Monday, March 09, 2009

HIMYM, "Sorry, Bro": I'm Alan, and I approved of this episode

Spoilers for tonight's "How I Met Your Mother" coming up just as soon as I alert the sommelier...

Wow. I've been enjoying "HIMYM" for the most part this year, but an episode like "Sorry, Bro" -- both the funniest and most uniquely "HIMYM" episode dating back to at least "The Naked Man," if not to last season's "Ten Sessions"/"The Bracket" double-header -- makes me realize how much I've been making allowances for some of the episodes of late. Because there are so many moving parts (the interlocking stories, the playing with time and perspective, Saget's narration, sweet moments mixed with crude ones, etc.), it's hard for "HIMYM" to live up to its potential every week. There have only been a handful of real Pantheon episodes like "Slap Bet," after all. But when I see an episode as good as this one, it makes me wish the show could reach this level all the time, even as I understand how difficult that is.

There were so many funny things going in "Sorry, Bro" that this could easily degenerate into one of those "30 Rock" episode reviews where all I do is list jokes that made me laugh. So instead I want to try to break down the things that elevated it over just a very good episode:

1. Marshall and Lily got angry. Their relationship is based on Craig Thomas' marriage, and from what little I know of Craig, he seems like a very nice and friendly guy, and I can imagine him and Mrs. Thomas getting very schmoopie together. And Jason Segel and Alyson Hannigan certainly play that note well -- just not nearly as well as they play blind comic fury. Segel is rarely better than when he's exploding into a rage over some perceived slight, and Hannigan is never better, so an episode built entirely around someone they both despise was right in their wheelhouse. Excellent work from both, so much so that I barely even noticed the various pregnancy-hiding tricks this week.

2. Everyone's either had a Karen or known a Karen. The specifics of her awfulness don't really matter, though her ceaseless pretensions were certainly funny. But there's a universality to the Karen experience -- of either being unable to resist dating someone who is always bad news, or else having a friend who does it -- that meant they could have given her almost any personality and it still would have been funny. (And this one was well-played by Laura Prepon.) Some "HIMYM" stories are great because they're so unique, but lots of others work because they somehow manage to capture an emotion, or an experience, or a person that we're all familiar with in some way. This was one of the latter.

3. The jokes were relentless. I think in some weeks, the writers might have been content to build a whole episode around Barney's four reasons for having lunch with your ex, or about Robin having trouble adjusting to her new schedule (and sleep-eating ribs!), or even about Barney waging an elaborate prank on Marshall at the office. Instead, all of those gags -- and Robin's snub-nose revolver, and Robin and Lily both quoting "The Wire," and Marshall and Lily dressed up as, respectively, The Ultimate Warrior and Hacksaw Jim Duggan, or any of the other jokes I would list if I were throwing up my hands and taking the "30 Rock" approach -- came fast and furious in the same episode. I had to pause the show a few times just to catch my breath, and/or so I could jump back and catch another joke I almost missed. (Did you notice, for instance, that Ted and Karen's waiter is Lily's ex-boyfriend Scooter, who fulfilled his promise to her to become a waiter because he thought that's what she wanted?)

4. The interlocking of the pants story (boma-ye!(*)) and the Karen story made each one funnier than if they had been told in linear fashion. This, as always, is the big "HIMYM" signature, the way that familiar stories are told in new ways, bending time and perspective to fit the needs of the jokes and/or the characters. Here, the recounting of Ted's reunion with Karen played out the way an actual 1:45 a.m. bull session at a bar might go, with the topic bouncing back and forth between Karen's return and Marshall's stolen pants, and with Barney deliberately needling Marshall (and raising the hilarity quotient) by wavering on who should tell the punchline to the pants story.

(*) Adapted from "Ali, boma-ye!," meaning "Ali, kill him!" which the crowds in Zaire chanted as Muhammad Ali trained for the Rumble in the Jungle with George Foreman.

Damn, that was good. I want to see Summer Glau on "Big Bang Theory" (and no talk about that one until I do a separate post tomorrow), but I'm really tempted to just put "Sorry, Bro" on again. Bravo, bros.

What did everybody else think?


floretbroccoli said...

