Monday, October 15, 2007

"It was a good week. We had fun, but it's over.": How I Met Your Mother

(Look! A photo from season one! Who knows why they didn't release shots from this episode. Oh well.)

This was the first outright miss of Mother's third season, the first episode that just didn't work that well, even with some very solid jokes. I think the problem simply comes from two plots that seem like they're heading in more interesting directions, then briefly turn into exactly the cliche plots you think they will be before heading off in slightly more interesting directions. But it's all too little, too late for the show, which never quite regains its footing. Instead, it feels like a lot of funny enough jokes surrounded by air.

Part of the problem is that the sound mix on the "live" studio audience is weirdly low. In the first season, the actors didn't quite know how to play to a studio audience that wasn't there, but now, they and the director have adjusted well enough to play off the audience that will eventually watch the show on tape (who then laugh and have those laughs recorded for the laught track). It's a tricky balance, but the show managed to finesse it just right through the back half of season one and in to season two. Now, though, the laugh mix seemed turned down a little low, so the actors seemed to be overacting, braying punchlines out into nothingness. I'll be the first to admit that a lot of these punchlines weren't the best, but the bad mix made them seem even lamer and buried some good jokes that could have been genuinely funny if the actors didn't feel like they were trying to sell them too hard. One of the benefits of a laugh track (and they DO exist) is that it makes a show feel like you're watching a live stage performance. Hammy acting on stage is acceptable in a comedy (if not encouraged). Without that audience braying, though, the show just ends up feeling a little forced and unfocused. (I was SURE I would be the only one to make this point, obsessed as I am with what makes a laugh track work and not work. Only now I find that The AV Club also made it. Ah well. Can't win 'em all.)

There were a lot of jokes that COULD have worked here (mostly dealing with Marshall's inability to realize that his "game" was pretty lame -- the revelation that he considers a Dr. Seuss hat the pinnacle of game was perfect and spot-on, insofar as character is concerned), but they got buried in plots that were boring as well. Robin dates a guy who has a kid and then realizes that his kid is kind of all right before she finds out the kid likes the guy's other girlfriend better? Aside from that resolution, I've seen that before. Ted and Barney make a bet to win over the heart of a girl they see in the bar? Seen that too, though the pleasingly twisty resolution almost made up for the lameness of the set-up (and the strange, strange sight gag of Barney wandering about the woman's body in miniature). Why not have Robin's dislike of kids be confirmed by the kid being a real little monster, then have her have to tell this to her boyfriend? This is also something I've seen before, but slightly less than the other twist on the story. And why not have a competition where Marshall's refusal to get involved made him the one with the mystique and therefore the most game. The writers are trying, gamely, to get Marshall involved in storylines and not just make him the old, married guy, but it's not quite working yet.

Not every show can work every week, and it's possible I'm just tired and cranky (I see that a lot of fans enjoyed this episode). But I think HIMYM's recent striving for its romantic comedy roots has undercut something that made the show work so well in the latter half of season one and all of season two -- it was an ensemble show about friends masquerading as a romantic comedy. The romance stuff (particularly Ted and Robin's dating travails) has never been the best thing about the show. The best thing about the show is getting to know the characters better and finding out new things about them. To that end, I'm happy next week's episode is Marshall-centric. I'm getting a little tired of seeing just how much Ted and Robin can screw up their love lives.

(Still, that Dr. Seuss hat. You've gotta give 'em props for that.)


David Sims said...

You are soooo wrong about this one. Sepinwall too. Yes, the plots were weak and boring - but the banter was just top-notch and Robin had some choice lines too. I really liked this one!

Todd said...

I hold HIMYM to a higher standard than most comedies, granted, but when the plot is uninteresting (and/or not all time-shifted and jumbly), I judge it as I would any other comedy -- how much did I laugh. I think I laughed out loud once? This is easily my least favorite HIMYM since season one.

David Sims said...

See, I laughed much. The plot was weak. But I laughed much, much.

*let's destroy grammar*