Tuesday, March 23, 2010

How I Met Your Mother, "Say Cheese": Stroll down Skank Lane

A review of last night's "How I Met Your Mother" coming up just as soon as I compose a song for the evening...

After a long string of episodes that were primarily about Barney, "Say Cheese" turned the focus on the two most problematic members of the ensemble in Ted and Lily. Ted's the series lead, but his romantic impulsiveness, his occasional d-bag tendencies and the unending tease that is his search for the Mother sometimes makes "HIMYM" feel like a show that works in spite of its premise, rather than because of it. And while Lily makes a good comic/romantic partner for Marshall, stories that are primarily about her often make her come across as shrill, controlling and unlikable.

But by putting both characters in the middle of a vintage "HIMYM" trip through time, space and the series' own continuity, and by having each character confront the others' most annoying traits head-on, "Say Cheese" turned out to be one of the strongest episodes of what's been an uneven fifth season.

Yes, Ted's tendency to fall in love with every woman he meets drives everybody nuts, but he got called out on it, just as Lilly had to deal with everyone else's irritation at her control freak ways. The show has to do this now and again to keep both characters in line, and it was done here in the context of an episode that hung a lot of jokes on each character's flaws, whether it was Marshall's inability to take a good picture(*) or Ted's Random Skanks constantly ruining group get-togethers.

(*) I have to say, though, that the Marshall-with-his-eyes-closed running gag was funnier before the episode started calling attention to it.

While most of the short-lived exes were new, it was nice to see Laura Prepon again as the horrid Karen (and the use of whatever French hip-hop song that was really livened up Marshall's worst plane flight ever), and I had completely forgotten that Anne Dudek guest-starred in the series' fourth episode ever (even though that was one of the episodes I covered in my blog's eighth post ever). Dudek's not famous enough for that to qualify as a "Before They Were Famous" appearance; could we go with "Before They Were Cutthroat Bitch on 'House'"?

Also, I got to the episode late last night and therefore didn't have the energy to start Zapruder'ing the "One Year Later" scene to look for clues about the state of various relationships (specifically, Barn-Man and Robin) the way I have with previous flash-forwards, but I'm sure some of you did. Anything useful?

What did everybody else think?

62 comments:

Anonymous said...

I thought it was a funny episode but what I couldn't help wondering was, Just how many costume changes did they all have, what with all the pictures and flashbacks. Must've set some sort of record!

Loved Barney not taking a bad picture, and how NPH seemed to barely contain laughing at Jason Segel's song coaching.

Lauren said...

I'm not even sure they said specifically it was one year later...all I noticed was there was no random skank this time, and Marshall had a new 'do

chaesonian said...

For some odd reason, that whole running gag about Barney never having a bad picture didn't really work for me.

Beyond that, it was typical HIMYM affair. Very odd to see a person of color on that show as once of Ted's many ladies. Including such actually reminds how shockingly homogenous that show is in the most diverse city in the world. I don't mean to hate, just an observation.

Thanks for the review Alan.

Michael said...

I loved the episode, but I thought that Anne Dudek was only dumped twice. The first time was over the phone on her birthday (before the series started). The time Ted did it in 2005 (the series' first season), didn't she Krav Magah him in a restaurant?

Alan Sepinwall said...

I'm not even sure they said specifically it was one year later

There was a "One Year Later" subtitle, I believe.

Tahlia said...

Oh, I Zapruder'd instantly, and the only thing I could come up about the flashforward is fairly obvious, and not really that telling (well, sort of) - if Robin's admission that she only brings serious dates to things like a friend's birthday was actually TRUE, then either Robin and Don don't work out... or there's some convenient to-be invented reason why he's not there.

Also, any "she looks pregnant in that dress?" observations are negated by her drinking a glass of wine. Yes, TiVo gives me the excuse to be this crazy.

Nicole said...

I know that the writers don't want to be pinned down, but if Robin was still with Don one year later, he should be important enough to bring to Lily's 33rd birthday party.

I really enjoyed this episode and felt that it was pretty true to life, although Lily was pretty mean to the new skank who made the cake for her.