I caught "the game is the game." Did I mess another Wire reference?

Anonymous said...

Best moment, though: Robin falling asleep while eating ribs.

Anonymous said...

Damn! You caught the waiter gag. I wanted to point that out! You deserve your critic-cred, Sepinwall. Well played.

The other minor bit I noticed is that the tie Wendy tried to give back to Barney is the same one he was wearing at the bar. Obviously, he talked to her again at some point.

Laura reminds me of what I hate about Ted. He defines himself so much by his relationships that he often becomes a more obnoxious version of the person he's around. Take last year with Barney -- all the smarm, none of the charm. With Laura, he's Douche-Ted up to 11, to the point that he's willing to hurt another guy the way Laura hurt him. And like last year, he writes it off by saying he's on the rebound.

The advantage, though, is that Douche-Ted is so much funnier than Womanizer Ted or Creepily Romantic Ted that it actually INCREASES the episode's entertainment value. And it looks like we're in for a run of Douche-Ted. The chaos shall be magnificent.

And Marshall and Barney's tale proves one of HIMYM's greatest points once again: It's not the story, it's how you tell it.

Anonymous said...

Wow, Alan, considering that I find myself agreeing with you about 90% of the time, we are not on the same page with this episode...

I kept thinking that they were recycling jokes and themes that they have done before, and done better.

- The crappy ex.
- The Barney list (which was especially weak compared to others he's done before).
- Marshall being the butt of ridicule by his co-workers.

All felt unoriginal and too much like I'd seen them before (though I too loved when Marshall and Lily quoted The Wire. "He got to get got.").

This season has been really uneven, and I have generally agreed with you on a week-by-week basis, but we clearly were watching two different episodes tonight.

Rick said...

I really love when Ted's douchey side is highlighted (though that might be a problem when the show gets back around to its titular mission), and having Karen around to amplify the douchiness made this one pretty special.

Loved Robin doing hockey calls while passed out at the drafting table and Marshall's ex lunch too. Oh, and I also missed Lily's "Wire" quote. Little help?

Verification word: messest. As in, Man, that episode was the *messest." F'real.

Rick said...

^^ Ah. "He got to get got." Didn't register as a "Wire" quote for some reason.

David Coleman said...

My favorite call-back was the bowl of fruit Marshall was eating then leading to him having to pose naked for Lily...classic HIMYM

Anonymous said...

This episode was awesome. The whole cast really did an excellent job here. Even Radnor (who normally gets knocked because Ted is typically the least interesting character on this show), really sold how Ted could still have friends as awesome as he does despite his tendency to slip into pretentious jerk territory when around the wrong people.

I also liked that when Karen showed up at the end of the episode Barney and Robin also only gave her half-hearted "hellos." They already get that she can't be good for Ted.

Rachel said...

This episode was legend -- well, you know how that goes.

Good going, all around. Possibly a new fav episode, even.

Eric said...

Loved this ep too. My favorite moment though, was when they "hid" Ms. Hannigan's pregnancy by having her stand behind a globe, thus hanging a lampshade on it.

Anonymous said...

Like Anon 11:22, I am with Alan at least 90% of the time, but this episode felt tired, flat, and just not that well executed. The pants B-story, although with a very game Barney and Marshall, was just boring.

Although occasional parts I liked (esp. the Wire shout-out), just thought this was one of the poorer episodes in a while. No where near "Slap Bet" (or even the Downwind from the .... episode).

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

wow, one of my favorite episodes ever.

I was laughing non-stop throughout the episode. Plus, every character brought the goods tonight.

Ted: his douchiness

Robin: her laughing about the chimp in two tuxedos/hockey dream

Marshall/Lilly: WWF, eating the bowl of fruit

Barney: his obsession with the pants story.

The scooter callback was a HIMYM nice touch, and I like the possibilites of a BS meaning "Before Stinson."

Oh, and that the episode closed with nods to The Wire was ultimate bliss. Combining my favorite sitcom on the air now, with my favorite drama of all time was just awesome.

Fantastic episode all around. I think Laura Preppon will be a nice touch for the show.

Anonymous said...

Weird, just weird!

We were all watching this around the table, and while there were some good jokes (Robin and the Gun), we all agreed this was the worst or second worst episode of the show we'd seen.

