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.
“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.
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.
“Rabbit or Duck”
February 8th, 2010
I strongly believe there is a time and a place for Barney Stinson at his most one-dimensional, so I won’t suggest that “Rabbit or Duck” was written off as soon as it was clear that it would feature that particular version of his character. I think Neil Patrick Harris sells this side of the character better than he has any right to, and as a result it’s a lot of fun…when it’s relevant.
However, while the show gets points for a clever continuation of the Super Bowl narrative, the problem with this particular Barney story is that it is entirely one-dimensional both in terms of how it presents his character and in terms of its position in the episode. Whatever novelty that story gained initially was lost by the time it reached its conclusion, and while it was never asked to do any heavy lifting it also never felt relevant to the rest of the episode, which made it seem that much more frustrating.
It was an episode that had some nice moments, but which never felt like it moved beyond a couple of key hangups.
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.
“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.
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.
“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.
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.
“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.