Tuesday, December 08, 2009

How I Met Your Mother, "The Window": Maggie may

A review of last night's "How I Met Your Mother" (one of the best episodes they've done in a while) coming up just as soon as my rat-tail grows down to my waist...

I go back and forth a lot on how important, in hindsight, the search for the Mother is and should be for "HIMYM." Like many of you, I consider season two - the one year that put the search entirely on hold, since Ted spent nearly all of it in a relationship with a woman we knew wouldn't be the mom - the series' strongest from start to finish, and I reached a point during the Stella arc where I would have been happy to never hear Future Ted mention the kid's mom again until the last scene of the series.

But Carter Bays and Craig Thomas have long insisted to me that they have no regrets about the title and premise, and not just because they wouldn't have gotten on the air if they were a more blatant "Friends" imitator. The search for the mom, they argue, not only gives the show access to Future Ted to narrate and let them play around with the storytelling(*), it gives the series a yearning romantic quality that's at least as important as the wacky hijinks and Barney catchphrases. When I think about the series, I remember the slaps and the goat and Robin Sparkles, but I also think about Ted making it rain(**), or the two-minute date, or Barney looking at Robin with new eyes, and those moments are all propelled or inspired by Ted's search for the woman of his dreams.

(*) Of course, you could have Future Ted just boring his kids with non-specific stories of his late 20s and early 30s, but the title does make him seem a little more focused (and less cruel) than that.

(**) In a non-PacMan way.


A terrific episode like "The Window" illustrates how important that romantic quality is to the series.

First, Romantic Ted is massively less of a d-bag than Between Relationships Ted (or Dating Stella Ted). Ted isn't always that likable (even the show will cop to this), and there are times when he actually seems superfluous to his own series, but when he's on a mission to land a woman and has more than sex on his mind, he becomes a much more appealing, much more justifiably central, character. Joe Kelly's script did a very good job of showing Ted finally moving on from Stella and getting back to looking for the Mother, even as it showed him acknowledging that he was never meant to be with Maggie. (Note that Future Ted calls the story at the end "the second greatest love story" he ever heard; I have to assume the first is the one he's been telling his poor kids all these years.)

Second, that feeling of romance then extended to the Marshall and Lily B-story, where Marshall's own regrets about the past's collision with the present were cast aside by the awesome woman in his life. The scene at the basketball court was one of the sweetest, best-played Segel/Hannigan moments of the series, and then topped perfectly by the tag, where the joke about Combover Marshall traveling back in time to send back the chicken turned swoon-y itself with the way Jason Segel played both his present and future self's complete and utter adoration for his wife.

And where some romantic episodes of the series don't have as much room for laughs, "The Window" had a great balance of comedy and pathos. Barney's self-challenge to have sex in bib overalls - and Robin's own self-challenge to humiliate him for it - was a strong comic relief C-plot (and one that eventually tied back into the Maggie story), but the other two stories had plenty of jokes on their own. The use of music and flashbacks nicely illustrated Maggie's uncanny ability to land in a relationship, and Ted's terror of not being the next guy for her, and Robin's attempt to seduce Maggie's disinterested co-worker (played by Jamie Kaler from "My Boys") gave Cobie Smulders some of her more inspired moments of late (non-Canadian division). And, of course, every glimpse or sound byte of 15-year-old Rat-Tail Marshall was gold, particularly him quoting Snow's heinous-yet-catch "Informer"(***) at the end of his letter to his own future self(****).

(***) Does this count as another "HIMYM" Canadian joke? Or is Snow unintentionally funny no matter his nationality?

(****) While I was happy to see the return of a more likable, purposeful Ted in this one, which only enhances the tie between the Josh Radnor present and the Bob Saget future, I think I might just as happily watch a version of the series told from Marshall's POV where we bounce between him as an awkward teenager, him in the present and him with a combover, "Time-Traveler's Wife"-style.


At its best, "HIMYM" makes me laugh, and it puts a broad smile on my face for reasons that have nothing to do with the jokes. "The Window" was "HIMYM" at its best.

What did everybody else think?

53 comments:

purpletoonlink said...

Absolutely, positively agree.

Best episode in a long time, and choc-a-bloc full of reasons why when 'HIMYM' is working well, it's fantastic.

Karen said...

I even liked Ted's students and their perpetually raised hands--and the recitation of the MAGGIE acronym as he ran out. And ordinarily I find the Ted Teaching storylines a little boring.