RD said...

This was the first HIMYM episode in a long time where I actually laughed out loud.

Barney's inability to take a bad picture was great, Marshall's inability to take a good picture and of course "My Balls were bleu, BLUE!" was amazing.

Best episode of the season so far!

Bryan said...

I don't know - I just found this sub par - again. I definitely laughed a couple times (Marshall's pic face was very funny) but this show's just getting by on feelings for the characters. The actors are trying their best but my God the writing is just awful. (compared to what they've done in the past)

I think I'm getting more laughs out of Gary Unmarried for crying out loud.

Anonymous said...

The Barney picture since grade school kinda conflicts with his hippie phase where he'd not been in a suit ... unless he wasn't in any photos.

Robin in the Japanese wedding photo was a funny photo

Mel said...

Our reaction to the "one year later" was, "Crap! It's at least another year before he meets the mother!!" Robin and Ted were standing rather close, though . . .

Anonymous said...

Oh man, great episode! Right from the start when Marshall hands Lily her birthday tiara half asleep. It's nice to see a couple that really just love eachother and embrace eachothers oddities, not just endures.

-EmeraldLiz

Matthew said...

I hope Marshall paid royalties to Earl Hickey for his taking-every-pictures-with-your-eyes-closed gag.

Terri said...

I think the original "every photo with your eyes closed" was Forrest Gump.

belinda said...

I love that Lily was the first 'random skank'.

Grunt said...

I just want to know if there is a costume person assigned to make a new wig every time Alyson Hannigan comes in with a new hair style.

Isaac Lin said...

The ending joke would have worked better for me if Barney *still* managed to take a good picture (with a loud "Damn it!" voice over from Robin). After all, if food in his hands can magically disappear, and he always appears to be standing up, making a sneeze vanish should be a piece of cake...

dez said...

I think the original "every photo with your eyes closed" was Forrest Gump.

Nah, it's my brother-in-law :-D

I loved this ep and even rewound a few bits. Didn't notice Anne Dudek, though (!). Which random skank was she?

Heather said...

I agree - I thought the Marshall not being able to photograph with his eyes open thing was way funnier before they made a big point of it. I also think Robin finally getting Barney to take a terrible picture would have been funnier if it'd actually been left to an episode a year from now, rather than being the obvious end tag joke on this ep.

Alan Sepinwall said...

Dez, you may not have noticed her because she was seated - and, therefore, her most distinctive trait (her height) was hidden.

She was the first crying girlfriend we saw Marshall comforting on the apartment couch.

MrsB said...

Though I liked the photo gags, I kind of hated this episode. Lilly just grows more annoying every episode for me (which is totally painful, because I've always loved Alyson Hannigan).

Chrissy said...

I enjoyed the episode, but it was almost ruined by how mean Marshall was to that girl. Sometimes these people are just so insular, and I was sort of hoping for some comeuppance (like she'd screwed up the cake on purpose because she'd heard their entire conversation and couldn't believe their rudeness and Ted's mediocre attempts to make her feel comfortable).

That said, I laughed for a long while over the fact that Marshall was equally aghast over the age disparity as he was over the implication that Lily might look like someone named Lori.

jenmoon said...

The second this episode started I thought, "Oh crap, here come all the Lily-is-a-bitch comments again." But I liked how she got called out on it, and improved thereafter. So, yay.
And so far this morning, nobody seems to have been whining about this. Go figure.

But really, it's the photographs in this show that made the episode. Made of funny awesome.

Robin said...

I really liked the episode and found it one of the funniest of the season.

What freaked me out is that I recognized the background in Barney's grade school picture as the background for my SENIOR year high school picture. I feel very very old now!

Miken said...

Old School Ted is clearly the funniest of the flash back characters. His hair do is always the best.

Hannah Lee said...

Maybe Marshall just takes a page from Ani Difranco:

I don't take good pictures, cuz I have the kind of beauty that moves.

(From her song "Evolve")

Matter-Eater Lad said...

