Monday, March 02, 2009

HIMYM, "The Stinsons": Get him a body bag!

Spoilers for tonight's "How I Met Your Mother" coming up just as soon as I give myself a catchphrase...
"And so ended one of the strangest afternoons of our lives." -Future Ted
And so ended one of the strangest "HIMYM"s of our lives -- and, I'm guessing, one of the most polarizing.

The theme of half my reviews of this show tends to revolve around the eternal struggle of "HIMYM" vs. Sitcom(*). Ordinarily, I view any episode that gets too close to Sitcom territory to be a very bad thing, but "The Stinsons" so gleefully embraced its Sitcom-ness at the same time it was inverting it that it was like watching a car turn into a skid. It doesn't make any sense that this is the best, safest way to survive, and yet it is. With "The Stinsons" -- featuring wacky and unnecessary lies, a cute kid with a (lame) catchphrase, and random musical stings(**) -- I was willing to turn into the skid right along with the show, but I can see how other people might not.

(*) Insert boilerplate disclaimer about how, of course "HIMYM" is a sitcom, but that the capital S implies a bad sitcom, one where consistent characterization is sacrificed for the sake of one lame punchline after another.

(**) Am I nuts, or was the sting right after Barney's meta joke about '80s child actors supposed to be a snippet of the "Doogie Howser" score?

I think what made it work is that it was a Barney Stinson version of a dumb sitcom plot. They couldn't have done this episode with any other character, but Barney's always been allowed to operate on a different frequency from the others, and his attempt to model his life after characters and stories from pop culture only adds to his appeal. The running gag about Barney cheering for the villains of '80s movies (which gives me another excuse to link to both the original "sweep the leg" scene and to the Wiliam Zabka-directed "Sweep the Leg" music video worked nicely into the larger plot about Barney lying to his mom about having a family. In Barney's worldview, the villains are the heroes for what seem like obvious reasons (Zabka was better at karate than Ralph Macchio, Hans Gruber was the one who died hard, etc.), just as coming up with this elaborate, expensive, years-long lie to his mother makes perfect sense to him. In Barney-world, not only is all of this possible, it's damn near probable.

It helped that Frances Conroy was so funny -- and so unlike Ruth Fisher -- as Mrs. Stinson. She doesn't sound anything like Megan Mullally (who voiced Barney's mom in previous flashbacks), but she played the character in a way that fit the previous info we had. Her monologue about eight minutes in a gas station bathroom was as funny as it was horrifying, and it makes sense that this is the woman who would have created the Barney Stinson we know. (NPH's very childlike and hurt delivery of "Mommy?" after she told him about her stint with Grand Funk Railroad was lovely.) And yet she was just human enough that the climax, where she unwittingly nudged Barney towards making another play for Robin, felt like something real even in the midst of all the wackiness.

Of the bits of business for the rest of the cast, I enjoyed watching Ted the pretentious theater geek and wannabe actor, as well as Robin bonding with Barney's "son," but Lily and Marshall's conflict felt too broad and dumb even within the context of an episode about Barney inventing a fake family to impress his mom. Again, it's about what one character can get away with that another can't.

But overall, this worked, in a way it probably shouldn't have, because "HIMYM" Carter Bays and Craig Thomas (on script duty this week) were able to embrace Barney's more extreme qualities and hang some good jokes around them.

What did everybody else think?

52 comments:

Myles said...

Agree wholeheartedly on pretty well everything, but gave a bit more of a pass to the Lily/Marshall storyline when it came together with the other plots through Lily's acting phone call. Connectivity goes a long way for me when it comes to forgiving throwaway storylines, it appears.

Episode balanced well its objective (add another check mark to the "Barney is capable of human emotion" column) and its execution, giving us little bits of comedy for pretty much everyone and stretched the absurdity as far as it could go. Bays/Thomas deserve a lot of credit for, as you note, keeping this one dialed in.

Adam said...

I think -- but could be wrong on this -- that there's some pregnancy in that cast.

You did tag that music cue correctly, but I'm against the episode -- the gears were showing too obviously. If you didn't see the Ted-"wife" thing coming, you've never watched tv before.

Stef said...

That was definitely the Doogie theme with the 80's child star callout. Plus, was that a meta-joke about NPH and the Tonys and it all being so political?

The house was right out of "Who's the Boss?" but I won't soon forget sweet Frances Conroy talking about being passed around like a bong!

FYI, I'm reading "The Bro Code" just for fun, and it's got some great Barney-isms.

tabernacle said...