Present Marshall with Lily and the wings was as sweet as a show can get without crossing over to saccharine.

paulf said...

Yeah, really liked this episode, especially Teenage Marshall.

Though it was weird seeing Joanna Garcia as someone old enough to date Ted after she was a teenager on Gossip Girl a few weeks ago (though, as she's 30, I don't blame HIMYM for that).

Steve said...

I was sure the Future Marshall bit would end with "P.S.- thanks for the wings!" My guess is the writers considered that but then realized it was a little too obvious.

Billiam said...

I think many of us can relate to the idea of believing there could be real potential with someone under the right circumstances, only those circumstances never happen. As such, it didn't take much for me to become emotionally invested in the episode (even though we had a pretty good guess how it would end).

Anonymous said...

I never liked how Marshall got the soulless corporate job and how helping save the planet was portrayed as a childish, pie-in-the-sky fantasy. That whole plot has been pretty much left aside for the last few seasons so it was nice to be reminded of it, but I still wish he'd taken the opportunity to quit his job.

I also like how Maggie did end up with her "childish, pie-in-the-sky" job, which undercuts the message a bit and makes it more Lily's personal opinion.

Karl Ruben said...

I really enjoyed the direction they chose with Ted's class in this one - instead of him embarrassing himself in front of them with all his angsty nonsense, they turned it into some sort of sympathetic, interactive Greek chorus. Even if douchy, conceited Ted is funny some times (like in this season's opener), I definitely like romantic hero Ted the best.

Christy said...

I would happily pay cash money to see Jamie Kaler from "My Boys" and Barney (NPH) on the screen together again. They are two of my favorite TV skirt chasers. It was almost too much for me to handle.

Great episode!

Chedda said...

Disagree. I hadn't watched the episode live, but caught your tweet about it, and decided to watch before I fell asleep. It didn't do much for me.

amysusanne said...

@paulf: nitpicking, I know, but on GG Joanna's character wasn't a teen. She was in grad school. I guess Nate was slowly working his way back to women his own age.

Kaler fits right in with this group. I don't know why we *would* ever see him again, but I definitely wouldn't mind it. Although I was momentarily distracted by the fact that season two Mike would have been totally into Robin's creepy "I spilled my drink" craziness at the gallery. (Season one and three Mike would have still been into it, they just would have realized it was creepy.)

cadfile said...

From the moment of the "The window is open..." line I knew I was going to enjoy this episode.

Of course the first classroom bit was overdone, I mean I have never met a college student who would rather have their 1 hour lecture instead of a day off if given the chance as Ted gave them when he first arrived.

I also liked the bit with Barney and the old woman at the end and he had to suck it up to win his self challenge.

Dave T said...

I mean I have never met a college student who would rather have their 1 hour lecture instead of a day off if given the chance as Ted gave them when he first arrived.

When you're paying Ivy League prices to be educated, and perhaps struggle through traffic to get there (a night-time class -- in NYC), then your teacher says he just doesn't feel like educating you, you might resent it a bit.

Fernando said...

Good episode, not great.

Also, I had a certain affinity for d-bag Ted. Maybe its cuz im single and bad at it but I liked seeing Ted fumble through dating experiences and slipping closer and closer to Barney territory. Barney is great at being Barney, but it was fun to see Ted totally embrace that and kinda suck at it.

Christy said...

Favorite moment of the episode was Ted running down the street and saying, "I hate Barney Stinson!" and hearing a random woman respond, "ME TOO!"

Theresa said...

My favorite touch was that flashback Maggie's true love was wearing overalls in one of the bits; no wonder she really dug Barney/Marshall's.

srpad said...

I didn't enjoy this episode as much as you did. I felt it was good and not great.

I did love the fact that they showed Time Travelling Marshall at the end. No other show would have done that and that is why I love this show.

Oosaka-san said...

I did love the fact that they showed Time Travelling Marshall at the end. No other show would have done that and that is why I love this show.

I'm ambivalent about it, it seemed pretty jarring... until I realized they didn't need to make anything of it, so what if time travel turns out to be possible in the future, it doesn't affect the series that's happening in the present.

OR DOES IT ? And that's when I went into a fantasy where future Ted actually starts interacting with the present somehow, giving the framing device a whole new dimension and turning the series into some kind of sci-fi avant-garde romantic comedy thing. It blew my mind.
Then I decided they would probably not do that.

