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

How I Met Your Mother: “The Stamp Tramp”

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A couple of weeks ago, my DVR failed to record an episode of How I Met Your Mother, and I didn’t immediately spring to the Internet to resolve the issue. It was “The Autumn Of Breakups,” the episode whose airdate was postponed by Hurricane Sandy in such a way that a lot of DVRs thought of its debut broadcast as a repeat, and there was a time—even as recently as a year ago—when I would have been much quicker on the draw to find that episode. In the last year or so, HIMYM has felt not exactly tired to me, but as if the show reached its natural stopping point a while ago and has just kept rolling along. I still mostly enjoy the program—I like more episodes than I don’t like episodes—and I find dropping in on the main five characters to be like visiting old friends. I’ll probably miss having the Monday night mainstay when it ends either in the spring or in 2014 sometime. But it really does feel like a story that’s kept going past its sell-by date.

Now, of course, the natural response to this is that the show can’t have reached its stopping point. After all, Ted has yet to meet the mother. But at this juncture, the show is so obviously building to Ted meeting the mother in the last shot of the series that everything else has become like the stuff that’s in the way of getting to that last shot. Look at it this way: If we had seen Ted gazing upon some lovely brunette at the end of last season or the sixth season, and Bob Saget had said, “That’s how I met your mother!” and we’d seen the kids gasp in happiness for being released from their prison, would anything that’s happened since that hypothetical end have changed anything? The show ran out of story somewhere in season four, so it’s been delaying the end ever since. There have been great individual episodes in that time. There have been amazing story arcs. But for a show as purpose-driven as this one is, it can sometimes feel like it’s marching in place.

Here’s another thing: I’m not particularly someone who’s watching this show for its “mythology” or whatever the kids are calling it nowadays. The people who are really into the story of the mother seemed to get exasperated with the series long before I did. I was still a fairly staunch defender of the show through its sixth season (though even I will draw the line at whatever that Zoey storyline was supposed to be). And even in the first few episodes of this season—which have been rough, let’s face it, with their overreliance on too-broad comedy and leaning on misogynistic tropes—I’ve found some nice things to appreciate in every half hour. Still, the series is just less and less essential to me. I feel less attached to it. Maybe that’s why long-running TV shows die. The fanbase doesn’t stop watching en masse. It simply realizes that the show no longer figures as prominently as it once did in each fan’s life, and it becomes easier and easier to miss. Old shows don’t die. They drift away.

All of that said, “The Stamp Tramp” is one of the better half hours of the season, though it still features some of the show’s recent comedic problems. Barney being a cad got tired a long time ago, so I wasn’t relishing a storyline about him looking for a new strip club to frequent. But I liked that the story turned into a parody of LeBron James’ “Decision” special, as well as the lengthy courtship process by all of the teams that hoped to land the basketball superstar. Is it particularly timely? Not in the slightest. But I still enjoy Robin and Barney just hanging out without the threat of romance dangling over them, and this was a good storyline for Robin and Barney as friends, what with the cellphone glued to her ear and him enjoying her prowess at being his agent. I also found myself admiring the show for continuing to go to the gag about the “Golden Oldies” strip club, which starts out lame, then gradually gets funnier. By the end, when all of the old lady strippers dressed like they’d stepped out of a racy version of the Ziegfeld Follies show up, I was on board with a joke that made me roll my eyes at the start. That’s dedication.

The Ted and Lily storyline similarly isn’t bad, though it treads emotional ground the show’s been over many, many, many times in the past. (Then again, it’s in its eighth season, so this is inevitable.) Still, I enjoy exploring the Ted and Lily relationship, outside of the Ted-and-Marshall-and-Lily relationship, which has less material left to mine, and the moment when Lily sees the tape that reveals that Ted told 18-year-old Marshall—who was understandably nervous about having met a girl who could very well be the love of his life on the first day of college—to hold onto Lily because meeting her at 18 just meant he had even more time to spend with her coming up was very sweet. In general, the show goes to the “douche Ted” well a bit too often nowadays, but pretentious college Ted is still fun every once in a while, and I enjoyed seeing the origins of Doctor X. Plus, any storyline that revolves around Dishwalla’s “Counting Blue Cars” can’t be all bad, can it?

What elevates this episode from merely pleasant to downright enjoyable for me, though, is the Marshall storyline. As a critic who sometimes worries he goes too easy on things (I know, I know), finding out that Marshall has a tendency to simply stamp his approval on anything and everything he even mildly enjoys is a fun little story, and it’s the rare case, at least in recent years, of the show finding a way to do a clever little visual gag—in this case, the stamps appearing in midair—that doesn’t feel forced, like the show camping out on its glory days. This grows naturally out of who Marshall is as a character, and it also dovetails with some strong comedic work from Joe Manganiello as Brad, Marshall’s old friend, who’s now on a long con to get at the plans Marshall’s firm has for a case its prosecuting against a pharmaceutical company. (I also like that Marshall’s boss, who’d be easy enough to make a crusader type, is a huge jerk.) A handful of fun gags, a storyline that works because of its personal resonance for me, and some nice emotional moments? That’s HIMYM at its best nowadays, but there’s nothing wrong with it. Old shows are best at serving up comfort food, and this is a fine example of that form.


Stray observations:

  • I liked that Ted singles out the thing about “Counting Blue Cars” that everybody was singling out back in 1996, when it first hit national prominence. In the song, God is a “her.” Mind. Blown. (I guarantee this is pretty much all anyone remembers about that song. Oh, and the chorus is really easy to sing along to, though the verses are non-descript.)
  • Marshall’s always wanted to know what it’s like to be a ghost. He doesn’t anymore. He’s also scared of the idea of a hot dog with a face, but who wouldn’t be?
  • I usually hate the show’s puns on “bro,” but for some reason, “bro-dium” made me smile.
  • I’m usually a big believer in shows telegraphing where they’re going, but that works best when the ending we see isn’t easily predicted from the storyline we’re in at the beginning. (See also: Breaking Bad, season two; the flash-forward season of Lost.) Thus, Barney and Robin kissing fails to have as much dramatic impact as it could, because, well, we all know where this is going, right down to the beats the show is going to use to get there.
  • Donna is at a conference and graciously allowed me to fill in. She’ll be back next week.