Tuesday, October 18, 2011

How I Met Your Mother - "Mystery vs. History"

Season 7, Episode 6
A sweet, solid episode – that’s also a rip-off

Back when How I Met Your Mother first premiered back in 2005, a good deal of the initial reviews focused on the show’s similarities with Friends, and that concept soon radiated out to the viewers, who would often compare the two, with some even claiming it was their “replacement” for the ended show. While comparing any show with 20-somethings living in New York to Friends has become the de facto move since, well, the beginning of Friends, back in 2005 it was especially pertinent. It had been only 16 months since Friends had left the airwaves, and given how many “try this show in its stead articles” that popped up in the following months of the show’s finale (I remember my hometown paper suggesting That 70s Show for reasons I still can’t understand), many people were still looking for such a show. But HIMYM always seemed aware of this context, as they avoided to the best of their ability plots that Friends had already covered, and even at times took to actively distancing the two shows from one another.

So it’s a bit surprising that tonight’s B-plot, which sees Kevin blow up at the group (minus Ted), in many ways mirrors Phoebe’s plot from “The One with the Boobies”, where she dates a psychologist, Roger, who ends up angry at the group for much the same reasons as Kevin. Considering the current precarious situation the show seems to find itself in creatively, it‘s a big of red flag that the show would so blatantly rip-off another. (And here is where someone with a much more encyclopedic knowledge of both shows tells me that I’m wrong, and that HIMYM has ripped off Friends – or any other show – before this point. Go ahead, I’m listening.)

But I think it’s important to take note of why this instance is different. Where Roger was an outside observer who’s angry blow up was merely a way for the show to write him out by the end of the episode, Kevin, who is a bit more ingrained with the group, speaks from a place that feels a bit more truthful and feels like it has more weight to it. To the first point, I love that Kevin is hanging out with the rest of the group; one of the biggest problem with Don in season five, and to a lesser extent Nora in the last season and the current one, is that the character was relegated to the sidelines and only appeared when it’s time for some significant development in the relationship, and that actually impeded viewer interest in the relationship that we were probably supposed to care about. Kevin however has appeared in three episodes straight now, and though I’m not sure how this arc will play out apart from an eventual breakup, I already more involved with this relationship than I have about any of Robin’s previous ones outside of Ted.

To the second, while I’m a bit let down that the story ended in such a predictable fashion – of course Kevin would eventually succumb to the desire to analyze the group – I think it hold important dramatic weight for what’s to come. When Ted met Victoria back in “The Ducky Tie”, the episode ended with her prophetic advice that the Ted/Robin/Barney relationship was too close to foster a healthy relationship for any one of them. And while we’re still fuzzy on what exactly that bit of foreshadowing means, seeing that the whole group is like that, that the way they function is off-pitting to outsiders gives up a pretty good idea. (Robin and Barney’s meddling also provided the two of a lot of face time with each other, but by now you know how I feel about that, so I’ll just note it and move on.)

In fact, the entire episode tonight was about the group above all else. That tonight’s B-plot meshed together so well with the A-plot of Ted’s date, and that what I’m calling the B-plot was in fact three different stories all smashed together as to be inextricable from each other is a testament to this fact. The show so often tells us that this group is like a tight-knit family, and having their lives interact on such a significant level helps to sell that fact, which is sometime hampered by those episodes that seeks to keep the group mostly apart.

But really, having the A-plot and the B-plot, both of which was similarly predictable, blend together really helped keep the episode afloat, as it no longer became about what each member of the group was doing so much as it became about how the groups actions affected everybody else. Having tied together at the end where Ted inadvertently helps to inform Marshall and Lilly of the sex of their child was perhaps a bit too on the nose, but it was also a very sweet moment, and one that I think the show has earned. We could complain about this episodes shortcomings some more, but this was an episode that was mostly funny, stuck to the ongoing storylines, had a theme that connected all the stories, and even advanced the plot just a little, and at this late age in the show, that’s a respectable enough feat.

Quotes, Etc:

Back when all I knew about this episode was that it was titled “Mystery vs. History”, I was all psyched to talk up the things I have been recently learning about in my grad classes, some of which will hopefully inform my thesis. I’m sad that I didn’t get to do that, but I have feeling that the universe saved the rest of you from a fate you probably wouldn’t have enjoyed.

Another (small) knock against the episode: I hate when show try to incorporate technology (not only does it make it seem as if they’re trying too hard to be cool, but it also dates the episode almost immediately), but I hate even more when a show uses a fake substitute for the real thing. Nothing takes me out of a show more than fake brands that are made just to avoid copyright infringement.

Also, how could Marshall and Lilly not tell how horrible that shade of yellow was with the first roll of the paint? Maybe I’m finely tuned to pick up on such matters because I helped my parents repaint a lot of room growing up, but I can’t have been the only one to recoil with an “ew” when that first line of paint was laid down.

On the predictability of Ted’s date: The episode spent so much time building up the horrible things that Janet could have been that it became clear that those possibilities couldn’t be topped in the horrible-ness department, and thus she would have to be awesome instead. But seriously, how terrible is the rest of the gang for not realizing that they shouldn’t ruin this awesome girl for Ted by spilling her secret? Have they not seen any romantic comedies featuring princes and the like?

Though his scenes were brief, Ray Wise continues to own it as Robin’s Father 2.0.

“Are we forgetting about a Mr. Furter, first name Frank?”

“That would have gotten a big laugh at a sports bar.”

“Hey you’ve got a knife, the forest is full of animals. What do you want, a buffet?”

“For most of last year, she was engaged…to a mini-fridge.”

“Here’s the mini-fridge meeting her parents.”

“Little Fran is sure to be the pariah of the playground in this hermaphroditic burlap sack.”

“They’re six minutes into the date. Ted’s probably already told her that he loves her!”

“By the way, you all look great, especially Robin.”

“This morning, I took an ampersand.” “Last summer, I actually dropped a deuce that looked like the number two.”

“I can actually hear the sound of her vagina being boarded up.”

“Twins! What’s the feel good movie of 1988?”

“This is in no way emotional extortion. You guys are great.”

“What? We figured out the Janet thing, I’m catching up on Canada.”

“But I donated blood once, though I fainted and they had to put most of it back in me.”

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