That skid metaphor is perfect.

I heard the Doogie music, too.

Has NPH done any _Clara's Heart_ send-ups? He's brought out the Jamaican accent for something recently, right?

OT: I'm sorry about Ashes/Life on Mars, Alan. I could never get into the UK version of Life of Mars even.

Anthony Foglia said...

I'll be the one who disagrees with you. I thought it was a very, very weak episode. I had no problem buying Barney having hired actors to play his family. Okay, maybe a little, but I was willing to play along. It just didn't end up funny.

Adam's right, Ted and Barney's wife was pretty obvious, and except for the scene in the cab, Lily and Marshall's stuff didn't work either.

It had moments. The Robin stuff was good, the audition for the role Barney's son, Ted's Christmas play, but that wasn't enough.

jcpbmg said...

Major continuity issues, which is a huge disappointment, esp for this show

For starters, wouldn't Barney;s mom and the fake family been at James' wedding (from Single Stamina)

How could Barney's mom be his bookie if not only does he live with her but also he told her he was home when he was on the phone making bets with her (from World's Greatest Couple)

aimee said...

I'm planning to rewatch this one, but the whole "mocking bad sitcoms" ploy wasn't immediately clear to me, so I felt this was the second-worst episode of the season (next to the Burger episode, which I know you liked, Alan). Now that I know what the deal was, I might appreciate it a little more, but I still feel as though it could've at least been FUNNY.

Zack Smith said...

It always makes me a little annoyed when non-traditional sitcoms try to parody the traditional format. Isn't it sort of a parody already?

That said, Frances Fisher was quite good. Incidentallly, she was in an unsold pilot for CBS last season (MIKE BIRBIGLIA'S SECRET PUBLIC JOURNAL) as was Brooke D'Orsay, Barney's fake wife (SINGLE WHITE MILLIONARE, which was picked up but doesn't seem likely to air).

For whatever reason, I enjoyed Marshall being afraid of the dinosaur bones.

And Ted's pretentious douchey side shows up again. I sort of wanted Barney to punch Ted.

The storyline being confined to one setting and minimal subplots made this feel off-key, but more Barney is always a good thing.

Melanie said...

Anthony Foglia, I've got your back.

Ugh, this was so not funny. I finally get my husband to sit and watch BBT and HIMYM with me, and these are the episodes he sees?

Blech.

Ryan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ryan said...

@ jcpbmg

Was it established that Barney's "Family" lived full-time with at his mom's house? If not, she probably thought that they lived in a home/apartment somewhere with Barney.

Alyson said...

Blogger Adam said...

I think -- but could be wrong on this -- that there's some pregnancy in that cast.


Nope, you are correct. Both Alyson Hannigan and Cobie Smulders are preggo. I believe Hannigan is due later in the spring, and Smulders this summer.

Alan Sepinwall said...

Alyson, Adam's being sarcastic. Both pregnancies have been well-publicized, and both actresses were really showing tonight.

Anonymous said...

i thought this episode was very funny. The lily and Marshall plot felt force. I love the callbacks in this episode.

Dr Grossbar is Barney psychologist that they he talk about in the Intervention episode.

The story Barney's "wife" told at dinner was what Ted did in "Come on" with the roses and band.

DonBoy said...

My main objection -- for yes, I am an objector - is that, even granting that it's the kind of thing Barney would do, I just can't buy that he's been getting away with this for close to 10 years. My disbelief only suspends so high, y'know, willingly or not. And I also note that the original question -- why is Barney acting differently recently -- is not answered by the revelation.

Extra note: Barney had to take two face-slaps, and they were from Ted, so they don't even count against the five! Poor Barney.

Steve said...

I'm trying to separate from my evaluation my overall excitement for a new episode.

That said, I LOVED this episode. From the Doogie jokes, to the sitcom parodies, I thought it was great.

Plus, Jason Segel's delivery of the line "thanks a lot buddy, I didn't need to sleep tonight" after the kid improv'd his dream about dinosaur bones was pitch perfect.

Even though it seems very trendy to talk about Billy Zabka in pop culture these days, I loved Barney's conversation about 80s villains.

Barney's line to the mom with whom he had sex so her son would get the part about being a better actor than the son was also fantastic.

I'm very glad to have the show back.

Question Mark said...

I enjoyed Barney's "this is what you're actually like in relationships" aside to Ted. Other than that, it was a pretty middling episode.

Zach Haldeman said...

