Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

How I Met Your Mother: "Last Cigarette Ever"

Illustration for article titled How I Met Your Mother: "Last Cigarette Ever"

I've never inhaled.  No, really.  Once for a band photo shoot I held an unlit cigarette in my mouth.  (I also wore a Waffle House uniform.)  But I'm a wimp when it comes to lifestyle drugs.  No hard liquor, no tobacco.  You don't even need to ask about anything else that might need to be ingested or smoked.

But I live in a college town, and smoking is still pretty cool around here.  My office is in the same building as the art department, so on any reasonably warm day I have to make my way through a cloud of artistic smokers while entering or exiting.  And while my friends these days wouldn't be caught dead smoking, I lived the single grad student life for many years.  Pretty much all my friends smoked at that time.  If I hadn't been afraid of things that might not taste good or burn going down or make me cough or turn me woozy, I probably would have joined them.

So I understand the gang's difficulty leaving smoking behind as yet another marker of their incomplete transformation into adults.  Witness the sharp montage of Marshall's "last cigarette ever!" proclamations, ending with 2007 (pirate version).  Witness their moralistic disapproval of each other's cigarette addictions, followed inevitably by the revelation that they themselves indulge.  ("We already have four Viking lamps and smoking kills," Lily complains when Marshall protests that he has to smoke to bond with his awful boss.)  They keep sliding back into habits they know have a limited lifespan.  But they still believe that they're on the way up, so these regressions are temporary.

Don Frank, on the other hand, has lost those illusions. He's on "Come On Get Up New York," meaning his career has plateaued and is starting to sink. He had that wonderful Labor Day weekend on network television, where there were actual dressing rooms and you didn't have to change clothes in the KFC bathroom across the street.  But just like that, they take it away from you and give it to someone who isn't "going through a bitter divorce" and doesn't "reek of gin."  Now he's on a show where the camera is being run by a chair that props it in place while Mike runs across the street for chicken.  When you give up ambition, you can really enjoy the illicit pleasures.  They're not holding you back from anything anymore.  They're pure enjoyment, as long as you don't mind everyone knowing about your loserdom.

So tonight was a show about excuses.  We can't go cold turkey into adulthood.  It's far too stressful.  We need to cling to the habits that ease the transition, like Robin doesn't want to stop smoking because her big interview with the mayor is coming up.  But the problem is that the transition doesn't come with a predefined end.  Something else has to happen to make you want adulthood more than you don't want stress.  That could be wanting a baby … having a baby … or getting serious about the person you want to marry.  (It could also be the arrival of 2013 or 2017.  Be watching for triggers during those years, guys.)

This was a sharp show, but not one driven by the characters themselves.  It's about their condition, not their personalities.  So it depends for its impact on that nice little button push at the end, where the show can use its well-developed premise to suggest that these people are experiencing something that's not over yet, but will be someday.  I like that almost as much as I like the list of times that Barney smokes (post-coital, when with Germans (sometimes overlaps with the first one), coital, birthdays, to annoy mom, pre-coital, on a sailboat, the day the Mets are mathematically eliminated every year, and pregnancy scares).


Stray observations:

  • Don Frank has hosted very early shows in Seattle, Cedar Rapids, and Beaverton.
  • Is this the first time the kids have spoken in the 2030 framing sequences?  (They said "What?!" four times.)
  • Interesting timing making a joke about Marshall pining for the McRib … just when they're bringing the McRib back.
  • Arthur Hobbs even fired What's His Face — and What's His Face was invaluable!
  • People who watch Robin's show: bedridden insomniacs, bums sleeping outside a department store window, people waiting in the ER where the TV's inside a cage so they can't change channels.
  • "It's summer vacation!"