I had a jolt when I read Tasha's wonderful interview with Neil Patrick Harris last week. In the comments, some readers expressed two particular thoughts that aren't really prevalent in the circles in which I've been traveling. Thought #1: "I've never really considered giving this How I Met Your Mother thing a try. Whaddya think, should I?" Thought #2: "That show is mediocre-to-crappy, and if there's anything good about it, which I doubt, it's limited to the inside of NPH's suits."
When you spend too much time in the insular community of a TV Club blog devoted to a show, you forget that there are people out there who don't agree or don't care. That's why I'm so happy to escape back into the warm embrace of the admiration society. If you feel the same, allow me to bid you welcome! If you don't, the rest of us are wondering why you are here. And HIMYM, you know we love you, but if you suck this season, party's over, alright?
I'd hate to kick HIMYM out of our little lovefest so quickly, so I'm glad to repeat that episode one of season four is a solid start. We begin well with a signature single-camera trope: Ted imagines all the different ways his proposal to Stella at the end of season three could have ended, including her revelation that the high school quarterback has already asked her ("What's up, Turd?" the jock says, ducking into the frame). But she says yes, as I suppose we all hoped she would -- otherwise the whole Stella setup would have seemed rather pointless. Now Ted needs to find out something more about her, to find out if they're compatible -- starting with whether she likes his favorite movie, Star Wars.
What? She hasn't seen it? And so we embark on the HIMYM version of a familiar sitcom trope: introducing your beloved to something that means a lot to you and yet is unlikely to be as important to her. I like the way this version plays out, especially at the end. Stella hates Star Wars, but commits to pretend differently to Ted for the rest of their lives. "Ted's lucky to have you," Marshall responds admiringly. It's probably true that much of compatibility is pretending that you are less bothered by some things about your partner than you are, or that you love something that is important to your partner much more than you do. But my friends, Stella is not the mother, and Ted's affection for her is something less than climactic.
Is love more like what Barney feels for Robin? I think that's what the show wants to assert. Love isn't wondering whether someone is right for you; it's being assaulted by a connection that you can't ignore. When Barney confesses his love to LIly and she sets him up on the Robin-date, the question for all of us is whether his sensitive-guy routine (his Ted impression, as he disparagingly identifies it) is the same kind of act as he puts on for his bimbo targets night after night. Frankly, the way Harris plays it, you can't tell. After all, Lily's just told him that Ted got to "hit that" by being a sensitive guy. Is Barney just trying to add Robin to his list of conquests?
But at the end of the evening -- perhaps under the influence of the secret she's confided in him about the job she's afraid to apply for -- he's ready to confess his love to her. Then Robin reveals that she considers it all an act -- a very good one, a useful one, a pleasant one to be around, but an act all the same. She's willing to pay him back by setting him up with Busty Waitress. And ... he doesn't say no.
Love may be what Barney is feeling, but he doesn't understand what Lily thinks love is about -- monogamy, for one thing, and a carefully cultivated relationship of care, for another. When Lily asks how he can be in love with Robin and keep on sleeping around, he responds with exasperation: "It's like you are asking me how an ant can carry twenty times its body weight but root beer floats are still delicious!" Will he learn? I have high hopes for this Barney-Robin pairing. I think it's one of the most interesting and involving developments in the show's history. The question is whether it will play out as Thought #2 above would have it -- standard-issue sitcom beats elevated only by a charismatic performer's presence -- or whether it will go to some place new and exciting enough to satisfy us true believers.
- Obligatory first episode comment on Cobie Smulders' wardrobe: That white dress with the yellow under-bodice accent that she's wearing at the dinner with Barney? Total knockout.
- The laugh track is a little slow, a little off -- something we've seen plenty in the show's history, which seems to bother some people quite a bit. It's nice that it gives Harris the chance to add one more extra accent to his anti-Barney catchphrase: "De -- wait for it -- lightful. Delightful!"
- In fact, that whole scene at the restaurant is a real stunner. Weren't Robin's attempts to goad Barney into lewd comments well-played? And wasn't Barney's serene equanimity in response wonderful? "Insurance gonna cover that? Sometimes they don't, you know."
- The other explosive laugh came when Marshall popped up from behind the couch during Ted's screening of Star Wars: "This is off to a bad start."
- "He filled all my cavities, come ON, man!"