SPOILER ALERT: Before you read this post, get your flail and watch last night’s How I Met Your Mother.
“What’s so great about change?” With that, Marshall enunciated the philosophy of 99% of the sitcoms in TV history. The traditional sitcom despises change. Characters have life-changing experiences, then they’re reversed within a half hour, so life can go on as we’ve known it. Change, if it comes, comes gradually, preferably toward the end of the show’s run, often in the form of suddenly-adopted cousins or funny aliens. But by and large, a traditional sitcom episode ends with a comforting return to the status quo ante, because traditional sitcom audiences want to see their favorite characters do the same funny things over and over.
How I Met Your Mother was a different kind of sitcom from the get-go, because it was predicated on a change: Ted would meet the mother of his children, get married and grow up. HIMYM has handled being a different kind of sitcom by jumping around in time, giving us glimpses of the future, and generally making the change itself the constant that audiences can rely on.
Last night’s episode hung a light on the fact that HIMYM is a sitcom where things change, but it took a disappointingly sitcommy route to get there. If there’s a single central baseline definition of Ted’s character, for instance, it’s that (unlike so many sitcom single guys) he not only is not afraid of commitment, he badly wants it.
Was it totally implausible for him to get cold feet over moving in with Stella? No. Was it implausible for him to get cold feet the way typical sitcom guys do—by facing the prospect of losing all his cool guy stuff, and suddenly, gleefully, deciding to reject a central element of his being? Yes. And it was just as implausible, and sitcommy, for him to have a Sudden Change of Heart upon seeing Barney, in his 80-year-old makeup, hammering home the idea that not to change makes you look pathetic. After over three years, I just don’t buy that the Ted we know would flutter in the wind like this—nor, for that matter, that Marshall, Lily and Robin would all conveniently rethink their own life changes. It seemed like an episode—rarely for HIMYM—where the story was driven by where the story needed to go, and not by who the characters are.
Oh, and as long as I’m being cranky: the show always has to walk a fine line with Barney, but is conning a really stupid woman into having sex with him that charming? It was great to get an excuse to see Neil Patrick Harris play elderly time traveler, but that’s all it was—an excuse.
On the plus side, I did enjoy Drunk Supercanadian Robin. That’ll teach me to play shinny with the Canucks! Also the various intervention scenes, starting with Barney offering his alcohol-challenged friend a bottle of booze. I’m not positive, but it looked like the same familiar green bottle Duck received a case of the other night on Mad Men, and if so, what a product placement. Tanqueray: the official gin of falling off the wagon!