Based on the series-high ratings, fans have never been more into “How I Met Your Mother” than they are this season. After three great seasons, followed by three uneven ones, “Mother” seems to have settled into a voice–albeit a sitcom-y one that is not entirely consistent with the voice of the first few seasons–that is resonating with fans.
Monday’s episode started out as a great addition to the first half of season seven. But by the end of the half hour, it had stumbled with another forced, nonsense cliffhanger–one which rubbed the stink of the typical television cliche off on a show usually proud to show off its own voice.
For 95% of the half hour, “Rebound Girl” felt like the perfect “How I Met Your Mother” episode. Marshall and Lily found themselves again considering a move to the inherited Long Island home, and the show relied on a clever storytelling device–visually-depicting their Dowisetrepla apartment as excessively-cramped and cluttered–to highlight the contrast between a big surburban home and a stuffed New York City shoebox. Even Robin’s inescapable proclivity to smash lamps, which had all the makings of a lame sitcom joke, felt funny–and her increasingly-angry reactions added to the “smothered” feeling of living in the city.
Ted and Barney, meanwhile, showed off some of their best banter and chemistry in several seasons after begining a conversation with a simple question: “wouldn’t it be easier if we were gay?” (Neil Patrick Harris’ Barney is always funny when navigating homosexuality from the perspective of an over-the-top heterosexual, given the actor’s real-life sexuality). When the strut of a hot chick at the bar ended the delusion that they could be homosexual, the two turned to another, intriguing question: “what if two bros decided to raise a kid together.”
Both had been heartbroken recently and felt rebellious towards the dating scene. At the same time, both are getting older and more and more anxious to start a family, and so the discussion of raising a kid together was a fun, albeit sort of crazy and very weird, evolution of their depression.
As they talked through the policy towards parenting, which included getting at least two nannies, one of whom would specifically be for banging, their discussion, while obviously contrived and something that would only happen in “sitcom land” felt comedically controlled and honest–far more like a bantery discussion on “It’s Always Sunny” (or even early “How I Met” seasons) than the “catchphrase or punchline only” dialogue that has increasingly occupied “Mother.”
Ultimately, it was obvious that Ted and Barney were not going to adopt a kid together (even as Barney mysteriously brought a kid–one that turned out to be his brother’s new daugheter–to Thanksgiving in Long Island), but the unfolding of the humorous storyline clicked. And while the show continues to grossly underutilize Jason Segel, the Marshal-Lily-Robin storyline also worked.
With only a minute remaining, this was about to solidify its standing as one of the top two or three episodes of the current season. It was not an all-time classic, but it was a winner and a welcome way for “Mother” to usher in the Thanksgiving holiday.
All of a sudden, the show then felt compelled to do the unthinkable. It hotshotted an unnecessary, groan-inducing pregnancy storyline.
If the final scene is to be believed, Robin’s real reason for opposing an Eriksen family move to Long Island was not the belief that it is “Brooklyn’s fart trail.” Instead, it is because she learned she is pregnant and wants the comfort of her married and also-pregnant best friends remaining close-by.
Obviously, it is unfair to jump to conclusions. It is still possible that the Robin pregnancy scare will be a fake-out. It is also possible that the show will salvage the storyline by 100% marrying itself to the idea that the kid was fathered by Robin’s boyfriend Kevin (Kal Penn) rather than unrealistically deeming it Barney for sentimental purposes (and thereby creating the compelling end-game scenario in which Barney, despite not being the father, turns out to be the one actually there for Robin).
And, even if neither of those scenarios pans out, there is at least some intrigue stemming from the fact that we know Barney and Robin are not immediately about to settle down for teh long haul. Robin is still with Kevin (though, as a guest star, Kal Penn’s arc is likely ending soon), and she still, according to Ted, has another encounter with her “secret crush.” Barney, meanwhile, is expected to get a new love interest soon (Headline Planet does not base its reviews off spoilers for episodes it has not watched, although a recently casting story for “How I Met” was unavoidable). So, if Robin is truly pregnant and the show does not go the creatively-correct and more-intriguing direction of having Kevin be the true father, there is still a possibility that the storyline will entertain.
