Monday, March 31, 2008

HIMYM, "The Bracket": No bets, just slaps

Spoilers for tonight's March Madness-themed episode of "How I Met Your Mother" coming up just as soon as I prepare some ribs for bedtime...

As we started running out of episodes of scripted series back in December and early January, I felt like I had to grade a lot of them on a curve, because they were clearly put into production without the usual polishing you would get if the writers were around to make changes. Everyone's back at work, but based on these early post-strike "HIMYM"s, I feel like a curve is still necessary. The episodes have been good -- this was actually one of the best of the season, pre or post-strike -- but in watching each one, I can spot certain elements that would have been fixed if Bays, Thomas and company weren't racing to get as many episodes on the air as quickly as they could.

Specifically, while the show has come back with its attention to structure and continuity intact, it feels like the writers' dialogue muscles atrophied during those three months on the picket. There was so much to love about "The Bracket," and yet periodically there would be these punchlines that made me cringe like I was watching an episode of "George Lopez" or something. I think of a line like Barney the master perjurer not wanting to talk about work, or even the payoff to the "aura of self-loathing and despair" exchange (the set-up was funnier than the punchline, because why would Barney be asking that question if it would apply to every woman he ever slept with?) and I imagine there was a lot of "We'll just leave that in until we come up with something better" talk in the writers room.

Fortunately, most of the hack-y stuff was finished by the time the opening credits rolled, and from then on I could focus on the good things about "The Bracket."

Specifically, I loved the focus on Barney -- and a triumphantly evil Barney, at that. When "The Yips" aired shortly before the strike, a lot of friends complained that a sensitive, emasculated Barney isn't remotely as funny as a Barney who does terrible things and gets away with it, and "The Bracket" was a superb argument for that point of view. Barney has done terrible things to all of these women -- and most of the bracket debates sounded much worse than anything he did to the Final Four -- and the complete lack of consequences for that behavior is a defining, memorable quality for the character. The way Barney always gets away with this stuff -- and that he can suck otherwise decent people like Lily, Marshall and Robin into his web of deceit and sleaze -- never gets old. One of the episode's many highlights was the competition to guess the reasons why Barney would view a museum as a great pick-up sight, and then that was quickly topped by the list of reasons why each woman on the bracket hates him. (Girl Who Thought I Was Jorge Posada may be my favorite, if only because I don't think Neil Patrick Harris remotely looks like Jorge.)

Some specific thoughts:
  • Yes, I'm one of those "Simpsons" nerds who always has to do freeze frame or slo-mo through things like Barney's mental montage of past conquests, and so I caught that one of the women was Madeleine Albright -- a callback to a line from "The Yips" about Barney's inability to talk to women he doesn't intend to sleep with.
  • As you would expect it to be, TedMosbyIsAJerk.com is a functioning website, and features another callback, to Ted's porno doppleganger.
  • Did anyone take the back-to-back discussion of karma and lists as some kind of "My Name Is Earl" reference? I kept expecting Barney to make a mustache joke.
  • "Have you ever fallen asleep while eating ribs?" is funny on many different levels at once. First, as an illustration of how well Ted knows Robin. Second, ribs are an inherently funny kind of food, because they're so messy. Third, the concept of eating them and dozing off while covered in rib goo is funny. Fourth, Robin's stupid giggling was also funny. I'm sure there are more levels to it than that, but the great thing about a Barney-centric episode is that he can carry most of the laughs and allow the writers to focus on one or two really funny bits of business for the other characters who may not be as hilarious when the spotlight's on them for the whole show.
  • Another great throwaway gag: Marshall's inability to behave normally during the fake conversation at MacLaren's. ("Here are words... Laughter!")
  • I've somehow missed nearly every second of the tournament this year. Do they still actually play "One Shining Moment," or has it been replaced by some equally coma-inducing bit of treacle? Maybe one of the "American Idol" coronation songs?
  • Fifteen years -- and one career-redefining role in "Harold and Kumar" -- later, I'm glad Neil Patrick Harris is okay with a "Doogie Howser" joke. (For you young'uns, the music being played as Barney typed his blog at the end was the "Doogie" theme; every episode of that show would end with Doogie typing some earnest new life lesson in his electronic journal. You see, back in those days, we didn't have fancy things called blogs. We had word processors! They had blue screens and lousy Graphic User Interfaces, and we liked them! We loved them! Flibbledy-floo!)
What did everybody else think?

