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?