"How I Met Your Mother" / Dustin Rowles
TV Reviews | September 25, 2007 | Comments ()
With this being premiere week, and our illustrious TV Whore and his trusty sidekick, Stacey, covering a large number of network premieres over the next few weeks, I wanted to jump in and offer some full-length recognition to one of the shows that doesn’t make Seth’s TiVo cut (I think this and the brilliant “Boston Legal” are the only worthy shows that Seth doesn’t include amongst his 947 seasons passes, but then “Legal” is only brilliant while James Spader is onscreen, anyway.). Personally, I’ve tuned into “How I Met Your Mother” from episode one, but it never merited much attention until it hit its stride, sometime mid-way through the first season. I’d even threatened, for a few months, to jerk it from my TiVo’s rotation: As the character’s were finding their voice, it was a lackluster, overly traditional effort stuffed with conventional sitcom characters: doofus, idealistic straight man Ted Mosby (Josh Radner); the career-minded main love interest, Robin (Cobie Smulders); Ted’s sort of dumb roommate, Marshall (Jason Segal); Marshall’s flighty girlfriend, Lily (Alyson Hannigan); and, of course, Barney (Neil Patrick Harris) played the wacky neighbor role, here as a sleazy, corporate whoring ladies’ man who, eventually, manages to be charismatic despite himself. It was another in a long-line of “Friends” knock-offs: twenty-something white-bread New Yorkers with apartments that were clearly above their means (except for Barney) and jokes that were typically gendered. Only instead of meeting at Central Perk, this group of friends met regularly in a bar. And it was all wrapped around a somewhat flimsy premise, that Ted was narrating from the future, a future in which he was Bob Saget (poor bastard).
Initially, it was a vanilla, completely inoffensive sitcom that did its damndest to extract one or two cheap laughs per episode, a suitable counterpart to its lead-in, “Everybody Loves Raymond,” only for a younger, dating world. But, there was just enough “Wonder Years” nostalgia in my tank to keep me watching, and that patience paid off handsomely. To be sure, “HIMYM” isn’t the best show on television, nor does it even rank as the best sitcom currently on a network (I’d place it fourth, behind three of the four NBC Thursday nighters), but something happened in episode 13 of season one to make it not only one of the most watchable shows on TV, but one of the most consistently funny. I can’t place my finger on it, exactly, but during Victoria’s story arc — the wedding-cake maker who Ted dated briefly — “How I Met Your Mother” not only suddenly found its heart, but the situations became more familiar and less contrived and with that familiarity, the humor finally followed. In fact, the end of episode 13, when Ted discovers “Buttercup” in a bakery, was as touching and heartfelt — if you excuse my lame point of reference — as the prom video scene in “Friends.” After that, “Mother” became a better-than-average hybrid of three of the best sitcoms ever: “Friends,” “Wonder Years,” and “Seinfeld,” only it lacked the misanthropy of the latter. In fact, this is the show that the American version of “Coupling” wanted to be and, indeed, “The Slap Bet” — where we discover that Robin was a minor Canadian teen idol (“Every-body come and play /throw every last care away / Let’s Go to the Mall. Today!”) — rivals some of the best episodes of even “Seinfeld.” And you know what else? “How I Met Your Mother” is probably the most romantic sitcom I’ve ever seen, whether it’s dealing with Marshall and Lily’s crazy co-dependent relationship or Ted and Robin’s ill-fated courtship, which is the closest thing I’ve seen to Kevin and Winnie since the puberty stick ruined Fred Savage.
And let’s not forget Swarley — Neil Patrick Harris is “HIMYM’s” scene stealer, basically Vince Vaughn’s Swingers character for the small screen. Indeed, what looked like a silly piece of stunt-casting — hiring Doogie Howser to get a few Gen-Xers to watch — has turned into a brilliant move; the man has one joke, but 3,000 variations of it, and, thanks to NPH, they’re all flippin’ hilarious. And no matter how smooshy or sentimental the show can sometimes get, Barney always brings the caddish misogynistic levity. He really is the ultimate wingman.
Narratively speaking, the show also had one major thing going for it: From the very beginning, Saget told us that Robin would not end up being the mother of Ted’s children. And, while over the course of the last two seasons as Ted and Robin seemed more and more perfect for one another, I’ve tried to find a loophole to that assertion, the end of season two knocked me back into reality. Sadly, during the lead up to Marshall and Lily’s wedding, Robin and Ted ultimately and amicably broke up, a plot turn that felt like a stiff blow to the sternum. And the fact that you knew it was coming somehow made it all the more heartbreaking. But, it was also a brave move on the part of the show’s writers, to split apart Ross and Rachel before they devolved into, well, Ross and Rachel. And it kept us all intrigued for two full seasons, awaiting our first glimpse of the woman who Ted would eventually marry.
Which brings us, of course, to last night’s episode — the first of the third season. It picks up two weeks after Robin and Ted’s break-up, when Robin returns from Argentina with a new boyfriend, Gael (Enrique Eglesias) — the “Cadillac of rebound guys.” Doing so prompts another common sitcom cliché, though “HIMYM” always gives it new life, this time by providing a new turn of phrase to the show’s arsenal: “To win the break-up.” Ted is put into an early hole when Robin gives him the “I just want to make sure you’re okay with this” line, to which Ted counters by making out with the tattooed, bad-girl version of Mandy Moore (to steal a line from John: “That hair! Those eyes!” Those tattooes!), who convinces a drunken Ted to get a tattoo, a.k.a., a “Tramp Stamp. Ho-Tag. Ass Antlers. Panama City License Plate.” Mandy Moore’s character is also the female version of Barney, which makes her his arch-nemesis, thus providing a small look at Barney’s vulnerability and his kryptonite: Chick sport fuckers.
All in all, it was another typically awesome episode of “How I Met Your Mother,” replete with killer new terminology (Tramp Stamp!) and, as always, it mined its humor from a place that feels familiar to people of a certain age: The humiliation of their friends (such a common motif in my own life). And, of course, it ends on a nostalgic high note, suggesting that Ted and Robin will make it out of their break-up war as friends and, alas, offering the smallest glimpse of the mother of Ted’s children’s, the Woman in the Yellow Umbrella (I rewatched it six times trying to catch a peek of her actual face, to no avail). And best of all, last night’s episode ended with another nod to the slap bet (the next slap looks to take place on November 19th, the best sweeps stunt since Wayne Brady).
And what I love about this episode and “How I Met Your Mother” in general is that it’s not “event TV”; it’s a show that manages to stay under the radar just enough that expectations aren’t built particularly high (I love “The Office,” but how the hell do you top last season’s finale?). And, without those lofty expectations, “HIMYM” never disappoints. It’s simply a smart and surprisingly enjoyable 22-minutes, week in and week out.
Now, let’s go to the mall. Today!
Dustin Rowles is the publisher of Pajiba. He lives with his wife and son in Ithaca, New York. You may email him, or leave a comment below.