"And while Lily makes a good comic/romantic partner for Marshall, stories that are primarily about her often make her come across as shrill, controlling and unlikable."

That may be because Lily is shrill, controlling, and unlikeable. Honestly, it's hard to imagine four people wanting to spend time with such a birthday diva, year after year.

I wish someone in the episode had noted that the issue was not Ted's random dates, it was Ted bringing them to events that they were not invited to.

Evamarie said...

From Michael:
"I loved the episode, but I thought that Anne Dudek was only dumped twice. The first time was over the phone on her birthday (before the series started). The time Ted did it in 2005 (the series' first season), didn't she Krav Magah him in a restaurant?"

Yes, she totally did - that was my first thought, too.
Also, MAN has Ted dated a lot! My friends and I are of similar age, and I don't think anyone in our group has dated as much as him.

Lepidoptera said...

I feel terrible for the writers of this show, because as a 5-person ensemble, you eventually have to turn the focus on that fifth wheel (you know, the one that is best left piled under things in a dark corner of the locked trunk), and on this show, that is the charmless Lily.

Alyson Hannagan is not comedic. She just simply has no comic chops. She is bubbly and photogenic enough, but mostly they just have to write around her, and the funniest things about Lily are typically what Marshall, Ted, or Robin say or recall.

So, for drama's sake, when they focus on her, they have no real choice than to make her unrelentingly petulant. The show's funniest character was seated for the entire half-hour, looking, much like me at home, like he just couldn't wait for the next episode to get started already.

I won't play the Lily is a b!tch card. The problem is that Lily is played by an actress who does not belong in anything remotely comedic, or remotely dramatic, which, in TVLand, probably leaves Nurse Jackie as her only viable option.

Art Fleming said...

Wouldnt there be a lot of bad pictures from the time he before he was awesome?
although i dont remember if "the gang" would know

Jonathan said...

i think it would be pretty impossible for natalie to be on that couch after breaking up with ted. bad continuity by the writers for the sake of a callback. she would have had to show up at the apartment sometime in the next 24 hours after literally smashing ted's face in public. how did she get there without ted? bays and thomas used to say they paid attention to this stuff. not anymore i guess, which sucks.

Chrissy said...

@Art: I have a feeling any pictures of Barney proving he was once kind of a loser sleep with the fishes. It doesn't really make sense that he was awesome that young, but maybe it was always within him, waiting to break free.

dez said...

She was the first crying girlfriend we saw Marshall comforting on the apartment couch.

D'oh! I was pretty focused on Marshall's expressions in that scene, plus I was laughing. Will have to re-watch it online just for that (plus a couple of other jokes I missed while laughing).

I'm in the minority here again, but I like Lily. Maybe she is a big birthday diva bitca, but I know people with quirks like that, and I still like them because of their other qualities (e.g., Lily's other qualities include being loving, silly, and smart). I even like Ted despite his d-bag moments (and especially when he's being d-baggy with the old hairdon't). I must be warped.

Anonymous said...

The focus on my two least favorite characters for me didn't rehabilitate them so much as remind me of why they're annoying. Ted can still occasionally pull out a good episode for me even at this late hour ("The Window" for example) but is more often incredibly annoying. Lily I always found incredibly annoying, although I had no idea anybody else felt the same way.

It didn't help, to me, that it resolved with everybody agreeing that it's totally OK for Ted to do this. If the random skank is "The One", or even a long-term girlfriend, she will show up in other pictures later on at more casual events or when it's reached an appropriate stage for more intimate events.

And the tag ruined the funniest running joke! As one commmenter already pointed out, it makes no sense for the sneeze to show up, unless the show is somehow suggesting Barney's lost his mojo. Also disappointing that it seemed there were no major or minor hints at it, unless we're to take from the absence of a "random skank" that Ted has finally found himself a woman long-term who for whatever reason can't be there?

Oh well. At least Segel got some good lines.

Steve said...

Yes indeed, the tag undercut the whole Barney-can't-take-a-bad-photo gag. Unfortunately, either of the two ways the writers could have chosen gone -- either he takes a bad photo or he doesn't -- would have been predictable by that point, so they should have found another out.