"Were the writers on strike?"

It just felt flat and forced - the pants joke simply didn't work for me, and sucked the life out of it.

Everyone seemed slightly "off."


Nicole Marie said...

How could you "barely notice the pregnancy-hiding tricks" when one was Alyson standing behind a giant globe? That was hilarious!

I also loved NPH falling out of the booth he was laughing so hard at the pants story. His physical comedy is always a highlight!

Anonymous said...

Nothing compares to the surprise of seeing a shirtless Marshall dressed up in full regalia as the Ultimate Warrior.

Unknown said...

Not my favorite episode (it's more like a bunch of topics chucked together), but I did enjoy the callbacks. I kind of give them some leeway for having to now plot around two actresses who can't do a lot beyond sit in the bar.

afoglia said...

I'm going to have to side more with the crowd, Alan. It felt a bit flat. You're right, this was a great HIMYM-style story, but the execution never quite gelled, and the ending felt incomplete. I assume Prepon will be on a future episode. I'll have to withhold final judgment till then.

To be fair, I was making a dinner salad while it was on, so I wasn't giving it my full attention. You've convinced me to give it another view this weekend.

Kenrick said...

I found this episode to be mildly amusing. The lists were funny, but the rest... ehhh. The pants thing got old after the intro scene.

I don't find Ted as annoying as most people seem to, but in this episode? Geez, quit being so douche-ey.

Was there a continuity gaff within the episode?
I thought Ted admitted to asking Laura to dinner, but then after the commercial break or whatever, he referred to them as having lunch.

Anonymous said...

Giving your douchey character a storyline where he becomes even more douchey? Not my favorite choice.

I thought this was pretty awful. The jokes were relentless indeed, they were just not funny. The characters spouted list after list (a completely unnatural way for people to talk that's funny when Barney does it but now they're all doing it. With bad jokes.) The promise of the pants being funny with no funny payoff at all. If the joke was that it really wasn't that funny, that's okay, but don't keep bringing it up.

I like Laura Prepon (bring back the red hair!) but I could see her better cast as Robin's tough girl friend from back home. She does the tomboy thing really well. She's too likable to do this character.

And Ted's too annoying to have the episode focus on him.


Nice to see Wendy though.

Theresa said...

I thought it was a great, great episode after several that had been falling sort of flat. Thanks for pointing out the references to The Wire and that Scooter was the waiter; all I caught was the aforementioned bowl of fruit being eaten by Marshall. I think that Jason Segel should have to dress in wrestler gear every week, because that was awesome. This episode consistently had me laughing out loud and for that, I am thankful.

Theresa said...

P.S. I also enjoyed the callback to Barney's paranoia that Wendy is trying to kill him.

Pamela Jaye said...

when Barney fell out of his seat over something I didn't find funny, I thought - oh well, it's one of those weeks, and wished I had a sandwich
(kidding. I've never had a sandwich, though I once roomed next to an eater and had to endure second-hand sandwich.)

I'll wait for Big Bang. The Bostonian in me is dying to point out something I was so excited about that I called my brother at 11:47pm to tell him (he was very excited too).
By the time I wake up, you will know or have been told, though.

Perhaps I need to watch HIMYM *before* TBBT. Might help.

I know Barney's um... i don't even have a word for it, but the pants thing was like a Jr High prank and really annoyed me.)

(though I did smile at the mention of Marshall's "emergency pants" - I had them when I worked in Boston (after the first time I arrived at work soaked to the knees.) They came in handy when I spilled tea in my lap. and later on a plane when a flight attendant spilled a bottle of OJ in my lap.
Did you know that Schlemiel and Schlemozzel (sp?) have to do with spillers and spillees? I'm always the spillee.
...We're gonna make our dreams come true... doin' it our way.)

and no, I missed Scooter as a waiter, later. Will have to rewatch.

Also missed an unspecified amount of the open while the DVR switched its only free tuner from TBBT to HIMYM.

I'd love to see Robin at her new job.

