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.
“The Chrysanthemum and the Sword”
August 22nd, 2010
Ted, the Don Draper-equivalent over at rival agency CGC, is not in Don Draper’s league: he is neither visionary nor genius, and yet by virtue of his insistence that he is a competitor he has been elevated to Don’s level. It’s the ultimate example of self-definition, of putting something out there (in this case, to the New York Times) and then turning it into reality. It doesn’t matter that Jai Alai went with another agency because its owner is delusional, or that Clearasil was a conflict rather than business lost: as it would appear to the outside world, Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce lost two accounts and CGC (under Ted’s leadership) gained both of them.
“The Chrysanthemum and the Sword” is filled with various examples of situations where appearance becomes reality, to the point where it even becomes a meta-narrative when the series’ positioning of Betty as a child-like figure becomes rendered in three-dimensions. It’s not the most pleasant or subtle of episodes, but it ends up making some fairly interesting observations regarding Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce as an agency, as well as the series’ general approach to simulating the past.
April 28th, 2010
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What strikes me about “Ted” is that it was entirely possible that the story within the episode could have been real. Being that this is Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and not Buffy the Normal Teenage Girl, we presume that Ted is some sort of demon, and that his sudden intrusion on Buffy’s life as an unwanted father figure is some sort of dastardly plot. However, the less-than-malevolent stepfather figure is both a real circumstance and a fairly familiar trope independent of the supernatural, which means that for much of the episode we’re wondering whether this could really just be Buffy and her mother being victims of an angry, abusive man rather than a robotic Frankenstein monster obsessively trying to recreate his creator’s wedded bliss.
It results in the right kind of standalone Buffy episode, one which captures a unique tone that differentiates the episode from the rest of the series while still fitting into some ongoing storylines and the dominant themes of the season.
April 18th, 2010
You may have noticed this, but Breaking Bad’s third season is effectively a long string of meetings.
This isn’t entirely new for the series, but there isn’t the same level of action and reaction that the show is used to: while previous seasons seemed to build in altercations, or create circumstances where Walt and Jesse need to clean up a mess or solve a particular problem, this season is focused almost solely on characters having isolated and personal moments of reflections which come into play when they meet with another character on the show. These aren’t all formal meetings, but whether it’s Skyler and Ted meeting up in the bathroom post-coitus, the White family meeting for dinner, or Gus and Walter sitting down to discuss their future together, there is this sense that things are playing out in slow-motion. While the first season was about how quickly things can escalate, and the second season demonstrated the challenges which faced any sort of expansion, the third season is about choices, and so escalation is replaced by contemplation.
“Mas,” like “Green Light” last week, demonstrates how challenging it can be to make difficult choices, and how particular choices will create consequences that you may not be able to understand. Watching these characters come to grips with where they’ve come to, some more slowly than others, is proving just as compelling as anything else the series has done, languishing just long enough within each character’s struggle in order to give us a sense of what perspective they bring to the next meeting.
Which, considering the trajectory of these characters, may not be a pleasant one.
“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.