81 comments:

Andrew said...

Alan, have you listened to the song on that I Hate Ted Mosby site? It's the most bizarre thing ever.

Alan Sepinwall said...

Andrew, not yet. I usually leave my computer muted unless I'm specifically planning to listen to something.

Forgot to ask in the main post: any theories on the identity of the mystery blonde? Could she be The Mother? Or are there now two different mystery women out there on the show?

Anonymous said...

one shining moment. still there. still vandross. still awesome.

Anonymous said...

other than the one shining moment montage, i have to say that the doogie howser reference at the end was truly amazing. The show finally found the perfect time to bring in a doogie reference and seeing barney blog with that music in the background has officially become a top barney moment. I too am happy that barney's blog has made its way back into the show, seeing how for years he has been trying to get the others to read it. Good episode highlighted by an excellent ending with the blue computer screen

Pale Writer said...

Holy Lord. The song on the Ted Mosby website is amazing. It is everything that was right about early-to-mid-90s angry chick rock. This is what Alanis Morrisette should have done instead of become happy; this is amazing, and I want it on my iPod right now.

Alan Sepinwall said...

Okay, that song is totally bizarre.

Also, she refers to MacLaren's as being on the Upper West Side, when it's in the basement of Ted and Marshall's building, which I thought was in Brooklyn.

dyb said...

After you've listened to the song on TedMosbyIsAJerk.com, go here to hear the deciphered back-masking at the end of the song. It's kind of a spoiler, but not really.

SCS said...

I have to believe that the woman blocking Barney is Heloise, the scrap-book maker, who wasn't on the bracket.

DonBoy said...

It does seem unlikely to have two mystery women around. But at least they didn't go with what seemed blindingly obvious to me, which is that the mystery woman was Heloise from the scrapbooking shop. I mean, they only referred to scrapbooking about a dozen times, right?

Favorite tiny bit: Marshall and Lily's completely delighted high-five after Marshall's proud "my list is my marriage license!"

DonBoy said...

PWNED!

SCS said...

Donboy, wherever you are, I owe you a beer. Or something.

Pale Writer said...

O man. He's a Cylon? She's friends with Dr. Baltar? This is getting better and better.

Bobman said...

"I don't know what to do with my hands. What do I usually do with my hands?!"


Jason Segel is my hero.

Alan Sepinwall said...

I just love that the song keeps going and going. My wife is currently watching one of the other CBS Monday comedies, and I'm just listening to her rant and rant and rant.

Jake said...

That song is totally bizarre. The actor singing it really went for it. You've got to admire the commitment to a goofy website tie-in.

Bobman said...

Oh wow, just listened to the song.

Wow.

Are there Emmys for Best TV Show Tie-In Website Performance?

So many gems in there. The BSG / Cylon bit. The umbrella fake-out somewhere in the middle. The background singers and sitar. Brilliant.

I think I'll have nightmares now.

Steve said...

You know who else giggles when she lies? Hillary Clinton.

So it goes said...

What I am wondering about is what Barney whispered in Robin's ear.

R.A. Porter said...

In honor of "One Shining Moment", here's Dick Enberg's take on the episode: "Oh my!"

I'm listening to the song now; this is fantastic. It has a sort of "Exile in Barn-ville" feel to it. Her commitment to the character's insanity is remarkable.

I am, however, shocked she made the Cylon reveal about NPH. I took a big risk last year when I posted a script excerpt from the BSG series finale on my blog, but no one goes there. TedMosbyIsAJerk.com is a much more popular destination. Now lots of people know.

yes! said...

Barney's the father of Stella's kid!!!

Andrew said...

Ted and Marshall are definitely uptown, but from the marathon episode, I thought it was the Upper East Side. Robin lives in Brooklyn.

The Doogie-style tag was great, even if it was a bit of a lazy reference to go to.

Alex said...

Since its triumphant return, I seem to have an irrational amount of love for this show. Both the faceless blonde and the Doogie reference made me squee out loud. And the Robin + Barney stuff was priceless. Those two are crafty when they put their heads together.