I think I was expecting to see "your mother" and that added to my disappointment.
(or if I did see her and don't know it yet, I'm gonna hate this show)

Either that or severe TV overload. (Chuck, Jon & Kate,Castle, TBBT & HIMYM, with a side order of blogs)

Of course I may be permanently spoiled by Spoiler Alert. Or maybe I just don't like Pretentious Ted.

In fact, it's possible that everything in this ep - aside from Robin's severe self-induced narcolepsy - brought back bad memories of my school years: Judgmental roomies (classmates), pretentious snobs, childish, cruel, and embarrassing jokes (grow up Barney), and people being in effect told "this seat is taken" (even if it's *your* *bed*)

Yup. Didn't like this ep.

and Prepon, I don't think I liked her either.
wish they could get Rachelle Lefevre back. She's beautiful.

Anonymous said...

shocked by all the of the better episodes of season and like i said to my roommates after the episode...Ted was actually funny for once!

Great ep, and Segal is awesome...

Bring on more douchey Ted, makes for a way funnier show all around

Anonymous said...

And to see Barney giggling throughout the episode like a little girl? Brilliant.

It's probably been said before, but in a good episode, this show is just as capable as Coupling (UK) in how they work out all the time shifting bits. Perhaps not as complicated as Coupling, but just as effective in the humour, at least for me.

But I guess, not everyone's cup of tea this episode. Which is fine.

Anonymous said...

Funny, I never thought of the comparison to the UK "Coupling" until just now, but you're right: the story telling, the time shifts, the alternate point of views...

I really liked this episode, even if it seemed odd that Ted could have spent what appeared to be at least a week with Karen (that many lunches and bed sessions wouldn't fit in a day or two), and not breathe one word to anyone until this night.

erin said...

I LOVED this episode and was just laughing throughout. i thought the brilliance of Barney's glee at the pants story (and I loved him not being able to decide between him and Marshall telling it) is that Robin's reaction is right on--it's not THAT funny, but Barney thinking it's hilarious is what makes it funny. I've definitely had situations where friends (or me!) will start telling a story, and the group realizes (but they don't) that it's just not that funny. But they keep going! Because they think it's hilarious! The physical comedy sold it for me.

As for Ted's douchiness, I love how the writers are playing it up lately. If you just have a nice guy, it doesn't make for interesting comedy, so THIS personality trait is what is so great. Ted's storyline last week with the actress did the same thing for me (I loved the line about him loving her performance at the Bertolt Brecht theater) so all his beats this episode where spot on. I was ROLLING with him ordering at the restaurant ("with mooh-zaRELL") because i went to dinner with a guy who ordered it JUST that way and he thought he knew everything about food, and yes...I thought he was a douche. And douche is one of my favorite words--it's just so descriptive and effective.

Laura Prepon was perfect--i always thought she was underappreciated on 70s show. And all the Marshall site gags were terrific.

Sometimes the show just hits the nail on the head, and this was one of those times.

Unknown said...

Probably my favorite episode this year - what a terrific turn-around from the last few weeks.

Re: the Barney/pants thing that's received a few comments. I don't know that is is-or supposed to be- that funny. The reason Barney thinks it's so funny is because he did it (cut the pants). He always laughs too hard at his own practical jokes.

I'm not sure who I laughed harder at Marshall/Lilly or Robin- everything was spot on tonight I thought.

Karen said...

Man, that was brilliant. I agree with @erin: what made the pants story so funny was not that it was funny ('cause it really wasn't), it was Barney's sheer delight in it.

Other highlights for me:
--"she's the heir to the Massengill fortune"
--the way Marshall clutched Lilly for comfort when recounting the 3rd worst thing in the world: losing all existing Evel Knievel footage
--Barney's sheer delight at Robin's helpless hilarity over the [not very funny] chimp in 2 tuxedoes (one of the things that makes NPH so brilliant is how well he reacts to others in a scene; he's got that "acting is listening" thing DOWN)
--which is related to his wonderful reactions to Lilly arriving to give something to Marshall, but deciding to give it to Barney instead: taken aback, considering, accepting

Other things I liked were the way Barney looked like Edward Scissorhands on a topiary when he went to work on Marshall's pants, and the excellent kid they chose to be the young Marshall--he really captured the essence.

So, yeah, while the ending was flat and seemingly unresolved, this episode worked really well for me.

