Tuesday, February 27, 2007

"My spectacles!": How I Met Your Mother

I wasn't sure how How I Met Your Mother would do a show about a beloved car in New York City. If the show were set in the Midwest or the South or Los Angeles or something, sure, but New York is one of the most public transit-y of public-transit-y cities. Certainly people there own cars and use them from time to time, but from most accounts, the subway and other mass transit systems are the way to go.

But HIMYM, as it does, found a way of tying in all of the characters to Marshall's Fiero, which hit a pothole and died at 199,999.3 miles, just short of Marshall's personal goal. One of the best things about Mother's flashback-laden episodes (and the ones that play with structure) is the way they bury jokes in earlier scenes that will only make sense on the second go-round or in retrospect. The first scene, featuring Ted and Marshall driving somewhere, was full of jokes that only made sense when we knew the full history of the Fiero (the missing cigars, The Proclaimers, etc.), and that made the scene a nice little preview of what was to come.

On the other hand, this way with bending time may be one of the reasons Mother isn't a bigger hit than it is (the chief among them being the network it's on and the audience it's pitched to). Because the early scenes are chock-full o' punchlines that will only make sense with the setup, which comes later (effectively making the setup the punchline), the show's "joke momentum" only really gets rolling about a third of the way into an episode. The writers try to fix this with one-liners, but their one-liners are never as strong as their character-based stuff, so it often feels like it takes a while to get an episode going (when rewatching the first season on DVD, I was struck by how much many episodes were improved by knowing the setups to the punchlines). This curious structure makes HIMYM one of the most delightful shows on television if you can get into its groove, but if you can't figure it out, it must be baffling.

If you are in the groove though, it can be quite funny. I don't think Libby laughed harder at anything this television season that wasn't Paul Reubens in 30 Rock when Barney took his driving lesson from Ted and had a "crash" into a bush after nearly running over a dog (trust me, it was funnier than it sounds). And the fact that Robin knew exactly what to do to clean up spilled Thai food was funny too, especially with the window breaking payoff.

But I especially liked how The Proclaimers "500 Miles" wove through the episode (the cassingle got stuck in Marshall's player), especially since a younger, dorkier me thought that was the coolest song ever. It tied together the young uber-dork Marshall with college Marshall (and pseudo-intellectual Ted, who was hilarious) and even Robin and Lily's adventure. It was the best kind of runner -- never calling too much attention to itself, but hilarious every time, especially when the song came back around to being good again.

Though not a lot happened in this episode, it was consistently funny, and it had strong ensemble work (particularly liked the ever-growing pile of cranes and Barney saying, "Aw, nurtz"). That means it was yet another solid episode of one of TV's most consistent shows.

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