Tuesday, October 22, 2013

How I Met Your Mother Ep. 9.06 Review: Choose Wisely

Rating:  ***

Warning:  If you haven't seen this week's episode then be warned I will be freely discussing the plot and events.

How I Met Your Mother has been one of those shows that has danced near the territory of "shows I'm still watching because I've been tuning in for so long it is as natural as brushing my teeth, except I really do brush more than once a week."  There have been episodes that it felt like the writers got trapped into a vortex and just recycled old storylines or had the characters drift into almost parodies of their former self.  The worst crime was that the lead character, Ted, became an absolute bore and sometimes even an annoying ass, which led to me not even caring a little about the inevitable reveal of his future wife.  Considering the show is about his eventual meeting with her, I shouldn't be overwhelmed with feelings of apathy over his storyline.

My lack of interest in Ted continued last season, even though admittedly the show as a whole got back on track.  It has been a long while since I've had any interest in a Ted storyline, probably not since his relationship with the Captain's wife, Zoey.  This is probably part of the reason that it didn't bother me that Ted's wife was revealed last year and she turned out to be played by a relative unknown.  The internet was buzzing with disdain over the choice, but at that point, I cared far more about the stories involving Barney, Robin, Marshall, and Lily.

Even if I was invested in Ted's stories, I don't think I'd have been disappointed with Cristin Milioti as the title character, Mother.  After 8 seasons of build-up, there was absolutely no way any major actor was going to satisfy as the choice of the mother.  It is also an issue of them wanting her to be a fairly major part of this final season, and it would have been harder to get a big name for the entire run.  Though it has actually been a few episodes since we've seen Milioti, so her actual time on the show may be shorter than many first believed.  I've liked her initial set of appearances, and for the first time in several seasons, I look forward to Ted meeting his future wife.

I also think the format of jumping ahead to see Ted occasionally with his wife is a solid creative decision.  I know there are some that wanted the first onscreen appearance between Ted and his wife to be the actual first meeting.  For some the romantic vision was that it would be the very final scene of the series, but would obviously leave you in the tough spot of not caring one bit about the future wife and mother.  There had been talk they'd meet at the end of a season and then the final stretch of episodes would be the beginning of their relationship.  But this show is about Ted meeting his wife for the first time -- it says so in the title.  I always thought it was a little silly to then have an entire season devoted to their courting.  Most TV series relationships derail once the chase is over, which is why most couples end up separated before even their first season together ends.  Even if they have a great chemistry the fact is Ted's relationship with his future wife is an entirely different kind of show and would drift away from this show's original premise and even purpose.  It is about one hopeless romantic's journey to find happiness and contentment, and a lot of that is lost if he is in a relationship that we know ends up being his happy ever after.

The jumps into the future where we see small glimpses of his wife are a far better approach.  It appeases those who do want to see the couple together, but also stick to the actual premise of the show.  Some of the mystery is gone anyway, considering we know who the mother is now.  The intrigue is seeing how it all comes together and what happens to Ted's friends.  As I said before, that is the people I care about more now anyway.

I do have to say that the final stretch has suddenly made Ted a little more stomachable this season.  He still is melodramatic and whiney, but he at least seems less self-evolved and actually apart of his friend's lives again.  It helps that they appear to all be stuck at a resort for the entirety of the season, and so they cross paths much more often (with the exception of Marshall who I wonder if he will not arrive until the finale).  But his pining over Robin has obviously not been wrapped up yet even though we've been spared it this week.  The bracelet will obviously need to make an appearance and Ted has one more grand gesture left in him while the audience rolls their eyes.  I realize Robin is the central connection to Ted discovering the mother, which is why she was introduced way back in the series premiere.  We've played this "Ted tried to win back Robin, and she turned him down, and then he is broken hearted" game several times in this series.  It is way past being dramatic or touching or emotional.  Hopefully, the writers have some fresh ideas for when the time comes to finally put that storyline out to the pasture.  For now, I'm happy to be spared a "Ted mopes about Robin and vows to win her heart" episode.

Instead, How I Met Your Mother grabs another wonderfully iconic character from the '80s with the spooky knight in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade following Ted around in ghost form and haunting him constantly with "you've chosen poorly."  In one case he reaffirmed what we all know about Ted by letting everyone know he "tipped poorly" too.  Willy Zabka showing up to the Barney's bachelor party and for a brief time being his best man was still the best homage to the '80s, but the knight gag shows that HIMYM is still the master of the show long running joke.  Since I've already brought up the Last Crusade gag, I do need to mention I got a rather powerful giggle out of the "holy grail of cups" line.  This pop culture reference to Indiana Jones was far funnier and well done than the lame rehash I had to suffer through a few weeks ago when I needed to review UHF (thanks a lot, Scott).