Unknown said...

Yes, this was just a grand slam episode. From the unfunny pants story that was hilarious because of Barney thinking that it was so funny he fell out of the booth, to that kid that looked just like a little Marshall, to the obviously HUGE globe hiding Lilly's belly.

One laugh after another, great call backs, great quotes from The Wire - oh, if they could all be this good!

Alan Sepinwall said...

Nothing compares to the surprise of seeing a shirtless Marshall dressed up in full regalia as the Ultimate Warrior.

Except the realization that Lily was dressed as freakin' Hacksaw Jim Duggan. Making an Ultimate Warrior joke is easy, but a Jim Duggan reference means someone who works on the show was a serious WWF fan in the '80s/'90s.

Anonymous said...

I quite liked this episode, which had all sorts of fun continuity gags (Scooter the waiter, Barney wearing Wendy's tie in the later scene, Marshall eating the fruit in an early scene and then having to "sit in" for the fruit later).

But I'd really like to say something about the pants story, which people seem to be complaining about as a flat B-story. I thought the whole point of the pants stuff was that it wasn't funny. Barney thinks it is hilarious, but everyone else thinks it is lame. I don't generally think HIMYM is as "meta" about stuff as Alan sometimes claims -- "The Stinsons" just felt sitcommy to me -- but this was a meta gag. It seemed like a mild mockery of a one shot visual gag as a contrast to the multi-layer flashback story that surrounded it. We're not supposed to come around to Barney's opinion that it is funny; we're supposed to agree with Robin that it is lame.

Also, contra some other commenters, I feel that the only appropriate storylines for Ted are those where he is mocked by other characters for being a douche. So the fundamental premise of this episode felt right to me.

Anonymous said...

I'm shocked by the mixed reaction to this episode. As soon as I finished it, I wanted to watch it again.

The pants story was not supposed to be funny. It was more that Barney found it so hilarious. Just like the way Barney finds laser tag and magic awesome, we are not supposed to agree with him, but rather enjoy his absurd delight.

What I loved most about the episode was that it didn't seem like "The NPH Show." I enjoyed all of the actors this time.

Anonymous said...

I'm in the liked it camp for this one. (As I was with The Stinsons). If nothing else, the montage of Robin sleep-announcing hockey and sleep-eating ribs on the kitchen floor? Or "the game is the game"?

Ridiculously pretentious Ted is the only version of Ted that brings any funny.

I like Laura Prepon (bring back the red hair!) but I could see her better cast as Robin's tough girl friend from back home. She does the tomboy thing really well. She's too likable to do this character.

The only way that this character works at all, is if she has some kind of charm that makes it possible for Ted to overlook her complete and utter,er, douchiness. She and Ted have that in common.

Though with pretentious Ted, are we laughing with him or at him?

Unknown said...

Though with pretentious Ted, are we laughing with him or at him?

At him - it's always at him with Ted because he's rarely funny on his own. The only value he adds to the show is when he's the object of ridicule.

Anonymous said...

Always nice to see Scooter, as played by David Burkta, NPH's longtime boyfriend.

And, I think Cobie Smulders' fiance played one of Barney and Marshall's co-workers.

Anonymous said...

Alyson Hannigan's pregnancy is getting to the point where when Lily is drinking at the bar, my mind goes: "Put that beer down woman, you're pregnant!"

Anonymous said...

I don't enjoy this show as much now that it follows Big Bang. Each episode just comes up lacking in the comparison. Slightly amusing was enough when leading off the night, but after a funnier show, slightly amusing doesn't work as well.

I think I'm done with this show.

I will keep reading Alan's reviews. I agree with him on most shows. I also like HIMYM. But how he finds such depth (or as an earlier poster put it "meta") in every episode, now that IS funny. The show is a cliche of sitcom cliches. Not that there is anything wrong with that.

Anonymous said...

I find it interesting to remember that Ted is telling this story to his kids - so he's describing his own past behavior. Which means that either he still doesn't realize how "douche-y" it is, or he matured into someone who can laugh at his younger self.

A-T-G said...

This episode whirled past so fast! It really felt like 10 minutes to me. When it ended, I was shocked! Didn't it just start?