I second the love for Marshall's "marriage license" line. It's nice to see a well-matched, functional married couple on TV. (I don't doubt that Bays/Thomas will give them marital problems in coming episodes, though)

dez said...

I thought the whole ep was hilarious. I love Barney. Or Larney. Or Swarley. Is there such a thing as evil triplets?

Yet Another Andrew said...

In looking at the website, I realize that when future Ted says "and that website got over 400,000 hits." He was quoting what the hit counter was at the time (It has now crested half a million). That is dedication.

I do spot the occassional sitcom line ("Your team lost 20 minutes ago" felt pretty Friends-y) but the dedication to the little details and rewards to fans has made it a great addition to my viewing cycle. Time for the DVDs...

kwig said...

I didn't need to freeze frame to see Albright. Then again I participated in a lot of neurological and psychological experiments in college, and always threw the curve on processing and sensory perception.

Jimmy Aquino said...

Was that Cobie Smulders as the girl in the psychoexgirlfriend.com-ish song? I detected a Canadian accent at one point.

The Doogie in-joke in the tag was awesome. They even replicated Doogie's typing speed (the guy's a teen genius, and he types that slow?).

jcpbmg said...

Ted/Marshall/Lilly live at 77th and Amsterdam (or Broadway, can't remember), but it's definitely UWS, they mention it specifically in a few season 1 episodes when they give the directions to cab drivers.

I really really hope the show retains some of it's viewership bump from last week, because this episode, on top of st patricks day, really redeems season 3 from the horribleness it was pre-strike.

Also, did anyone else catch the NPH -centric Harold and Kumar trailer during the episode (it had huge pics of NPH which made it stand out while I was Tivo-ing through the commercials)

Anonymous said...

Alan, you work in the same office as Bracket Boy and you haven't seen a minute of this year's tourney??

Bergeron and Politi will skin you alive!

Evie Garland said...

Holy crap, just how young ARE the normal readers of your blog? I'm 26, and had to to hear exactly two notes of the Doogie song before I was grinning madly. Where's Lisa Dean Ryan? She needs to make a cameo a la all the Freaks and Geeks folks.

Nicole said...

I thought Larney was my favourite part until the Doogie ending, which was laugh out loud funny.

I'm hoping that the mystery blonde is not the mother, but someone more mundane. Maybe she was the girl Ted bumped into at the club?

Anonymous said...

The Doogie Howser thing was the best scene of the entire season. I had a huge grin on my face as soon as I saw that blue screen and I laughed heartily at his final line. I wonder how long they waited to use that bit. And for the record, I'm 23.

electricia said...

Nicole - I'm pretty sure the woman Ted bumped into was brunette (unless you're talking about something different than St. Patty's Day).

Did Barney finally learn to drive? How else could he have stolen a truck? I was under the impression that he never learned.

I loved Lily dancing by the jukebox. I'm not usually able to disassociate an actress from a character on different shows, but Allyson Hannigan completely sells Lily, and I stopped seeing her as Willow early on. I find that kind of impressive.

I also loved how they stole the chalkboard from Lily's classroom.

R.A. Porter said...

electricia: one of the places the show seems to have either dropped the ball on continuity or failed to fill in a missing piece is how Barney can drive despite the events in "Arrivederci, Fiero". Not only did he abscond with the truck in this evening's flashback, he stole Ted's moving van in "Moving Day" which was the episode immediately after the death of the Fiero.

Granted, he only went around the corner with that one.

Anonymous said...

If this is accurate, I think this should be removed, Alan.

yes! said...

Barney's the father of Stella's kid!!!

11:59 PM, March 31, 2008

Anonymous said...

If this is real... It's also a pretty massive spoiler:

Blogger dyb said...

After you've listened to the song on TedMosbyIsAJerk.com, go here to hear the deciphered back-masking at the end of the song. It's kind of a spoiler, but not really.

10:46 PM, March 31, 2008

Alan Sepinwall said...

Barney's the father of Stella's kid!!!

Wouldn't Stella have recognized him as such when he went to her office last week?

