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.
“The Perfect Week”
February 1st, 2010
I’ll get it out of the way upfront: it still bugs me that Barney and Robin were broken up so quickly, and no amount of funny episodes which depend on Barney being a total womanizer is ever going to convince me that it was necessary or advantageous for the show to go about it as it did.
That being said, “The Perfect Week” was pretty funny, a nice collection of “things that we expect to see from HIMYM” with just enough pathos to make the story work. By admitting the hypocrisy inherent in Lily’s actions, and by providing Barney’s actions with at least some sort of emotional justification beyond sexual desire, the episode took a potentially narrow concept and turned it into something that will have no long term impact but remained compelling and meaningful in the short term.
Sort of, you know, like Barney’s one-night stands.
“The Importance of Communicationizing” and “The Long and Winding High Road”
January 12th, 2010
It might just be that we’re reaching the home stretch of Better Off Ted’s rushed second season, or that news this morning that ABC isn’t officially cancelling the show just yet has provided a false sense of hope, but tonight was the first set of episodes where I rarely felt myself comparing the show to its finest moments, or feeling like the show was missing opportunities. I don’t think it’s because “The Impertence of Communicationizing” and “The Long and Winding High Road” were perfect episodes, but they had a nice rhythm to them that didn’t create dead zones which could make them feel complacent, and they dealt with concepts (word play and one-upmanship) that the show has always gotten some great mileage out of.
In fact, if you were going to levy a single criticism of the double-header, you could perhaps argue that the episodes were almost too similar to one another, placing Ted as the moral centre amidst an environment more willing to engage with the low road. However, the show never places too much of each story on Ted and Ted alone, which allows the comedy around him to remain the star, and on that front the episodes offer enough diversity and hilarity to come out a winning pair.
“Beating a Dead Workforce” & “Change We Can’t Believe In”
January 5th, 2010
To define a show based on a single episode is unfair, especially when that episode is as great as Better Off Ted’s “Racial Sensitivity.” And yet, when the show came out of the gates feeling somewhat “off” this year, our collective go-to in terms of expressing our disappointment was lamenting that the show wasn’t reaching the heights of that episode. And while it’s understandable that we would want the show to live up to its best episode, and it’s true that part of the early season struggles (relative to the show’s standards, not comedy in general) have been the result of moving too far away from corporate satire the show does best, I think we need to stop judging Betted Off Ted based on that standard.
Except that we can’t. Watching an episode like “Beating a Dead Workforce,” you can’t help but feel that is an attempt at capturing the same greatness of “Racial Sensitivity,” trying to create another out of control corporate reaction to a particular problem. And while the episode has some great lines, and some enjoyable sequences, it just isn’t going to live up to that episode, so a potentially great episode feels just…solid. And when we get an episode like “Change We Can’t Believe In” that skews too close to basic “A/B/C Plot” Thematic sitcom structure, it’s just a reminder that the show now has two primary modes: a comedy which aims for something novel but feels (perhaps unfairly) just off the mark, and a comedy which delivers a funny take on largely pedestrian stories.
Neither show is bad – in fact, they’re both actually quite good – but neither show is “Racial Sensitivity,” and while I want to be able to get past that and enjoy the last few weeks we’ll ever have with the show for what they are, I just don’t know if it’s going to happen.
“Battle of the Bulbs”
December 22nd, 2009
How far can a show get on wordplay alone?
It’s a question that Better Off Ted seems to really want to answer, because there have been points early in the second season where there hasn’t been any glue to hold the one-liners together. Even the show’s corporate satire has been weaker than usual, as the Veridian Dynamics commercials have entirely disappeared and left behind a solid show with funny character and witty writing but not, unfortunately, the same comic sensation we fell in love with earlier this year.
And “Battle of the Bulbs” doesn’t fundamentally change this trajectory, although it works harder than past episodes at tapping into the show’s strong points while also managing to feel more cohesive. However, there is still something missing here, something that shows that Victor Fresco’s attempts to push the show outward from its first season bubble has largely proved an inconsistent experiment that relies heavily on the characters involved.
“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.