(I mean, if they did they would probably fail miserably, because there's no way such a conceit could work right ? But what if it could ? Wouldn't that be the awesomest thing ever ?)

Anonymous said...

I enjoyed the episode, but the use of Informer by Snow bothered me. I'm also 30 and remember that song well and knew that I was about 12 when it came out. I understand that the song is comic gold, and maybe it was meant to be a subtle joke about how Minnesota/Marshall were behind the times. But it felt forced to me. If they really wanted to use the song, why not make Marshall 12 or 13 when he wrote the letter.

Alan Sepinwall said...

Weren't Ted and Marshall 27 when the series started? If so, they would be 32 now, which would make a 15-year-old Marshall being really into that song make sense.

George said...

It was a great episode, I too had forgotten what it was like to actually like and support Ted.

I never like the "for one episode only" celebrity guest appearances, and knowing that this was a girl that Ted potentially thought was The One ("a concept I came up with after watching The Matrix"- Classic Tracy Jordan), I should have been even more peeved that we had never heard of her before. Maggie wasn't a very funny character, but she was an important one and a needed catalyst for Ted and this flagging series as a whole, so in the end I don't mind that we never heard of her before and never will do again.

I agree that it great that Maggie had gotten her dream job. The HIMYM writers can be a bit snarky about dreams and optimism so it was good to see that somebody didn't compromise themselves for once.

Robin was Funny ?/! I never thought Robin has been that funny and I really don't see the fuss over Cobie Smulders' comic ability, but she was hilarious in the erotic dog exhibition (This really was a WTF kind of episode, wasn't it). And Barney in the overalls was good too, nice to see the writers put him in the back seat for once.

Marshall was both funny, heartbreaking and really sweet in this episode. Jason Segel has always been great but he's been (physically) lacking this season. It was nice to see him acknowledge that he has sold out a bit even if it was for the family he will have and seeing Lily talk him back down reminded me of why they were awesome together. Wasn't a big fan of the tag, I thought that went a bit too far, too sappy.

The "second greatest love story" at the end was wonderful. Anything with Grizzly Bear playing in the background is always upgraded, but that song combined with a nice story and Ted's new focus on finding the mother made it great.

Did Barney actually sleep with that old woman? I can't believe they went there. Make Adjustments Go Get It Energize!

A truly great episode, best of the season and wonderful showcase for Jason Segel.

Anonymous said...

Ah. Thank you for correcting me about Marshall's age. It makes me enjoy the episode even more. And thank you for your blogs. They add depth to all my favorite shows.

ZeppJets said...

Did Nick Andopolis that cheerleader ever talk back at McKinley High?

Alan Sepinwall said...

Did Nick Andopolis that cheerleader ever talk back at McKinley High?

Nope. She was in the same class as the geeks, not the freaks.

Brandy said...

Informer was released in September of 1992 and Marshall's letter was dated 1993 so that's about right.

*melissa* said...

i was really touched by what ted was saying at the end about being scared. he said something along the lines of "being scared makes you realize your doing something important, and if your not scared then what the hell are you doing?" i really liked that they finally made ted realize he was ready again. he didnt want to go around chasing random girls anymore and that was scarry because its all he knew. i think that a lot of us feel that way and thats why i love this show! it relates to single people in their 30s!!

Mo Ryan said...

Totally agreed, it was a really strong episode. Every single one of the story threads offered something (or a lot of things) to like. Anything that draws comedy from Marshall's sincerity and nerdiness is comedy gold. And the "window" concept was an excellent gold mine -- the show at its best is really good at putting its finger on real-life scenarios that are relatable and real. But I now look back at certain "if only there'd been a window!" people in my life now, and think "Boy, I bet we wouldn't have gotten along at all." Maybe it's better to have the dream of a relationship with a window person than the reality?

I vote for some of Ted's students to have running bit parts in the show. That classroom story was strong as well (and I like that the better classroom stories sometimes mine Ted's douchier side but also reinforce the idea that the guy is pretty smart). The actors who had speaking roles in the classroom really nailed their roles. Would like to see any of them -- or Kaler -- back again.

Hobbes said...

