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Category Archives: Other Sitcoms
It wasn’t great, or more accurately, it wasn’t satisfying. But maybe the series finale of How I Met Your Mother made sense.
The show spent a great deal of time convincing us that the idea of a romantic relationship between Ted and Robin was toxic for them both. It seemed to hammer home the point that while Ted and Robin had a spark, or a connection, or something that continued to draw them back to each other, they would never truly fulfill each other’s needs, and they were, more often than not, only going to hurt each other in the attempt. Numerous episodes posited that there were simply fundamental differences between Ted and Robin that would keep them from working out over the long haul.
And yet much of the overall story of How I Met Your Mother is Ted and Robin having to relearn this lesson over and over again. Several times over the course of the series it seemed like they had figured that out; once and for all, only to come back to each other in moments of weakness or wanting and have to painfully learn it all over again.
Michael Scott had just hit Meredith with his car. Jim and Pam were already together. That’s where I started with The Office.
I don’t normally begin television shows in the middle. In fact, I’m pretty doctrinaire about avoiding spoilers and slogging through a series’ early growing pains to understand the foundation on which later stories and character developments will be built. But a friend had invited me to a watch party for the Season 4 premiere. I was hard pressed to say no.
And it cracked me up.
Oddly enough, some fans point to the fourth season as the beginning of the series’ decline – when it stopped being a realistic if fractured look at modern office life and descended into the wacky adventures of an increasingly cartoonish workforce. But the laughs got my attention. Every week, Michael Scott had some great line that tickled my funny bone until the next episode aired. From something as weird as “You don’t know me; you just saw my penis.” to confused statements like “New ideas are fine, but they’re also illegal.” to the even more whimsical pronouncements like “I DECLARE BANKRUPTCY!” each episode had more than its fair share of entertaining and quotable bits.
But while the buffoonery of Michael Scott and Dwight Schrute drew me in, it was the show’s emotional core – best exemplified by the relationship between Jim Halpert and Pam Beesly – that made the show something special. When I first watched them hold hands and pick out ridiculous items from a garage sale, I had no idea of the strain and struggles the characters had been through to get there. I just saw a cute couple who had a fun repartee and seemed to really enjoy each other’s company. That was what kept me coming back.
In “Threat Level Midnight” Michael finally reveals his much ballyhooed, self-produced action film to the office. More importantly, the audience finally had a chance to see this oft-alluded to bit of comedy. Unfortunately the end result, and this episode as whole, were a let down. It might be that the expectations for “Threat Level Midnight” were impossibly high. In the course of the show, the audience has had many glimpses of Michael’s misdirected little spy film. In season two’s “The Client” we had our first look at it when Pam discovers the script and instigates and office-wide table read. We’ve seen bits and pieces of the movie since, including Michael reverting to his “Michael Scarn” character during all of his improv classes and off-hand comments about his situation with Jan has reaching “Threat Level Midnight.” With a gag built up this much, it may just have been too much for any comedy show to deliver on.
The Office took a very long mid-season break between their holiday episode and this most recent one. The last new episode happened all the way back on December 9th, but I have to say, it was certainly worth the wait. In a season that has had its ups and downs, “Ultimatum” was a clear highlight. I’m not sure if it’s because we’re finally getting into the long-teased Michael and Holly situation, or we’re just in an upswing with the show, but this was not only a stellar episode, but one of the best of the season.
Season Six of The Office was, at best, hit or miss. At times the show felt schizophrenic, with stories being picked up or dropped seemingly at random. What exactly was the point of the co-managers story arc? It was unceremoniously abandoned before it had even made it off the ground. Similarly, Michael dating Pam’s mother could have been an interesting storyline, but it went from zero to sixty and back to zero in such rapid succession that the audience never really had the chance to take anything away from the characters’ interactions. To the same end, Dwight and Angela’s “love contract” had potential, but it went off the rails so rapidly and was so completely ignored and revisited at random intervals that it left us simply scratching our heads, wondering what was happening.
Additionally, we have played the “Scranton may be closing” game on the show several times in prior seasons, and the sudden presence of “Sabre” did not do much to spice things up. I love Kathy Bates, but her character just feels out of place on this show, and Gabe was little more than window dressing. Season Six was almost wholly unable to maintain any sort of momentum. Storylines were starting, stopping, and disappearing altogether at such a rapid pace for seemingly no rhyme or reason, and it kept the show from establishing any sort of rhythm. The biggest fault I have with Season Six of The Office is a lack of any sort of consistency or continuity for the season as a whole.
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.