And wouldn't Ted have noticed Stella at MacLaren's? (Assuming the point of the final freeze-frame was that mystery blonde was at the bar but not making her presence known?)

Alan Sepinwall said...

Holy crap, just how young ARE the normal readers of your blog?

One never knows. Plus, it gave me an excuse to do my Dana Carvey as Grumpy Old Man impression (another reference I'd no doubt have to explain to any hypothetical teen readers).

Alan Sepinwall said...

If this is real... It's also a pretty massive spoiler:

Blogger dyb said...

After you've listened to the song on TedMosbyIsAJerk.com, go here to hear the deciphered back-masking at the end of the song. It's kind of a spoiler, but not really.


I believe it's as real as the notion that Paul McCartney died in the mid-'60s and was replaced by a lookalike.

Alan Sepinwall said...

What I am wondering about is what Barney whispered in Robin's ear.

That's one of those mysteries where the actual answer, no matter how good, could never live up to whatever everybody's imagining, I think.

jcpbmg said...

Super random, but for some reason the title of your blog 'No bets, just slaps' reminds me of What Women Want and that ridiculous Nike commercial they created with the tag line "no games, just sports" I hate you nancy meyers

What I am wondering about is what Barney whispered in Robin's ear

I have faith in Bays and Thomas, but I feel as though I still have to say that I really hope they dont have Barney and Robin hook up, even if it is just a one night thing

Alan Sepinwall said...

I have faith in Bays and Thomas, but I feel as though I still have to say that I really hope they dont have Barney and Robin hook up, even if it is just a one night thing

Really? I've always thought it was not only something they've been building to for a while -- at least since the night when Robin suited up and played Laser Tag with him -- and something that makes sense for the characters.

Withnail said...

Alan -

can you use your powers of JOURNALISM!!! and contact the HIMYM people and find out who was singing that wonderful horrible song?

Rachel said...

Loved this episode. I did a freeze-frame to see if they went "chalk" with the bracket (they did not, two #1, a #2, and a #4 made it to Final Four).

The high-five between Marshall and Lily was great, as was the entire sequence at the end. I especially loved Lily's not-drawing-attention-to-myself dancing and the Doogie Howser momement (for the record, another 26-year-old here).

Alan, did you hear the news that there's another Robin Sparkles episode coming up with James Van Der Beek guest starring as Robin's crush?

On that note, I'm off to watch the "Let's Go to the Mall" video...

Anonymous said...

FYI,
the girl Ted bumps into in the bar is 1) a brunette and 2) one of Stella's friends at the movie theater.

Lindy said...

Why oh why isn't this episode on iTunes yet? ::sob:: I hate being in England, I can't stream the show here.

Nicole Marie said...

I'm not sure if this is spoilery or not, but I heard somewhere that the B-side of Let's Go to the Mall is a power ballad...so it could be Robin Sparkles on TedMosbyisajerk.com.

Anyway, I thought this episode was great! One of the best of the season by far, even if it had a few flat moments.

I got the feeling that the mystery woman at the end was connected to Barney, not Ted, so I'm going with the two mystery women out there theory.

Nicole Marie said...

Sorry, forgot to say that I loved that most of the top 4 were women we'd heard about before but that led to a bit of a continuity error--the girl that thought Barney was Ted Mosby, Architect, is the girl to whom Barney wrote the "I am a ghost" form letter, which he signed Barney. Also, doesn't sneaking out while in the shower and leaving a form letter claiming to be a ghost trump pretending to be an architect??

K said...

What I didn't understand, and maybe I am missing something, is how the tedmosbyisajerk.com girl even made it through the bracket considering she didn't know Barney's real name and therefore could not have warned Lily to stay away from "Barney Stinson." Am I misremembering the episode and the "blocker" did not use Barney's name? If not, Barney should have known immediately that she could not have been the blocker.

Allison said...

OMG, the "evil twin named Larney" about gave me a hernia from laughing. Also, I loved when they were all guessing what angle Barney would use to pick up girls at a museum.

I hope that Robin is just faking being a bad liar and that it's used as a plot point (or gag) in another episode.

Tom said...

I think the mystery stalker wasn't revealed because they are wanting it to be Britney Spears but they want to leave themselves wiggle room in case she goes crazy(er) or is found dead in her hotel room.

