems strange considering how enjoyable he is when he is in that romantic mode.
In some ways, what I liked so much about “Hooked” is that his kids (or, in other words, the audience) off the hook right off the bat: Future Ted informs us that in this story, he is a total jerk, which prepares us for an episode where Ted’s romanticism (and, frankly, romanticism in general) is completely absent. And so we’re able to laugh at Carrie Underwood’s Tiffany without wondering if she’s the Mother, and not feel as if the show (or Future Ted) is unaware that Ted is being a little bit douchey throughout the half-hour.
In some other ways, however, what I liked so much about “Hooked” is that the audience is just as hooked on the show (and Ted as a character) by episode’s end, even when that ending has all of the characters acting like jerks.