On top of the knight mocking Ted for every poor decision, his storyline with the constantly crying girl was a fun one.  Anna Camp was terrific as the always crying Cassie, even if she didn't have much to do other than weep about her lost relationship.  It was a gag that was far more entertaining than I could possibly explain in written form, and it was her presence that made it work -- along with the Ghost Knight, of course.  The interesting part of the storyline is that on the surface it made for a disastrous weekend, as Ted now must scrap his plans of a one night fling.  Cassie isn't in a spot to provide such fun, but she has already been established in all the guest's mind as his date.  With a little insight provided by Old Ted the narrator, we know now that this seeming disaster is what set him up to be available to date who became the love of his life.  Hindsight can be a wonderful thing.  I look back at a past relationship that I thought was an absolute horror and stopped me from having a great deal of fun at the time.  Because of the break-up that at the time crushed me, I ended up taking a job that lead to meeting my wife, who is responsible for the majority of amazing things currently in my life.  Hindsight can be a great healer of some deep wounds when you realize what those pains have led to.

Of course, that is sort of the entire message of this series, I think.  This small storyline with Cassie helped magnify that theme and allowed for the comedy to actually have a bit of resonance.  HIMYM really is at its best when it serves up its crazy goofball comedy but has a nice underlying message about the importance of perspective, friendship, and attitude.

Another thing I was glad to see missing this episode was a fight between Barney and Robin.  I love the chemistry between Cobie Smulders and Neil Patrick Harris, but the "we love each other -- nope just kidding -- nope, just kidding about that" nature of their character's relationship has really hampered my desire to see the two characters remain together.  They're both borderline insane, and treat relationships like it is still high school, and maybe it makes for some laughs but sucks the authenticity out of it.  The frustrating part is they sometimes have some really great episodes together, and remind us why we wanted them together in the first place.  It was nice to see them actually support each other this week and hopefully, this becomes a regular thing.

Sure, I understand the show is trying to play up the cold-feet aspect.  They are also both supposed to be damaged goods.  The two characters major storylines have been about how bad they are in relationships.  We're also supposed to believe things are different between them, and that there is a destiny surrounding these two.  But I also realize they're trying to make us doubt if they will actually get married to each other.  At this point, if they want a break-up to have any impact then they need to make them happy with each other for now.  Otherwise, it has been such a bumpy road that the only real option to avoid a torrential backlash from fans is to have them actually get married.  When it has been this painful, you need a happy resolution -- especially in a comedy about love.  I'm pretty sure they will get married, but it will likely be far less satisfying if the writers didn't break them up a billion times before now (except I'm pretty sure they've only broken up once and rejected each other once, but still all the fighting makes it seem like more).

I got a kick out of them stealing Lily and Marshall's getting together story, and it was even funnier to see them steal the nicknames when they obviously don't fit: "Barnmellow" and "Robin-pad."  The really great thing about the storyline is that instead of winning over the priest, they ended up killing him with their real sordid story of how they got together along with all the places they had sex.  An old person dying isn't really original, but it worked here since most shows would have tried to squeeze in a scene where the priest reaffirms they're meant for each other.  This is the type of stuff I want to see Robin and Barney doing -- killing old people with their nasty talk.  Or something equally funny.

We also now have a storyline over who will be the new priest.  I have a feeling this is where the star cameo will come in.  Unless they opt to go with the "real" Karate Kid.  Speaking of brewing storylines, Barney's mom still needs to get her revenge on Robin, and that could possibly tie into this storyline.  I love it when I actually have things that I don't know what will happen and I eagerly look forward to finding out.  This season has been hitting a fine groove even when they've occasionally resorted to digging up past storylines.

The big upcoming story is going to be Lily's discovery that Marshall took a position as a judge.  Unless of course we've been suckered with a false cliffhanger, and Sherri Shepherd's Daphne character was just stringing along Marshal.  At this point, the Marshall character needs some major storylines for the season other than racing to the wedding, and the aftermath of Lily's discovery should last a few episodes at least.  I'll assume she does know the actual truth.

Speaking of Sherri Shepherd, where has she been all my life?  Apparently, in a bunch of shows that I never watched.  She has been fantastic this season, and I've been loving the bickering with Marshall.  I hope it does take the whole season to get to New York, because she needs to stick around this season as long as possible.  I fear she will likely be wrapping up soon enough.  The role playing over how Marshall should break the news to Lilly was a blast, and loved hearing Daphne's words come out of Lily's mouth.  It was great how obsessed Daphne made Lily over wanting to sleep with Marshall and also how she ripped into Marshall for breaking character.  I also agree with Daphne that Lily totally would say "what the damn hell."  I actually hope that is the very first thing we hear Lily say in the next episode.

I have my grievances with this show.  I really hope they stick with this being the final season, because I feel they've stretched out the concept as far as it can go.  They do risk recycling storylines quite often.  This has been a great final season so far.  The episode was not only a great stand-alone, but has set up some tasty storylines for the future.

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