Where the moment failed, however, was in the very idea that it was supposed to be a “moment” at all. Whether going for utter shock or honest emotions (or, of course, just teasing something that will be refuted next week), this fell completely flat–representing the THIRD CONSECUTIVE “surprise ending” on a “How I Met Your Mother” episode and a forced rehashing of the “OMG SHE’s PREGNANT” cliche that has not only been used by every television series known to man but was even featured on this very show less than a full season ago.
Do television writers really not know that other shocking, surprising things happen in life besides getting pregnant? There are ways to develop characters–and ways to strengthen or destroy relationships–that do not involve having babies, and it is just baffling that a show with as much self-awareness as “How I Met” would even joke about the idea of another pregnancy storyline. And if it’s the real deal, what a horrible development!
Particularly-disappointing about the pregnancy ending is that it has little emotional relevance for the characters involved. “How I Met Your Mother” has always been about showcasing cliffhangers and reveals that mattered–the “Aunt Robin” twist, the simultaneous Ted-Robin hookup and Marshall-Lily breakup, Barney’s visit to San Francisco to talk Lily into coming home, Lily’s decision to try for a baby, the death of Marshall’s father, etc–this one was a miss that did not fall into the same category. The significance of that miss is even more clear given the great execution of the Lily-Marshall pregnancy storyline.
Neither Robin nor Barney has ever expressed an overwhelming (and certainly not imminent) desire to have kids. Sure, we know Barney loves kids (he tried to coax Marshall and Lily into having a kid, he realized “Not a Father’s Day” was a mistake, he only supported his brother’s gay marriage when he found out they would be adopting and raising a child), but save for this episode (which was fueled by an admittedly-crazy overreaction to heartbreak), he has never reached an emotional point in which his character is at all defined by a need to have kids. Fans, certainly, have not been rooting for Barney to suddenly father a child.
Robin’s initial breakup with Ted was largely fueled by her greater hesitance to raising a family–she has always been more about furthering her career and personal interests than settling down. Robin’s emotional hardness and opposition to relationships and settling down have both softened greatly over the years, so this potential pregnancy will not terrify her the way one would have in seasons one or two.
Yet she has also not become so soft- and pro-family that fans were rooting for her to have a kid, either. So, with both Barney and Robin, you essentially have two characters who are defined neither by their opposition nor support for having a baby. Viewers have no reason to feel any sort of “magic” or “terror”–the emotional palpability of the Marshall-Lily pregnancy is simply not there.
Real pregnancy or not, Barney as the father or not, the episode again underscored how poorly “How I Met” has handled what originally appeared to be the best romantic pairing on the show–Barney and Robin. In season one, they were exact male and female counterparts, and with the knowledge that Robin would not end up mothering Ted’s children, it seemed a certainty that they would get together.
But when they finally did, the relationship was botched by the writers sacrificing their unique personality types (the reason they were so perfect for each other) to create a cliched, over-the-top relationship “entity” that hurt the credibility of both characters in the process.
There has never been any doubt that the two would find each other again, and at this point, it still seems more likely than not that Robin will be standing opposite Barney in his anticipated “mystery wedding.” That does not, however, mean the writers should just let these characters coast until it is time to re-unite them.
In the meantime, the characters should have either convincingly returned to their original selves or at least gotten into relationships that felt like they had the potential to go somewhere. Though Robin went far with Don and has gotten very close with Kevin, neither has ever come across as even slightly better for her than Barney. As a result, it is hard for fans to take the interim relationships seriously.
In last season’s finale, the show teased making Nora an important part of Barney’s life, but shortly into this season, it changed its course and made it clear we were supposed to greatly prefer Robin as his eventual partner.
In having Robin first reveal her pregnancy to Barney–and going so far as to strongly imply Barney is the father–the show is sending a similar message for Robin. No matter what happens between now and the series finale, fans should not take any Robin relationship seriously until she ends up with her perfect male counterpart.
There is a difference between teasing an end-goal for a character and making the interim-happenings seem unimportant. As far as Barney and Robin are concerned, “How I Met” seems fixated on the latter.
— As another note, what was the deal with recasting James’ husband Tom with Jai Rodriguez of “Queer Eye” fame. Re-casting, sometimes, is necessary or valuable…but why go with someone who doesn’t remotely look like the Tom from season two’s “Single Stamina.”