I have to say I didn't like it, but not because I didn't find it funny. I just couldn't accept that Barney would create this whole illusion for his mother. Frankly, it was cruel. This woman, despite the convenient ending, just found out the the people she thought were her daughter-in-law and grandchild for however many years were just actors. The revelation that she hated these characters felt like a cheap way for Bays and Carter (I don't know who this Craig Thomas guy is) to prevent people from pointing out how mean this was to her. The amount of interaction we saw between her and her fake family tonight means that she basically just discovered that around 70% of her life is a lie. Even if she did hate them, there's no way she'd forgive Barney and they'd have their BS sentimental moment at the end. Your perception of your family doesn't end in a neat Sitcom-styled bow in one evening. No matter how extreme a character Barney is.

Tyroc said...

Craig Thomas is the creator of the show along with his writing partner, Carter Bays. And from what I understand Marshall is based on Craig and his wife and Ted on Carter (well, initially anyway.)

I was bummed as the episodes these two usually writer are among the show's best. And while this certainly wins the How To Get Your Audience to Definitely Tune in After the Opening Credits Award, I thought it was way too broad and crazy. Even with it being Barney (who I agree is the only one who has a chance of pulling this story off.) If it had been his grandmother who he barely ever sees, maybe I could buy it, but his mother who he talks to everyday? Seems more than a bit much.

And I don't think they were doing a parody of a bad sitcom but in fact giving us one.

I did love the bong joke and the catchphrase bit was funny. And the woman who played Barney's "wife" was quite easy on the eyes and funny. Both she and the actor who played the kid were strong.

Tyroc said...

What I meant to say is Marshall is supposedly based on Craig, Lily on his wife and Ted on Carter Bays.

Pamela Jaye said...

I went back but did not recognize the music cue.

I certainly recognized the pregnancy. Robin is wearing maternity type tops now as well.
If I didn't know - and I didn't like that style (I've been known to find something I like and then have someone tell me I've wandered into the maternity section again) - I wouldn't have noticed. But my love of the loose and flowing made me notice Aly was pregnant and it just did again with Cobie. (and Target had some nice smocked tops around Christmas time. I bought 4.)

I was expecting some twilight zone music when the family first appeared.
(and now i have to look up Frances to see where i know her from)

Nicole said...

I really liked this one. Only Barney would pull this off, but it worked. The Doogie music cue is the second part of the theme and not the first, but it's there. Check out the digital short for a refresher.

Is there anything NPH can't do? So many of these episodes would not work without him (and Barney).

Maggie said...

As much as I hate to follow the insightful brilliance of the previous commenter, here goes:

I am one of those who can't quite love this episode, most likely because of the big holes in Barney's storyline. Yes, I get that it was supposed to be "sitcomy" and goofy, but Barney went to so much trouble to explain how he got away with his lie for 10 years that my brain started leaping to all the ways that it wasn't possible he had.

As others pointed out, he has a brother. There would have obviously been family gatherings with his brother over the years, and so you'd expect the previous interactions with his brother on the show to have included veiled references to Barney's being "married" (with James either falling for it, or more likely, being in on the joke.) One of the best things about this show is the way it plants hints at storylines that pay off later. (Although not quite as deftly as "Arrested Development.")

The other annoying thing was trying to believe Barney had gotten away with this with his friends for 10 years. Ok, he's been acting weird for a few weeks and they freak out - but they hadn't noticed this behavior for all the years prior?

As I watched the episode unfold, I kept thinking it was going to evolve into something totally different - like Future Ted stopping the action to say, "that's not how it really went down, kids, but that's how I prefer to remember it" and we'd see Barney was doing something really depressing (like visiting his dying mom in the hospital.)

There were still some funny parts - my favorite was when Mom Stinson expressed relief at knowing it was all staged and those weren't really Barney's friends.

Maggie said...

one last thing - the whole "catchphrase" bit was pretty funny, considering how many Barney's character himself has...

Anonymous said...

given the fact that this episode seems to have alienated a segment of the audience, could it be considered Brechtian? (Brechtish?)

Bryan said...

Count me among the side that did not like this one very much. Barney's character always teeters on just this side of believability anyway but gets away with it because of the premise of the show. It's about a guy telling a story about events that happened 20 or so years ago so some of it can get a little fantastical - and that's okay- but this for me went way over the line. The story, for me, had not point.

Also, I understand about calling this a non-sitcommy sitcom and Barney is one of my favorite characters on tv right but his character is VERY Sitcom-ish. I can imagine a script where it states "Barney does/says something funny here."

