How I Met Your Mother: "Say Cheese"
B+

How I Met Your Mother: "Say Cheese"

B+

How I Met Your Mother

"Say Cheese"

Season 5, Episode 18

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I'm not particularly anal about the events I plan, nor about those in which I am the guest of honor.  I let my mother plan most of my wedding.  When Noel proposed to me, I reciprocated by giving him socks and rechargeable batteries, then went to bed with a horrible cold.  The phrase "you've ruined my birthday" is unlikely to pass my lips.  But I have to say that I'm with Lily on tonight's friendship dilemma.  Outsiders should not be brought to gatherings celebrating longstanding groups of intimate friends.  Or as Lily puts it while posing another of her infamous group photos without Ted's date, "I'm not going to let another of your dumb skanks ruin my precious memories!"

In the HIMYM taxonomy, tonight's episode was about 50% Identify and Dissect Common Relationship Situation, 50% Flash Back To Multiple Occasions In Relationship History.  I tend to like episodes of the second type better than the first.  Even though it seemed the flashbacks weren't quite as nimble and nifty as they should have been, I quite liked the way it paid off.  And the way the writers integrated the two halves through the trope of photography and photo albums deserves respect.  Besides, Lily is completely believable as the person who has to document every event with a photo that flattens out all the rough edges and complexities of the moment in a fake group grin.

So let's talk random skanks.  Ted brings Amanda, a chef whose hair he found in his soup a week ago ("They call me the Shedder at work," she reports), to Marshall's black tie birthday celebration of all things Lily.  She can't participate in Marshall's Lilial Pursuit party game, and the cake she makes says "Happy 42nd Birthday Lori." Turns out this is a pattern, and Lily has the group photos to prove it.  "Let's take a walk down Random Skank Lane," she says, dragging out the photo albums.  "Or we could just keep strolling down Best Birthday Ever Avenue!" Marshall suggests, trying to salvage Lily's big day.  (Which he planned to culminate in the "Happy happy Lilyday!" song, complete with Barney's baritone "She's cuuuute!" and Robin's falsetto "And niiiiice!" harmonies.)

What Ted characterizes as a search for true love has, over the years, imposed on his friends rather significantly. Not only have his girlfriends of the moment appeared in photos commemorating Robin's appendix surgery and the time Slash showed up at MacLaren's, but Marshall has been stuck with what he characterizes as "girlfriend cleanup" when they didn't, in fact, turn out to be The One.  Perhaps the worst offense was Karen, the girl Ted impulsively brought along on Marshall's trip to Paris to visit studying-abroad Lily, then fought with during the whole trip, ruining Marshall and Lily's plans to reunite in the most romantic city on earth.  (Although Strawberry, the vegetarian Ted brought to the group's anniversary celebration at a hibachi restaurant, runs a close second.)

But maybe it's not Ted's insensitivity to the group dynamic that's the meaning of his random skank parade.  Maybe he's just an inclusive, inviting person.  Robin started as a random skank, after all.  ("She's the skanky exception, not the skanky rule," Lily protests.  "I'm crying a little bit," Robin observes.)  And when Lily remembers how her most precious group photo -- the one with her, Ted, and Marshall together for the first time -- originated in Ted's asking her into his and Marshall's special moment, she has a change of heart about Amanda, the cake-making random skank.  Who, predictably, Ted can't remember the name of in the epilogue flash-forward.  Where I expected to get a little mother hint, but didn't ... or did I miss something?  And speaking of searching for meaning, Lily with the disposable camera to her eye in the title sequence suddenly takes on a whole new significance.  "I'm going for timeless here!" she says.  What an interesting statement in a show about the moments of change that set everything in stone for the future -- the ones we can't recognize until they've already happened.

Stray observations:

  • Let me amend those percentages above.  "Say Cheese" was at least 25% Tenuously Connected Running Gags, such as Marshall's eyes being closed in every photo and Barney's impeccable posing.  Are we to gather that in the future Barney loses his camera-fu?  Or is he vulnerable to bad pictures without his suit coat?
  • If you love Marshall, this was a great episode for you.  From Spanish Interlude themed breakfast in bed to the Lily Day song (did you notice NPH unable to stop from cracking up as Marshall was teaching Robin her part?), Marshall really put a bow on it tonight.  Best line: "My balls were bleu!  Bleu!!"
  • "I believe Ted was mouthing the word 'yellow' ... which also would have been wrong."
  • "You were supposed to bring a cheescake, but instead you brought two grocery bags and a woman we've never seen before."
  • Robin's fun fact: "Each year my mother has Easter tea with her friend Bunny. ... Okay, not that fun."
  • Instead of introducing the vegetarian as Strawberry, Ted should have just said "This is the disgusting smelly hippie I'm dating."
  • "Is your thing that you had sex with your philosophy professor last night?  Because that's my thing."

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