Anonymous said...

Loved the episode. I was hoping the evil twin's name would be Swarley. It would be very "Barney" to use the one time his friends got one over on him to his advantage.

Chris said...

Did you just call One Shining Moment coma-inducing? More like tearing-inducing. Shame!

dez said...

I loved Lily dancing by the jukebox.

She had a definite Elaine Benes vibe going, too.

Matt said...

In other good news, another solid ratings week--9.67 million viewers, 4.0/11 in 18-49. (And substantial growth from Big Bang.) They're going to be very hard pressed to explain why they're passing on this since they're already picked up more Big Bang.

Anonymous said...

One thing that the TWOP board people picked up on: (a) If Robin always giggles when she lies, then (b) why didn't she giggle at all during Slap Bet/Robin Sparkles? I mean, she did lie about being married, convincingly, for about half the episode.

Alan Sepinwall said...

One thing that the TWOP board people picked up on: (a) If Robin always giggles when she lies, then (b) why didn't she giggle at all during Slap Bet/Robin Sparkles? I mean, she did lie about being married, convincingly, for about half the episode.

[sound of glass shattering]

Alan Sepinwall said...

By the way, I'm working on getting Thomas and/or Bays on the phone to find out the origins of the TedMosbyIsAJerk.com song. With any luck, look for a separate blog entry on it later today.

Anonymous said...

This was indeed a great episode. In addition to all the moments everyone's mentioned, Ted wanting to call his mom cracked me up beyond belief for some reason.

I picked up on the Robin Lying problem, but was fine with it since Robin Sparkles is a HUGE secret she's been purposely and systematically been keeping for years (as opposed to Ribs in Bed). Have there been other instances of her lying well? I think her and Barney getting together has been well set up by the writers and would be fun to watch.

And there's nothing I can add about the sheer awesomeness of the website song. I think this easily beats out www.imoscar.com for commitment to a throwaway bit ; )
-Lance

Lindy said...

Finally! iTunes comes through!

I loved the episode as well, but there is one "Robin lying" continuity problem -- in the episode where she and Barney have a bro's night out, she approaches a woman at the bar and pretends she wants to go home with Barney to make the other girl jealous. No giggling at all.

I'll forgive the occasional lapse, though. Not quite the flawless craftsmanship of their best episodes, but man, was that a fun 22 minutes of TV.

Alan, I'm glad you put my mind to rest about the stalker being Stella -- I forgot that she and Barney saw each other at her office. Unless, of course, Barney lied about going through with the appointment ... uh oh.

the2scoops said...

I have faith in Bays and Thomas, but I feel as though I still have to say that I really hope they dont have Barney and Robin hook up, even if it is just a one night thing

I figure when Barney and Robin inevitably do hook-up, it'll turn out they've been doing it for about a dozen episodes and it'll be told in flashback, like Ted and Robin's break-up.

Couldn't stop laughing at the Doggie closer - I intially did a double take thinking that was Wanda laying on the bed (clearly wasn't)

Anonymous said...

I dont know if anyone mention this but this is first time the whole group is hanging out at Barney's apartment...

who said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Alan Sepinwall said...

Also, Ted would NEVER live in Brooklyn after he bashed so hard on NJ.
He's 212, trust me :-)


And yet I know plenty of 718'ers who have adopted the public stance (whether they believe it or not) that Brooklyn is the much cooler place to live these days. I could easily see Ted being one of those guys.

But enough people have cited evidence of the apartment being in Manhattan that I'll go with it.

who said...

Could the Saboteur be BRITNEY? She has reason to be pissed after last week, plus she IS insane.

Also, Ted would NEVER live in Brooklyn esp after he bashed the girls so hard for equating NJ with NY.He's 212, trust me!

Anonymous said...

Another continuity error was with Barney's line about perjury. He flipped out of his normal character when Lily and Marshall were going to get married in Atlantic City. Something like, "We're under oath!", when they were talking with the Judge. He acted really concerned then but is apparently very adept at lying under oath for work?

Anonymous said...

for everyone looking for the singer of the song. when i downloaded the song off the ted site the filename was "audio.mp3" but in winamp the id3v1 tag lists the artist as "The Solids" no clue how accurate that is but thats all i've found so far

Tom said...

