Sunday, June 7, 2009

How I Met Your Mother: Flight-Suit Up!

I've been a big fan of How I Met Your Mother for a few years now. It started when I saw a commercial in which Neil Patrick Harris gave Jason Segal a hypothetical high five. Then I got sick and started playing with Bit Torrent, and the rest is blissful post-Friends era sitcom history. I say that as a diehard Friends fan, mind you--my sisters and I can have entire conversations just quoting that show, although more recently we've begun to swerve into Office territory as well. But part of what's wonderful about HIMYM is that it is sort of a post-Friends Friends. Similar premise--group of friends sharing love, laughs, and adventures in New York City--albeit with a creative twist, and also Neil Patrick Harris. But the characters on HIMYM are a bit more grounded--no one here has (or would) "married a lesbian, fell in love with a gay ice dancer, left a man at the altar, threw a girl's wooden leg in a fire, [or] live in a box!" That's not to say they're not ridiculous--it's a sitcom! But the ridiculous is mainly extensions of reality, more so than many sitcoms.

And it is delightful and delicious (much like learning and C.J. Cregg).

The basic premise, beyond the Friends, is that Ted, several decades in the future, decides and proceeds to tell his two teenage children how their parents met, in more detail than anyone could ever want. There's a method to the madness, it turns out--if Ted hadn't met Robin, in the first episode, a series of events that leads him to meet the mother (which, the Season 4 finale implied, may well finally happen in Season 5) would likely have been averted (because how would he have met Tony?) and thus he starts from the very, very beginning. But there are plenty of twists along the way, not to mention some creative uses of the show's flashback format, like Ted's mixing up chronology and editing the R-rated language.

For those of you not up to speed on this awesome (or, dare I say, LEGENDARY) bit of television, get there! And since, like much good television, it's so much about the characters, I will give you five and a half reasons why you should be watching. Suit up!


Robin Scherbatsky, mocking local television journalism with grace and skill Joey Tribbiani could only wish for. She's a refreshing sitcom woman--almost Joey-like in places with her aversion to committed relationships but without being particularly promiscuous in the process. She also has a background as a Canadian bubblegum-pop star while subscribing to "Guns & Ammo" and exhibiting an impressive knowledge of cigars. It's fun to watch her easily become one of the boys just as often as she's one of the girls, and the moments of in between are what get you most, as she's so often unsure of how to balance romance with her desire to travel and advance in her career field. I'm a faithful canon shipper (Buffy loves Angel, people, did you even watch "Chosen"?) so despite the first two seasons I never latched onto Robin's relationship with Ted as much as some, as it's clear from the pilot they're not going to end up together. But I loved watching the two of them play off each other and juggle their feelings for each other alongside the different desires and priorities they both voices from early on. Robin's just-begun *something* with Barney has a lot of potential to be the next Monica/Chandler--the unexpected couple that just sort of happens and works--but with even less of a mutual idea of how 'normal' relationships should work. In a strange way, they're sort of great for each other.

Quote: "Guideline for Harmonious Living #2: Marijuana is illegal in the United States, yes, even when baked into a blueberry muffin, that someone might mistakenly eat for breakfast, before leaving for their job as a TV newscaster. 'This just in, look at my hand, how weird is my hand?' is not an appropriate thing to say on the air."

Marshall Eriksen, an evolved John Dorian of sorts. Though currently a corporate lawyer with degrees from Wesleyan and Columbia, Marshall is definitely the goofball and the heart of the group. He's reasonably manly (6'4", from Minnesota, former slam-dunk champion) but lives up to his wife Lily's nickname for him, "Marshmallow," with his affection for nightshirts, "Star Wars," the Loch Ness Monster, and Lily, to say nothing of his absolute conviction that robots will eventually overcome us all and belief in ghosts. He serves as the 'angel' on Ted's shoulder in many cases, pointing out when his behavior (as in "No Tomorrow") starts to border on troubling and reminding him (often just by example) of how important and great romance and love can be. After all, his proposing to Lily is what kicks off Ted's roundabout search for the mother of his children. You mostly want to hug this guy, and possibly sing a duet with him. It's also worth speculating when he'll use the remainder of the slaps he owes Barney from their Season 2 "Slap Bet." (He had five and has used three.)

Quote: "Ted, the only people in the universe who haven't seen Star Wars are the characters in Star Wars, 'cause they lived them, Ted. They lived the Star Wars!"