And also somebody please tell me how "___insert relevant word here__________ - five" isn't exactly the same as "one of these days Alice-to THE MOON!" or "Dynomite!" or "Whatchu talking 'bout?"

Anonymous said...

Bryan said... "...And also somebody please tell me how "___insert relevant word here__________ - five" isn't exactly the same as "one of these days Alice-to THE MOON!" or "Dynomite!" or "Whatchu talking 'bout?"

It's not any different- which is why it was supposed to be funny that Barney wouldn't allow Grant/Tyler to have a catchphrase, even though Barney himself is a walking repository of catchphrases.

personally I thought it was steak sauce

Bryan said...

personally I thought it was steak sauce

So you watched the Lifetime reruns as well huh?

The newer shows suffer by comparison I think.

sophie said...

i hated it, it didnt work, and it's not just the plot holes that bothered me. the jokes were not funny. i liked theatre douche ted, and the barney-robin thing at the end, and i loooved frances conroy. but it just wasn't funny, i actually thought robin's scene with the kid in the end was cringe-worthy, and it didnt make any sense that she would be the one who would be interacting with him.

Andrew said...

i enjoyed this one. Barney is a cartoon character and amidst real life, he would give playing sitcom family a go.

Cobra Kai FTW!

Bryan said...

Perilously close to jumping the shark I think.

I think they are out of ideas - they may have to go to a Lost-like end date scheme or seriously change the format to a Marshall/Lilly-centric show because nobody cares who the mother is anymore and Ted's not a strong enough character without that.

Dustin Sullivan said...

The Barney plot holes and the Marshall/Lily storyline bugged me.

But I was so excited to enjoy Ted again! I wish they would keep Brooke D'Orsay around for a few more episodes. I liked the whole Ted/Margaret thing.

Evie Garland said...

I have to camp out in the "hated it" side. I agree that it would have been WAY worse if they had tried it with a character other than Barney, but even if they were trying to parody a traditional Sitcom it was such a waste! You have the best writers for this ep along with a fantastic guest star, and "fake family" is the best they could come up with? There are so many funny things you could do with Frances Conroy and the rest of the cast, and instead they gave us a throw-away plot that wasn't that funny, didn't really make sense, and was 100% predictable. I'm with Melanie...I've always made fun of my boyfriend for liking Two and a Half Men, and last night he said, "Why is this any different than Two and a Half Men?" And he was right. Ouch.

Mel said...

Okay, here's how I justified the whole "They're just now noticing all this." Mom doesn't live there . . .I kind of thought to myself, "Oh, she's just visiting and so now he has to step it up into gear." Barney could have rented the house for an extended visit from mom.

I personally loved the episode. I was near tears more than once with laughter. I even liked the Marshall/Lily stuff if only because Jason Segel is always so damn funny no matter what he's asked to do.

amitytv said...

Can you really like an episode and at the same time worry about other people liking it? That was me. I enjoyed this new episode, but at the same time worried at what the fans were going to be saying here. I guess I was right to worry. At any rate, I was just thrilled to have a new episode.

Also... I'm on to you Roberto Gentryo, AKA Bob G, AKA Bob Gentry. And no I do not watch the Terminator but suspected you'd be there.

Tyroc said...

AmityTV,

Just enjoy it if you enjoy it! It's all subjective. And even if some of us felt it wasn't the strongest episode, we're all fans of the series or we wouldn't be here posting (well, I assume anyway.)

Off topic question, what happened to Ted's sister? I thought they were setting her up to be a recurring character.

Brian said...

I am so happy to see people saying the newer shows suffer in comparison to old ones and that the show is close to jumping the shark.

Not because I agree. In fact I think people who think that are insane and those types of comments often are used by the pretentious to masquerade as faux expertise when something gains more popularity.

I'm glad that HIMYM is becoming so popular that the cognoscenti has decided to declare it dead after only three and a half seasons.

I found the episode funny. So not everything about Barney's story matches up. Did everything in "The Bracket" line up?

Nancy said...

Mel -- For what it's worth, I also thought Barney's mom was just visiting and that's why the gang noticed him acting differently. I didn't love the episode, but it wasn't because of the holes -- just didn't think it was super funny.

LA said...

It wasn't a rip-roaring LOL episode, but it was certainly an interesting one. It kept me engaged throughout, and I especially enjoyed Frances Conroy as Mrs. Stinson. I hope she'll be back with more tales of debauchery and sluttiness.