For what it's worth, I'd have pitched having the photo be taken by one of those old Polaroid ejector-type cameras and had sneezing Barney morph into good-picture Barney as the photo develops before our eyes.

Justin in MN said...

I hate to be a nitpicking fanboy, but that is how I felt watching this episode.

First because of the Natalie/Krav Maga thing others have mentioned

the other was the whole concept of Lily's birthday, I mean she brought a goat to Ted's apartment (after she had moved out) which ended up putting him in the hospital. Even if that led Ted to becoming a professor (which he is suited for), it seems worse than what Ted did last night (though, maybe not as bad as bringing Karen to France).

also, and this is really nitpicking, but assuming time on the show is close to when the show aired (as it has been in the past), I was under the impression that Ted was older than Lilly and Marshall (at least his birthday was earlier in the year) because of the double entendre laden conversation in The Goat with Barney thinking they were talking about sleeping with Robin, while the rest of the gang talked about their 30th b-day. But assuming last night's show was in March, Lily would have already been 30 when Ted did in May ago.

Oliver said...

This episode was awful.
Lily and Ted were more annoying than funny. Marshall's character felt forced and particularly stupid, as he has been for a long time. Robin and Barney had minor roles and tried to work with it, Barney delivering the only good punchlines this week.

Please hire some new writers or pull the plug already. This show has been lacking inspiration for so long now its becoming a trainwreck.

srpad said...

I always enjoy the episodes that play with time and this was no exception.

The only thing that concerns me a little is the whole "Barney never takes bad picture" thing. It was funny of course but just concerns me a teeny bit because it is the first time, I believe, they gave Barney something that is basically magic. I could be mistaken but in the past whenever Barney has done impossible or unlikely things it turned out he somehow cheated or cut a corner to make it happen but this is basically just magic.

Magic powers could be the first step in the Fonzification of Barney or just a blip in the cause of a joke. We shall see.

Chrissy said...

Oh, one thing I can't believe the show didn't mention was Robin's old man date to Thanksgiving (Slapsgiving). The joke there was more that he was old than that he didn't belong at their dinner, but it still pretty much falls into this category.

Actually, that was my only bummer about this episode, that there weren't more callbacks. It was nice to see Natalie and Karen again, but I was hoping some of the other random skanks would be recognizable, considering how many of them we've actually seen. When you add together all of the dates here and all of the ones we've actually encountered, Ted is basically always dating, 24/7.

Anonymous said...

I didn't really get/like the Barney awesome picture gag. It just didn't make sense that he'd be holding a chip or whatever and it'd be gone.

I'd have liked it better, if no matter what weird or awkward pose he was in, it somehow turned out awesome, but in context of the pose, like, he's still holding the chip, but he's got the awesome look on his face, or it fits perfectly somehow. Just having him be standing up with a hand on the tie didn't do it for me

Billiam said...

"Also, MAN has Ted dated a lot! My friends and I are of similar age, and I don't think anyone in our group has dated as much as him."
Yeah, I'm not sure I buy that Ted is that much of a ladies man. I also never bought that Frasier or Seinfeld would have a new beautiful girlfriend every week.

Also, it was fun to read Alan's old post, where he calls HIMYM a "Friends knockoff." To be fair, that episode is one of the worst of the series, in my opinion.

Anonymous said...

Stop calling these women "random skanks". That's incredibly cruel and sexist and full of double standard. Ted's the manwhore here. By calling them random skanks, you're basically saying dating Ted makes one a skank, which is just mean. If you said dating Ted makes you stupid, I'd have to go with it. Stupidity is an equal opportunity trait. Skank applies only to women and is just a double standard, which is a tough sell in a show that features Barney and his cruel conquest and abondonement of women.

Just not cool people.

Alan Sepinwall said...

Um... we're quoting a phrase from the show. It's one of the things we do around here.

Cody said...

I actually really liked the Barney photo gag, and was also a little disappointed by the tag.

However, it occurs to me that the opening credits contain many a bad photo/still of the Barnacle...