I am in a weird type of shock. I really enjoyed this episode, and have been consuming anyone who writes about it and the comments on it and no one has mentioned what made this episode fantastic. Robin doing a Brad Pitt from se7en impersonation in the beginning of the episode and getting no laughs for it. I laughed so hard I think I missed the entire rest of the tease and was confused about who exactly Maggie was. The show could have rolled credits right at that time and it still would have been the funniest thing on TV all week. I agree with everyone else, I just can't believe everyone is overlooking that golden moment.

Chazz Goodtimes said...

Great episode- As a single guy in my late twenties the "window" concept of a the great girl who only stays single for a half a second at a time hit comically close to home. Despite the focus on the romance angle I thought there were more than a few laugh out loud moments- as mentioned above Marshall closing his letter with the refrain from the Informer and the off camera response of "Me too!" to Ted's "I hate Barney Stinson" were particular gems.

My one thought- did they write themselves into a corner with mentioning that the "Mother" was in Ted's class? When Maggie declined Ted's invitation to sit-in on the class in favor of hanging out with Marshall and Lilly I thought, "Great, I know how this will end." Maybe it’s the necessary progression of the show that they have to narrow down the search a little each season- or maybe the writers left it more open-ended than I remember (I thought he spefifically said their mother was IN his class but I could be wrong on that one). Anyone else have the same reaction?

Jenn said...

I've read countless reviews and comments calling Ted a douche and I don't get it. I love Ted! What is it that makes him so d-baggy? I'm not saying everyone is wrong, I'm honestly asking someone to explain it to me. For whatever reason, I find him endearing.

amysusanne said...

@Chaz: the mother isn't in Ted's class, the mother was in the huge class that Ted went to by accident.

Alan Sepinwall said...

My one thought- did they write themselves into a corner with mentioning that the "Mother" was in Ted's class?

She's not in his architecture class. She was in the giant Econ lecture that Ted mistakenly thought he was teaching in the season premiere.

Chazz Goodtimes said...

@Amysusanne & Alan

Of course! I should have remembered, perhaps one less beer for me on Monday nights from now on.

I think that leaves things open-ended enough for me to still enjoy the drama of 'who's the mother' aspect of the show.

Tyroc said...

Alan, you tend to like the show more than I do but I'm in complete agreement here. LOVED IT.

The central concept of "The Window" felt like a real thing (often they create terms for things on the show, a la Seinfeld, that don't feel they are real things) and many of us can relate emotionally to the great girl who always got away or seemed to be dating someone the second after she broke up with her last boyfriend.

And then each character had something funny and interesting to do throughout.

When they apply for the Emmys this one should be one of the two they send in.

My favorite of the year. Contender for best of the series.

BigTed said...

This episode actually bothered me more than most. Part was that it reminded me of the "Seinfeld" episode when Jerry and Elaine kept hoping for a married couple to break up so they could pounce on the woman and man, respecitively. (At least that show acknowledged how selfish they were being.) And there's something weird about a woman, no matter how desirable, who ends up becoming the girlfriend of whatever half-decent guy she meets immediately after ending her last long-term relationship. Only in the world of sitcoms could that woman be perfectly normal in every other way.

But more than anything, this episode seemed to demonstrate that Ted hasn't learned anything over the last few years -- because his "romantic" nature, while serving him well in some ways, also leads him to jump into relationships long before he actually knows someone. (As in confessing his love for Robin on their first date, or here deciding that a woman that he's never actually dated is perfect for him.)

The part of this episode I did like, apart from the stuff with Marshall and Lily, was Ted's banter with his students. It made it seem as if his decision to become a professor was a good one, not just a symptom of his failure as a professional architect.

Mark said...

Really enjoyed this episode.

My only problem was having to suspend all logic and hormones when the dude was ignoring Robin in the gallery. I was ready to jump into the screen to help her "clean up."
Kudos to Colby for a fine effort, certainly matching Kaley's fine effort on BBT later in the evening.

J.J. said...

I liked the scenes with Ted's class mainly because of the underlying likelihood that this was just his version/interpretation of how those things happened. That's one of the fun things about a show with an unreliable narrator.

Because, honestly, you just know there's no way those scenes with his class actually went that way.

I'm sure in reality he was whining and unloading all that baggage on his students (being the annoying d-bag we all know he is), and they were certainly nowhere near that engaged in his nonsense.

R.A. Porter said...

