Tag Archives: Slap Bet

A Canuck in an American Sitcom: The Spatial Construction of Canadian Identity in How I Met Your Mother

A Canuck in an American Sitcom: A Paper

February 8th, 2010

Over the weekend, I had the pleasure of presenting at the 16th Annual McGill English Grad Students’ Conference in Montreal, where I gave a presentation on the subject of Canadian space in How I Met Your Mother. I had a fun experience at the conference, but I was never entirely satisfied with my paper: I thought it was a decent representation of the basic argument I wanted to make, and people responded to the clips and were able to “see” what I was talking about, but the paper didn’t represent the depth of the show’s depiction of Canada. I only had 20 minutes, so my time was limited, but it felt like those limitations were keeping the paper from reaching its full potential.

So, rather than posting the truncated version of the paper, I spent part of my 21-hour train ride home from Montreal adding some additional material, expanding on ideas that were only hinted on before. As a result, the paper has been transformed into something far longer than I had intended it to be, a lengthy treatise written in the form of a journal article but with the focus of a blog post (in that I don’t spend a great deal of time with sources and the like, focusing primarily on the show itself). It’s a bit of a bastardization of both forms, too informal for one and too long for the other, but I think it’s the closest I’ve come to feeling as if I’ve done the subject justice, and as a result I’m posting it here for you to peruse at your leisure – enjoy!

A Canuck in an American Sitcom:

The Spatial Construction of Canadian Identity in How I Met Your Mother

The greatest challenge facing a multi-camera sitcom is creating a world that feels real even when it is unquestionably fake. Although we are almost always aware that the locations in such shows are only sets, that they have been meticulously crafted and designed by a series of people behind the scenes, the sitcom depends on building a relationship between the audience and its characters, and their homes (like Jerry’s apartment on Seinfeld) or favourite drinking establishments (Cheers on Cheers) are important reflections of who they are and how we relate with them. Setting is, to adopt John Fiske’s use of Roland Barthes’ term, an important ‘informant’ that identifies or locates in time and space, but the falsehood apparent in a multi-camera sitcom can potentially complicate this process. However, over time, the fact that these are only sets becomes irrelevant, as the sets become synonymous with the characters who habitate them: Central Perk goes from a strangely well-lit coffee shop to “the place where Rachel, Joey, etc. hang out,” and the locations become synonymous with the show’s reality through their continued presence in the characters’ lives.

However, while this explains how regular sets in which a sitcom’s characters consistently interact gain meaning beyond their initial construction, it has only limited effects on additional spaces the show may introduce. What I want to address is how CBS’ How I Met Your Mother manages to create distinctly Canadian spaces within a series set and filmed in the United States in order to develop the show’s Canadian character, Robin Scherbatsky. Although the audience is aware that these spaces are ‘fake,’ the show’s writers establish a real connection between the spaces and Robin – a journalist who moves to New York to make it big – that establishes her Canadian identity as a facet of her character which can be played for humour rather than as a joke which defines her character. Robin’s actions and mannerisms place her comfortably within an external conception of how Canadians act or speak, but through the depiction of cultural, expatriate and significant commercial spaces, the series develops its own complex image of Canada’s national identity that fuels both comedy and character within its universe, all within the spatial limitations present in the multi-camera sitcom.

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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 – “Slapsgiving”

“Slapsgiving”

November 19th, 2007

Well, this was it. After over 115 days of waiting, the Slap Bet Countdown posted by CBS in July has finally been brought down to zero. At one point in the episode, Barney pleaded with Marshall to cancel the slap, saying that knowing about it ahead of time only made the suspense and fear grow. Similarly, perhaps you could argue that there was greater fan interest as a result of the countdown (Based on hits to this post explaining the Slap Bet here at Cultural Learnings, this is in fact that case).

However, I actually thought it took away from the slap itself. The episode was really more to do with Robin and Ted than it was with the Slap Bet, and while it provided a great coda to the episode (Complete with a fantastic piano ballad featuring backup vocals from a recovering Barney) I really didn’t feel like it had the impact that our first surprise slap did. And, while I perhaps was more likely to tune in knowing it was going to happen, it seems to have been an issue of quality promotion over quality comedy…and that’s kind of disappointing.

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‘How I Met Your Mother’ Slap Bet Countdown: Slap Three on November 19th

[Editor’s Note: As you are likely now aware, the third slap has now occured on November 19th, 2007. You can read our review of the episode at the below link]

Cultural Learnings’ review of the episode, “Slapsgiving”

Last season on How I Met Your Mother, Marshall and Barney entered into a Slap Bet against the wishes of their loved ones. It’s a dangerous game, slap bets, and this one had serious consequences: Barney now lives in constant fear of the back of Marshall’s monstrous hand. This has, however, been of great benefit to us as viewers of great comedy. This is why I’m excited, as should everyone, at the new Slap Countdown on CBS’ website. It’s revealed that the third slap of five will take place 117 days or so from today, July 24th, on November 19th, 2007.

“Slap Countdown” – CBS.com

For the unaware, here’s a YouTube guide to the joys of the Slap Bet:

Introduction

Here’s the basics of the way a slap bet works, plus some examples of the consequences.

The Legen-(Wait for It)…dary Slap Bet

Barney seals his own fate, picking five slaps from now until eternity. His loss is our gain: we now live in constant anticipation of Marshall doling out another slap of five.

Slap #2

Barney was holding his own one-man show in revenge of Lily’s own horrific play experience, and Marshall decided that one of his slaps was worth ending the performance for good. Two down, three to go.

The countdown at the site is apparently to the exact moment that the slap takes place within the episode, which is still almost four months away. November 19th is a Monday Night, and sometime between 8pm and 8:30pm the third of five slaps will be unleashed upon Barney. Personally, I look forward to it greatly.

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