Farrah said...

Speaking of flash forwards, isn't The Wedding Bride supposed to be out sometime soon?

Anonymous said...

Loved this episode. And I don't get all the Lily hate. (Or Ted hate for that matter.) I thought Lily was totally justified in not wanting Ted to bring strangers to her birthday all the time. She was obviously right as Amanda couldn't even manage to get her name right. And it was hilarious fun seeing Ted called on it.

Sam Garret said...

"Yes, Ted, you should totally feel entitled to bring your girl'o'the week to birthdays and weddings to meet everyone - after all, it's not like there's a nearby bar you hang out at all the damn time that you could take her to first."

Also, Ann Dudek was Booth's girlfriend in S1 Bones. That girl gets around

Bix said...

Anonymous 3:25:

That was the point. This show has had plenty of cartoon moments (Regis Philbin's super strength comes to mind) and that was one of them.

floretbroccoli said...

I was very irritated by Lily's (and the whole gang's) use of the word skank.

None of the women seemed particularly skanky. Couldn't the writers have come up with a funnier, more creative, less misogynistic word to use for women the gang disliked for all sorts of reasons?

Skank stops short of whore, but comes close.

Dave T said...

The word "skank" was more about the gang's dismissive attitude toward Ted's girls than it was about the girls themselves.

It also highlighted the contrast in Lily's thinking when she realized she could have easily been dismissed as such at the start of her relationship with Marshall.

Anonymous said...

Can anyone name that French song in the Paris scene please?

Anonymous said...

Can anyone name that French song in the Paris scene please?

SAT said...

It's possible that Lily could be pregnant in the one year later scene. She looked busty and her dress could have hidden a small belly. Anyone else think that?

Anonymous said...

I, too, was a little annoyed that Barney had what appeared to be a magic power, because it doesn't really fit with the realism of the show. But if we keep in mind that the whole series is being told by middle-aged Ted to his kids, we can assuhe'ai embellishiing.

Anonymous said...

Er, we can assume he's embellishing. Sorry, my iphone burped.

Michael said...

The best part of the episode was the cake that said "Happy 42nd birthday Lori". My sister Lori turns 42 this year.

Oliver said...

Can anyone name that French song in the Paris scene please?
-------------------------------
its from les cautionneurs but i cant find which song

qrter said...

Yeah, I was disappointed by Barney's magic photo power too.

That joke would've worked if he'd still be doing what he'd actually been doing when the photograph was taken, but looked incredibly good regardless, with the same smouldering look into the camera.

Anonymous said...

You cannot really count on anything you see in this series. I have seen like every episode before season 5 like 10 times. And one thing I know is that a lot of episodes contradicts eachother. The characters are constantly changing their opinions and feelings and the way their life are built. The show is not to be taken seriously, the possibilty of the "One year later" acctually having something to do with anything thats coming up in the show is incredibly small. To enjoy this, you need to take each episode as a seperate story in order for anything in the entire story to make sense. There is rarely anything that has to do with Ted finding his lady and when he does. Where will the top rating show go? The shows entire name would be compromised. There is a possibility that the show will run all the way untill its cancelled and then make a movie where ted finds his love.

Please forgive any misspellings. Writing in fury of hate and love for this show.
Reach me at Viccobra@hotmail.com

P said...

My reaction to the "one year later" was that Ted was making fun of the "name than bitch" thing, you know, pretending he doesn't remember the name... And Amanda is the mum!

Narrim said...

Watched it last night, loved it. Watched it again tonight, loved it more.

But my largest laugh came from watching some On Demand HIMYM's I've never seen, this one the Season 2 Super Bowl episode?

Ted: "God, How cool is Robin?"
Marshall: "I can't believe you invited this girl you've only known a few months to our sacred day. Now she's gonna be in all the pictures."

Amazing.

Travis said...

didnt the episode start with Lilly wanting to seperate Robin and Barney in the pictures, and Robin calling her out because Lilly didn't want them to look like a couple in the picture 'in case it didn't work out'?

I assumed the "one year later" actually brought us to present time.