BigTed, thank you. I thought this was a cute episode and enjoyed the B- and C-stories, but *man* was I irritated by Ted trying to horn in on a girl minutes after a breakup and by the notion that a girl - so clearly co-dependent that she can't go a day without a boyfriend - is somehow desirable.

What was supposed to be cute just looked like desperation to me.

Just Being Josh said...

Liked the ep and LOVED the premise of "The Window" but there were just too many blatant sitcom devices that made the story feel way forced for me.

I know that they had to get Ted away from Maggie for the drama but the ep lost any and all believability the instant Ted left the bar for his class.

Blow it off man! This is the woman you've been waiting for forever and you're going to your class?? Then he gets to the class and STAYS to think about if he's ready or not?? Lame.

Marshall and Lilly, knowing the stakes for Ted, would never leave the bar like that under normal circumstances.

And NO ONE would ever leave Maggie with Barney.

I couldn't get into this one because it felt so unrealistic the entire time - which is so frustrating because HIMYM is the king of realistic sitcoms.

Marty said...

In thinking about Ted's smugness, it fits well with a long-winded dad who would take this long in telling the story of how he met your mother. While I don't know that I really care too much about the answer, the way he is telling the story dovetails nicely with what we have learned and seen of Ted all these years. In a weird character-continuity way, it almost has to be as it is.

Loved the episode!

Jim said...

Alan, disinterested means neutral. I think you mean uninterested.

Sorry to get all Bugsy on you.

Anonymous said...

What song played at the end of Marshal's original future letter??

*melissa* said...

the song being played at the end was two weeks by grizzly bear off their latest album veckatimest

Matt said...

In what episode did Ted "make it rain"?

R.A. Porter said...

@Matt, Ted made it rain in the season one finale, "Come On."

Tausif said...

@ Dave T well put, could not have made that point better myself. As a grad student going to an expensive school in Manhattan I heartily agree.

The other thing I found hard to believe is after one of the students points out that they have paid for his time to learn architecture that they would be equally engrossed in the story of his personal love life. I could only see that if he was a really beloved professor. I haven't seen enough of Ted with his students to understand how they feel about him.

I was actually confused by the whole scene because of this. I am pretty sure some students would not be into discussing his love life and probably would have walked out. Usually older Ted through narration tells us this is how he imagines the (or that this is how another character has told him how they imagine their) moment when something seems unbelievable. So when the entire class repeats the acronym I was a bit surprised that

a) all of them did it

b) narrator Ted did not clue us in on the believability of the moment.

Anonymous said...

Boring and predictable. This show does not belong in the same lineup as Big Bang (which was off the chart this week) and the 'always good for a few giggles' Two and a Half Men. Even 'On Purpose' was better than this .. and it was not very good.

dez said...

Only in the world of sitcoms could that woman be perfectly normal in every other way.


Yeah, but I was glad she turned out to be such a catch, though not Ted's catch. Funny, charming ep. And I will always laugh at "I hate Barney Stinson!" / "ME, TOO!"

Also, Barney's slept with older women before, so I don't think he was sucking it up *that* much.

Kathie said...

Jenn, I agree, don't know why so many people don't like Ted. I think he's sweet and really cute.

"I hate Barney Stinson" "me too!"

Marshall & Lilly are too cute, loved the basketball scene.

Anonymous said...

Boring and predictable. This show does not belong in the same lineup as Big Bang […] and the 'always good for a few giggles' Two and a Half Men. Even 'On Purpose' was better than this

I think I just threw up a little.

Alfred A. A. said...

The whole episode I kinda wished Maggie would turn into a semi-regular, I thought she had great chemistry with the cast!

Little Oregon Bug said...

I loved this episode. Maggie was cute and all, but a little too desperate, with how she kept hopping from guy to guy, so I was glad that Ted didn't end up with her. Of course we knew he wouldn't because she wasn't a student in his class, as the lovely foreshadowing told us last season.
I thought this episode had all of the classic hilarity that makes me watch this show every season, even when they won't tell us who the mother is. I really hope they do and it isn't one of those shows where we never get to know. I don't think the writers would do that to us though!

RandoFan said...

Sorry for the late comment, since I didn't get to see it until almost a week later....

Anyone think that Ted's architecure students being so into his love life might be foreshadowing? Maybe one of them introduces him to their friend, who is another student who happened to be in the large economics lecture?

Anonymous said...

it was so fucking lame. One of the worst episodes ever.