I had a grin on my face from the first to last, however. I'm looking forward to watching Ted's dawning realization that Karen is a very large Massingill and he's an even larger one when he's around her. Watching that play across his face will be a joy.

Anonymous said...

Two other things:

1. I love how they built up Karen as a very hateful pretentious person (props for Laura Prepon), especially when she scoffs at Lily/Marshall for eating salt when she downs Top Ramen.

2. Was it "bring my boyfriend to work day?" Both NPH's and Colbie Smulder's boyfriends were on the show (David Burtka as Scooter, and Taran as one of Marshall's co-workers)

Anonymous said...

Nobody else mentioned this: When Marshall proudly points out that his pants show off his calves, Lilly has a quick shiver, because nothing turns Lilly on like Marshall's calves.

I'll go in the 'love the episode' camp.

Anonymous said...

can somebody point out the wire references? Somebody said, "got to get got" and what else?

Anonymous said...

Put me in the 'liked it' camp. And I am someone who was not enjoying many of this seasons episodes. I particully did not like last weeks stinsons episode or the earlier masturbation/pooping episode. Partly because they were so in-jokes that I did not get the jokes. Good ideas with bad execution. But this was an episode that one can enjoy even if you don't get the in-jokes and continuity jokes. And yeah, even I realized early that the pants story was not going to be funny and was not meant to be funny.
Also I have a question for those that know the show's history better than me.
Wendy the waitress has been a recurring character almost from the beginning. Has it been discussed whether she could end up being the mother?

Anonymous said...

Who is Scooter?

Anonymous said...

When Barney fell out of the bar seat after stammer-laughing his way through "HE FORGOT HIS PANTS" almost made me fall out of mine.

Put me in the love camp.


* Lily: "She got to get got!"
* Robin: "The game is the game."

Now it may have been the sandwich I had eaten just before or the build-up I experienced because I watched all previous episodes within a week and then had to wait another week for 416. Probably it was both.
But now that the sandwich is gone, I still think it is one of the best episodes.

Matthew said...

Wendy the waitress has been a recurring character almost from the beginning. Has it been discussed whether she could end up being the mother?

Yes - in fact, if I remember correctly, the 20-minute-long song on the officially-produced "Ted Mosby Is A Jerk" website actually endd with some backmasking that said "Wendy the waitress is the mother".

So, yes, it has been suggested. But it's pretty unlikely.

Nicole said...

I liked this one but did not love it. The best parts were when the gang was around the table just chatting like real friends would do.

Douchey Ted is fine, but if Karen is supposed to be an elitist snob, she needs to work on her French pronunciation because I couldn't understand what the hell she was trying to say when she was using French terms. I'm hoping the point was that she was a half ass elitist snob, but those bits still took me out of the story.

Also, Laura Prepon needs to go back to red hair, because the blond hair is making her look pretty old, and I don't think she's even 30 yet.

Anonymous said...

With Laura, he's Douche-Ted up to 11, to the point that he's willing to hurt another guy the way Laura hurt him

I didn't get the sense that Ted knew she was in a relationship.

Anonymous said...

I just keep hoping the actors will take off with their movie careers and this show dies. Boring and not funny.

Anonymous said...

Jim Duggan? Jim Duggan? This was no Great American Man Jim Duggan. This was KING Hacksaw Jim Duggan!

It was the most awesome moment of the entire night though! (Right ahead of of Robin, mid-sleepwalk, passing by Ted & Karen making out and saying "Hey Ted, hey Lily; I promise not to tell Marshall.")

Anonymous said...

I knew the falling asleep eating ribs thing seemed familiar, and I finally remembered why!

It was referenced in "The Bracket"! Ted said something to prove he knew Robin better than anyone by asking "Raise your hand if you have ever fallen asleep eating ribs..." I do love a show that rewards you for being a fan...

Jennifer Boudinot said...

LOVE Laura Prepon! 100 times better than Sarah Chalke!!

Anonymous said...

I loved Barneys facial expressions when Lily came to the office to "give" something to Marshall. When she asked him if she could give it to him instead and you could see the whole "oh, is she just offering me sex, mmh would i like to do it, yes why not"-thing going on in barneys face - that was HILARIOUS!