Monday, March 17, 2008

"I'm awesome.": How I Met Your Mother and the return of TV

For a variety of reasons, I haven't really been active around here since the top 100 list, but part of that is that TV (or any, really) criticism is a grind, and if you're not cranking it out all the time, you get out of your rhythm, and it's easy to be lazy and. . .(well, to be honest, I was cranking it out somewhere and that contributed to my absence here as well, but circumstances intervened -- I'll tell ya about it sometime, but if you want to know, Google me). The strike made it harder and harder to do the kinds of things I wanted to do here, simply because you'd go through a whole week with no new episodes and then you'd hit "The Wire" or something, and you'd be gobsmacked by just trying to push the rock up the hill. I thought about doing In Treatment, but that show manages to somehow fall exactly in the gap between substantive enough for episode-by-episode commentary and not substantive enough for that sort of commentary (look for my thoughts, at least, at the end of the first season).

Oh, I know, poor me.

Anyway, I had sort of toyed with the idea of shutting this place down or turning it over to my faithful cohorts, but tonight, I watched a new How I Met Your Mother and a new Aliens in America, and I could feel the old wheels clicking into place. And, to be honest, neither episode was the height of televisual excellence, but both made for enjoyable time-waster TV -- stuff that makes you feel like you're not wasting your entire life, even as you're aware it could be slightly better. But you don't care. It's been a tough day at work, and all you want to do is watch Neil Patrick Harris mug it up.

Anyway, very abbreviated thoughts after the jump.

How I Met Your Mother's increasingly complicated mythology is becoming one of the things I like best about the show because it's creating something very similar to the seasons-spanning mysteries of Lost entirely out of the stuff of real life. I mean, granted, some of it's heightened (it is fiction), but as crazy mythological elements go, a yellow umbrella is no tropical polar bear. But that, as I've written before, is part of the appeal of the show -- how it gives the feel of great fiction to a mundane life.

Arthur Schopenhauer once wrote (and I'm paraphrasing) that on one's death bed, if he looks over his life, it will have the appearance of a novel, with puzzle pieces fitting together, characters entering at just the right time (or foreshadowing their future usefulness to the story) and so on and so on (and if I'm mangling this, please let me know -- I haven't read the essay since Philosophy 101, and I may have even misremembered the name of the philosopher). I think this was used as proof of God or some sort of divine purpose, but I really think it just proves that humans are conditioned to look for the narrative arc -- we've been constructing fantastical stories about the most mundane of events for our entire history as a species. Set someone down to watch the setting sun, then force them to stay up all night until it comes up again, and they could very well turn the thing into a little story -- the sun went away, but then it came back. The answer to the obvious question "Well, where did it go?" gave birth to whole types of myth.

This is all a long-winded way of saying that HIMYM is, increasingly in its third season, about the puzzle pieces. This is the sort of thing that has felled other shows (Lost, in its second season, when it became almost entirely ABOUT puzzle pieces, was unwatchable if you had no investment in anything going on from the prior season), but it works on HIMYM, I think, because the puzzle pieces are so universal -- falling in love, taking a terrible job, getting married, etc. Lost has rejiggered its formula successfully by forcing us to ask, "How do they get there from here?," but that's always been the question at the heart of HIMYM in the first place -- except, we don't really have a specifically designed "there" (we just know Lindsey Fonseca is there). But we don't need a specifically designed "there," really, because we know what "there" is. Ideally, we know it from our own lives or from our parents, but we all know that happy nuclear family in SOME way.

So I think it was the right decision to come back with a "mythology-heavy" episode, even if it wasn't as funny as some others (there were still more than enough solid laughs to put it nicely in the middle-of-the-pack for this season). The moment where Marshall upbraids Ted works both because we know these characters and understand them, and also because we've seen the yellow umbrella earlier, and we know that Marshall has just put us on the path that leads to the "there" we know is the final destination.

To that end, I hope that the show (if it gets renewed for another season or two) lets us get to know the mother, if not toward the end of this season, then early in the next. The reason the first half of season three felt like such a comedown to so many, I think, is because the show's been charting, roughly, Ted's rise from mopey singleton to happily married man. His brief stint as Barney 2.0 may have been necessary for the story's conclusion to feel earned, but at the same time, it felt very fundamentally like a regression on a show built on the precept that the characters can grow and change in relation to each other (especially) and can keep secrets and take on new responsibilities. Even if it was essential to the over-plot of the show, it felt like we were just delaying the inevitable, which is all in the title.

Wow, that was a lot to write about this show. Guess I wasn't as blocked as I thought I was.

Anyway, I really have nothing to say about Aliens in America, which may end up being the only canceled new show I truly miss (I sort of enjoyed Journeymans, but I'm not clamoring for its return). I do hope it comes back, but I don't see The CW paying the money to bring it back. Anyway, I just wanted to write about it because Larisa Oleynik (Alex Mack, y'all!) has somehow morphed from the "cute girl" of my early pubescence into a genuinely appealing comic actress. I don't know how or when this happened, but it's a welcome development. Someone get her and The Chlum a sitcom now!

Later this week: Thoughts on the last three Losts and the final three The Wires (if I can overcome my fear that all I'll have to say is what all of you have said already).

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