How I Met Your Mother, “Garbage Island”

Inspired by the sprawling, multi-armed conversation about the state of television criticism (see herehereandhere, among other places), I’ve decided to take the next week or so to check in with the series that I watch every single week, but never actually write about. There’s been a lot of discussion about writing longer form pieces on series with more episodes in the tank, so I’m going to try to experiment with that and see how it goes. Today, I check in on How I Met Your Mother.

I don’t think I’ve really ever written about How I Met Your Mother. When I had previous blogging responsibilities, I delegated it to other folks and by the time I started TV Surveillance, the series was in a very dark space. I’m not one of those people who needs any movement on the Mother front. I caught up on DVD during the Writer’s Strike and it seemed clear to me then that it wasn’t going to happen anytime soon and I never looked back. But as all fans of the series know, last season and some parts of this season have been rudderless. When there is no ongoing narrative to push the characters forward in any way, How I Met Your Mother can become very sitcom-y in all the worst ways.

Despite some missteps earlier in the season where it felt like the writers were trying really, really hard to write smart, but emotional episodes and failing miserably, I think the series has righted the ship for the most part in its sixth season. All the episodes following the death of Marshall’s father have been especially solid and in a few cases, great.

I only have one large concern for the season as a whole, one that is unfortunately/thankfully (because I wanted to write about this episode) also present within this episode, “Garbage Island”: Investment. Outside of the death of Marshall’s father, this season has primarily been about Ted’s relationship with Zoey, which started as full-on hatred and quickly transitioned to something much softer once the writers figured out that the character wasn’t really working and they’d be better off just coasting off of Jennifer Morrison’s inherent charm. Despite those short-cuts taken with Ted’s newest relationship, I have enjoyed Ted-Zoey because I like Morrison and she seems to fit well into this group.

However, in the back of my mind, I knew that she couldn’t be the Mother. I won’t worry about treading through all the different clues to the Mother mythology that Zoey so clearly doesn’t fall in line with, but she doesn’t. She’s not the Mother, she never has been. So even though I don’t really care about who the Mother actually is in the grand scheme of the series and my enjoyment of it, I still don’t want to feel like the writers are just entertaining themselves for a while before something else comes up. When Zoey was initially introduced she had more edge to her and was more directly tied to Ted’s work, which perhaps could have been interesting in the long-term, but now that she’s just Jennifer Morrison, I don’t know if I can fully latch on to whatever “It’s all about the journey” line the writers are going to try to give me in five episodes. And so the way this episode so underhandedly noted that Ted and Zoey weren’t meant to be and that their relationship actually ends horribly ultimately frustrates me. Not only do we now have confirmation that this isn’t going anywhere, we know that it’s going to be awful by the time it’s over. Therefore, why the hell should I care? I’m still going to watch and probably enjoy these coming episodes because I love this series, but at a certain point, something has to give with Ted’s possible romantic interests and the series’ knocking Zoey down before even getting to the break-up takes any smidgen of air out of the relationship.

Similarly, the last two episodes have tried really hard to convince me that Barney and Nora should happen and more importantly, that I should care. Listen, I’m all for an arc with Barney slowly starting to realize living his life as the Barnacle might not work long-term, but it just doesn’t make a lot of sense for the writers to try this now, a year after quitting on what could have been one of the series’ best stories with Robin and Barney together. For whatever reason, Bays, Thomas and company seem to think Barney becoming more human and caring is a good idea, but they apparently do not think it should happen with one of the other main characters, even if that other character seems to be a fairly darn good match for him.

Now, they’re trying to finesse this Nora bit down our throats and accomplish the same sort of arc, but it just isn’t going to have the same sort of attachment or spark. It’s no offense to Nora the character or the actress, it’s just that we had four seasons of lead up to Barney and Robin and the writers quit on that, what’s to convince us that two episodes of Barney and Nora make for wonderful long-term prospects. I’ve heard from a few people who this thing with Nora might actually be a tricky re-entry to Barney and Robin, and that’d be fine, but I don’t think that’s the way it’s going. And just like Ted and Zoey, I’m still going to enjoy this developing relationship on the most basic of levels, but How I Met Your Mother is a series that is capable for hitting the audience a bit harder with its emotional impacts. These two stories are just slightly disappointing because I’ve already been trained by the series itself to not care — and that’s unfortunate.

Even with all of that said, I honestly did enjoy “Garbage Island” and like I said, I’ve been enjoying the season. I think the above paragraphs are all concerns on a long-term level that could theoretically be fixed between now and the end of the season, so don’t let those concerns speak for me completely. Even if Ted and Zoey aren’t meant to be and Barney and Nora seems to have developed out of the ether, this season has been much better at hitting the beats of those possible long-term stories. I haven’t disliked Zoey as much as some, but she’s been especially fun in the last handful of episodes and she feels to fit in with the group dynamic’s a lot better than someone like Stella did (no offense to Sarah Chalke). “Oh Honey” and “Desperation Day” were both high-class episodes of the series and even if the season took some shortcuts with how Ted and Zoey got together, those episodes played it well enough that I was willing to overlook their original tensions.

Perhaps most importantly, this season feels to have direction, which is all I can really ask for. I might be complaining about the sustainability of that direction, but at least there’s direction in the first place. The secret wedding — which turns out to be Barney and Nora — provides an obvious and maybe somewhat manipulative end-point, but even outside of that, I can’t remember too many episodes that felt completely self-contained and disposable. And really, that’s all I can ask for from How I Met Your Mother at this point. I’m always going to have concerns like I mentioned above, but if the episode-to-episode enjoyment is present and there seems to be an overarching sense of momentum, I’m very happy.


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