Lily Aldrin, for reasons beyond her being Willow Rosenberg, or the band chick from "American Pie," or relatable because I've been with my dear boyfriend since mid-freshman year of college and we're sort of 'that couple,' too, though with fewer nicknames and adorable rituals (pity, that). She provides a bit of a bumper on the craziness of the group, and is often the "mom," counseling those she's not married to (and sometimes those she is) on various aspects of their lives, mostly romantic. As a kindergarten teacher, she is by turns idealistic bordering of hippie-ish and cynical about her job; in one scene she'll want a beer after having been peed on during the day, and later she'll be encouraging her little angels to soar. That said, Lily, like Robin, can be one of the boys and tends to overshare about her and Marshall's sex life, to amusing results. She's schemed to end a number of Ted' relationships (for his own good, of course). She's also a skilled beer-chugger and speed-eater, although attending therapy for shopping addiction might negate those. Though quirky as anyone else, she is in many ways, aside from Ted, the most believable character on the show. And she does have great clothes.

Quote: "Oh, but Ted, if you get rid of the butterfly [tramp stamp tattoo], how's everyone gonna know you're a stripper from Reno with daddy issues?"

Barney Stinson, the guy made of so much awesome that when he gets sick that's what comes out of his nose. Joey, Samantha, and various other sitcom characters over the years might have racked up their share of conquests, but no one does it like Barney, who among other things has played "Party School Bingo," custom-ordered a champion belt for having a threesome, and designed a bracket to discover which one-night-stand was badmouthing him all over New York. NPH goes at it with such lovable enthusiasm that you want to party with Barney, even when he's misleading drunk blondes into thinking he's from the future, a corporeal ghost, or in fact a lesbian. His humor is generally sarcastic and biting but the others have grown so used to it that they ignore him--which is all the funnier, such as when he spends most of an episode waiting in vain for a high five. Over the series, though, Barney has consistently proven his loyalty to his friends, by finding Robin a job or "teaching" Ted to live or ensuring that Marshall and Lily stay together despite his disdain for relationships and marriage. I found his one-night-stand with Robin in Season 3 a bit of a shocker and did not like it for "friendcest" reasons, but this season Barney/Robin has completely grown on me. I can't wait to see the awkwardness of their fledgling relationship, as they try (or don't) to reign in seeing other people, hide their situation from the others, tell Ted, and so forth. These are two generally confident people, and Barney in particular has rare moments of weakness. Of course, he also has an ex-truck-stop-hooker mother who's told him Bob Barker is his father, a tendency to order from The Sharper Image catalgoue when stressed, and a life-size Stormtrooper in his apartment, gotta love this guy. He's also played by Neil Patrick Harris, which should be enough reason to watch almost anything, including tonight's Tony Awards (also at 8pm on CBS, curiously enough).

And that leaves us with Ted Mosby, our fearless narrator searching for the mother of the title. I think he's like the guy many of us would like to meet (if we've not yet found our respective Marshalls): sweet and funny and together and a little dorky. And genuinely looking for love, although he's definitely not above something short and superficial given the right circumstances. It's of course through his point of view that we see the show's events unfold, and he's such a likable and well-rounded character that you root for him through every mistake and misguided date. You know this guy: even if you aren't crushing on him, you want to set him up with someone great and see them happy together. His narration is present just enough to guide the story and make the flashback format ever so effective; it rarely feels excessive or rote, as "Scrubs" sometimes gives you. He's armed with some wonderfully quirky quirks, like pronouncing words such as "encyclopedia" with extra pomposity, and he's prone to sweetly grand gestures of love, like tracking down a mystery girl he meets at a wedding, learning a rain dance, or, in a moment of the pilot episode that makes me ask, "How can you not love this show?", steals a blue French horn for his date. What's not to love?

Quote (regarding the aforementioned blue instrument): "For you, I would have stolen the whole orchestra."

The half is of course the mother in question. While not every episode directly concerns Ted's meeting her, he claims most of the events impact the person he "needed to become" to meet her. And in the Season 4 finale when everyone takes a literal and metaphorical leap of their own, it's finally almost clear how the events from the pilot episode onward are actually relevant in meeting her. And we know so little about her even now, besides that she went to the party in "No Tomorrow" and that there was a thing with a yellow umbrella. Having bought not one but two yellow umbrellas because of that revelation, I am psyched for Season 5. As Barney says, "It's going to be legen--wait for it, and I hope you're not lactose intolerant because the second half of the word is--dary!"

So, what's keeping you from watching? (Seriously, I caught up on this during my horrific sophomore year college semester from hell. No excuses. Play like a champion.)

2 Responses to “How I Met Your Mother: Flight-Suit Up!”

Deepa Dev said...

The timing of this post couldn't be more perfect - HIMYM is one of the shows I missed the train on, and my summer hiatus plan is to get all caught up... thanks for the post!

Enjoy! It's well worth hopping on the train, late or not. Especially given how we've still not met the titular mother.