Season Five of How I Met Your Mother had some bright spots, but overall it did not match the level of quality of prior seasons. The relationship between Barney and Robin showed some promise, but after a year-long build up to the storyline, the payoff underwhelmed. While eventually we might enjoy a happy ending for these two, for the week-in week-out story of their lives, they’re both more interesting characters when they’re apart. Also, while occasionally enjoyable, the numerous celebrity cameos like Carrie Underwood, Jennifer Lopez, Alan Thicke, and Jim Nantz just felt overly gimmicky. Reliance on guest stars was a crutch The Simpsons used all too often in the midst of the show’s decline, and it may be a sign of the times for HIMYM. Similarly, while fun as standalone bits, scenes like Barney’s suit song, his and Ted’s dueling Sexless Inkeeper poems, and the sign at the Superbowl all smacked of the standard sitcom decline into cartoonishness and caricature at the expense of good characterization and storytelling. After five years, the main characters and basic premise of the show cannot, on their own, have the same impact they once did. It feels as though the writers have to resort to more and more outlandish stories and ploys to keep things fresh.
That said, Season 5 did have a number of enjoyable bits and storylines, and the fun of the underlying friendship between the main characters still continues to keep the show moving forward. One of the show’s best qualities is its ability to incorporate the quirky and creative into its episodes. The parallel blind date from “Double Date,” the “but um” drinking game from “Jenkins,” Barney’s inability to take a bad picture in “Say Cheese,” and the skewering take on romantic comedies in “The Wedding Bride” were all highlights. The season also managed to get back to some nice, down-to-earth topics amidst the wackiness. Ted and Marshall attempting to maintain their “bro-ness” despite Marshall’s married life felt like a true to life issue resolved in a entertaining, self-contained manner. Though at times it felt a bit forced, the rise and fall of Robin’s budding relationship with Don generally worked well. Most of all, the doppelgangers were a thread that ran throughout the season and not only provided a number of laughs (stripper Lily) but paid off in a big way in the season finale. Lily’s reaction to the not-quite Barney lookalike was a superb way to resolve the story arc and it started the show down the path to Marshall and Lily trying for a baby.
Note: the rest of this review contains spoilers.
The season premiere picks up right where last season left off, with Lily and Marshall taking their first “at bat.” Unfortunately for Marshall, Lily feels uncomfortable about it because he told his father they were trying to get pregnant and Lily feels that Marshall’s dad is too involved in their lives. The second part of the episode focuses on Barney and Ted arguing over who has “dibs” on a hot girl sitting at the bar in McLarens. Things become even more complicated when one of Ted’s old flames shows up to the bar. Finally, the episode touched on Robin’s recovery from her break up with Don, and in her post-breakup stupor she is reminiscent of Pigpen from Charlie Brown. The episode is bookended by scenes of the day, “a little way down the road,” that Ted meets the kids’ mother…at a wedding.
Ted: This is what church has been missing. Dude, you fixed church!
Marshall: You’re welcome, god.
My favorite part of this episode was Barney, who was true to form without going too over the top. The end of the season of exposed skin is not only a very true and very sad phenomenon in New York City around September, but it’s also a very Barney-esque thing to notice and comment on. I also enjoyed his “carton of milk” metaphor which again, felt very much in character. The season premiere also made sure to touch on the little quirks that make the show fun, like Marshall and Barney realizing that Ted is nervous by him peeling the label of his beer bottle or the meditations on the intricate and complex rules of “dibs.” On the other hand, the characterization in the episode wasn’t always great. Robin was probably the worst part of the episode. Her schlumpy routine was cute at first, but the “stuff your face” jokes ran thin pretty quickly and then when she made herself dolled up again she just became annoying.
There were also lots of great laughs in the episode. The way that Barney “cooly” checked out the girl at the bar was superb. The flash forward to his dibs-related wedding toast was a fun Scrubs-esque moment. The “High 6” and quickly realized awkwardness therein was also a treat. It’s these little moments that make the show so much fun.
This episode also featured another one of the best aspects of the show – a solid commitment to continuity. The fact that a girl Ted formerly dated came into the picture and threw a monkey wrench into his plans was not only realistic, but it was an enjoyable callback to a prior episode. The fact that that particular former love is the roommate of the woman we have every reason to believe is the famed “Mother” from the title of the show only added to the intrigue. That said, I don’t think the writers reasonably expected us to believe that they were finally going to introduce Ted’s soulmate in the first episode of the season. Nevertheless, the reveal about the true nature of Ted’s target that evening was a fun twist.
Lily: Marshall, a big package just arrived
Marshall: Yeah it did!
Speaking of callbacks, Marshall’s obsession with aliens and other X-files type creatures bubbling up during a serious conversation was another nice nod to the past. Unfortunately, the bit with Marshall’s dad being too intrusive didn’t work especially well. This was due in large part to the fact that the parental meddling was depicted as a longstanding issue, yet the audience had not never seen hide nor hair of the problem before this episode. As a result, the “you and your dad both care” moment rang pretty false, and that part of the episode did not have the impact it might have. I will say that they found a good actor to play Marshall’s dad. The resemblance was uncanny.
The big reveal of the episode is that Ted met the kids’ mother on the day of that wedding we see at the beginning and end of the episode, and that Ted was the best man at the wedding. For you mystery buffs out there, that means that what we know about Ted meeting the kids’ mother is: 1. It involves a yellow umbrella (though this part of the mystery may already have been already resolved at the end of Season 4). 2. That she is, in all likelihood, the roommate of his former romance Cindy. 3. That she was in his first architecture class at Columbia and 4. That he met her the day of a wedding where he was the best man.
Overall, I thought this was a good, but not great outing for How I Met Your Mother’s season premiere. It featured a number of the aspects of the show we have come to know and love, but the fact that a major part of the episode fell flat, and that that part of the episode built off of the major focus of last season’s finale served to hold down the quality a bit. Regardless, it was solid if unspectacular effort, and I will be watching again next week.