Nicole said...

The difference between HIMYM and 2 1/2 Men is Neil Patrick Harris. Yes there were plot holes, but he made this funny, and then managed to sneak in a bit of unrequited Robin love at the end.

None of the other four have the ability to pull off the comedy and the drama at the same time. Give NPH an Emmy already! (and maybe he knows someone to get a Tony too)

Evie Garland said...

Nicole, that's exactly what I told him! I got an eye-roll in return.

Heather said...

I agree too. I saw this episode twice and both times I thought Marshall and Lily were the weaker elements of the episode. Pretentious theater Ted is always a joy to see and I LOVED Barney's mom. I would love to see her again.

sophie said...

nicole and evie, i think cobie smulders has greatly improved as an actress in the last two years and can do both drama and comedy. proof: the sandcastles in the sand episode. also, i think she has perfected her comedic timing and is even funnier this season.

but yeah, neil is the awesomest thing on this show.

and to reader brian, do you want some giant sugar cubes for that high horse of yours? im crazy about the show, im enjoying season four, it has some of my favourite episodes, and i hope it stays on the air for a while, but the truth is that this season has some of the worst himym episodes ever, like the best burger and this one. and just because i dont agree with you, it doesnt mean im pretentious, and i hate the fact the show is getting more popular. on the contrary, i hate the fact that shows that i loved such as AD got cancelled prematurely, so Im very happy to see himym doing good on the ratings. but i can tell a bad episode when i see one.

sophie said...

i was referring to the show when i said, "i hope it stays on the air for a while".


also, i should stress that i DONT "hate the fact the show is getting more popular."

my phrasing got a bit confusing in the end. sorry, english is not my mother language.

Denis said...

Given how they have thrown a pretty big swerve at the moment at which we least expect it. As in Robin & Barney hooking up at the end of the 2nd Robin Sparkles video episode. I was almost expecting Ted to say at the end as he drove off with Barney's wife, "That's how I met your Mom!"

VanessaA said...

Completely cringe-worthy. And some of the acting by the main cast was... cringe-worthy. Disappointing and borderline upsetting in the scale and depth with which Carter Bays and Craig Thomas have let us down continuity-wise.

Anonymous said...

Personally, my favorite part of the episode was the subtle Flinstones joke with Barney deciding to call his fake wife Betty.

Brian said...

sophie - the fact that you say that it's a "fact" that there have been some of the worst episodes this season when such a judgment is purely objective and not subjective and that "you know a bad episode" merely confirms everything I posted.

Your taste cannot define everyone's, but you still try and insist that. I don't care if you didn't find some episodes up to your standards, but do not try and act as if you set he bar for what is good and what is not.

Anonymous said...

Brian - How is sophie referring to her opinion as a "truth" somehow more offensive than you calling all naysayers "insane" and "pretentious?" And did you miss or just ignore the "not my first language" comment?

I thought the episode was pretty funny. Not great, but okay. It did seem...off, a little bit. As much as I love Barney, I think the show suffers when his plot is completely separate from the others', and in this case it was, even though they were all in the same setting. Then the show is just "Barney's nutty scheme!" instead of him interacting meaningfully with one of the other four.

But I loved pretentious theater Ted. "I wasn't being Ted, just getting out of Ted's way!"

Alan Sepinwall said...

Okay, guys? Seriously dial back the heated rhetoric. This discussion was one of the reasons I felt the need to remind people of the rules for commenting today.

jana said...

I thought the end with Robin and "Tyler" was hilarious! It was a TYPICAL sitcom ending on the porch with Robin and the boy wrapping up their stories, except Bays/Thomas turned it on its ear with the attempted kiss. Fantastic!

Anonymous said...

They just went too far in thsi one. First Barney is acting differently and acting like he secretly has a new girl friend. Then it is revealed that he has secretly hired some actors to pretend to be his wife and son. Fine so far. Barney being Barney I could actually buy it. Meaning he recently just started doing this becasue his Mom just recently came out of a coma. So Barney had to track down the same woman he hired 10 years ago when he thought the mom was dying and Barney had to hurry up and cast a son on short notice. It's a stretch but ok. Then Barney starts talking about how he has been doing this pretend family thing forever, yet his friends never know? No way. Now the show has crossed a line and went too far. I just spent the rest of the episode confused. I kept feeling like I was missing something. Felt like another in-joke episode that no one understands. Similar to the masturbation/pooping episode that many loyal fans did not even get.