Well, he was in front of a judge at the time. It could be written off as him sucking up to the judge.

R.A. Porter said...

If I remember correctly, "The Solids" is the name of Bays' and Thomas' band. They do the theme song. No singer in that.

I'm still leaning toward Dawn Olivieri being the vocalist.

Matt said...

The Solids do have a singer--there's more than just "Da da da!" to the song, which you can listen to here.

R.A. Porter said...

Thanks, Matt. That song's really good.

Still, no woman in the band, so she's someone guesting.

- jude said...

"Nah, it's no Karma. She's stripping in Vegas. Plus, we're good."

That was the line that I found to be cringe-worthy. It's a lazy set-up for not a funny payoff.

Anonymous said...

This is awesome: Apparently if you play the song backwards you get a hidden message:”Wendy the Waitress is the Mother, Wendy the Waitress is the Mother, Wendy the Waitress is the Mother… Just Kidding… Shes not the Mother.”

http://superhush.com/2008/03/31/ted-mosby-is-a-jerk/

Rebecca said...

Just to let you know, I'm 19 and I totally got the Doogie reference (thanks, I Love the 80's!). But I was watching with three other 19-year-olds and I had to explain it to them. Don't worry, I laughed enough for the four of us.

It's kind of sad that, to a lot of people my age, NPH is "that guy from Harold & Kumar."

R.A. Porter said...

rebecca: I think it's sad that people of most ages also don't think of this when then see NPH. (Around the 3:45 point in the video.)

Rebecca said...

R.A.: Actually, that's what *I* think of, thanks to my Sweeney Todd-obsessed cousin. Hooray!

Anonymous said...

Fun, fun episode.

And good call about the possible continuity error about Robin's lying giggle.

Was it another continuity error when Barney drove off with 4th of July girl's truck? I thought he was deathly afraid of driving (per Arrivederci Fierro).

Nevertheless -- all kinds of awesome.

Lindah

Crystal said...

Perhaps Robin's lying-indused case of the giggles only occurs when it is a spontaneous lie. Another poster mentioned that her 'Robin Sparkles' lie was a well-rehearsed one, as she had kept it a secret for so many years. Likewise, when she and Barney had their bro's night, she planned to lie to the girl that Barney was interested in. With the Ribs inquiry (which will never not be hilarious to me) and Barney's whisper, she was caught off guard, hence the giggles.

Also, I'm 22 and was yelping and clapping with glee within the first 2 seconds of the Doogie homage.

Rich C said...

In the immortal words of George Costanza, "It's not a lie, if you believe it to be true"

And in Robin Sparkles case at least, we know she WISHES it wasn't true!

The CineManiac said...

I loved the episode. This really is the best comedy on TV. I consistently laugh and look forward to Monday nights.
They can't renew this fast enough.
As for the woman, I have a hard time believing Ted would end up with one of Barney's former conquests (as seen in "Little Boys") but if it is the mother, my guess is she's doing this to Barney to get back at him for something he did to one of her friends.

Rand said...

Maybe it's a bit of a stretch but could the mystery saboteur be Lily? She does have quite the distaste for Barney's lifestyle, and she does like Barney getting slapped. And who other than Lily saw a blond woman?

By the way Have-You-Met-Ted.com
reports that the singer is Wendy the Waitress.

Pamela Jaye said...

Three months later (will even Alan see this?)

I decided to go thru all the eps, in order, from this season before deleting them.
I guess at the time I first watched them I was just too busy to read your blog (and almost to tired to even watch them. and distracted by a lot of things - hence the rewatch)

recently i noticed everyone talking about the Bracket and how great it was. I couldn't even remember it.
Well, I watched, and vaguely remembered - till I got to the end.

I was watching with my brother and (he's 6 years younger than me) and when I heard the music, and then saw the typing - whoa! I squealed, and he complained that it wasn't even the original music -- from 30something.
No, you dolt! (and actually, you're just the right age) it's Doogie Howser!

Totally awesome.
No idea what I was reading online at the time. Now I'm kicking myself that i didn't read the blogs here, with the eps I re-watched yesterday!!

Pam (who has never seen Kumar (except on House)