How I Met Your Mother is one of those series that I watch every week, but never find time or inspiration to write about here on TV Surveillance. I don’t feel the frustration that some people do and I also don’t feel the overwhelming support and connection to the series. This is probably because I didn’t catch up with HIMYM until the middle of season three and therefore, I missed the sort of discovery process and swelling emotions that come with watching a series become great right in front of your eyes.
In any event, last night’s episode of How I Met Your Mother, “Tick, Tick, Tick…,” pulled a number of different responses out of critics and audiences. I read a few reviews and tweets that featured less than positive responses to the episode’s handling of Barney and Robin’s post-hook-up plans, particularly Robin’s actions. Those folks, including Alan Sepinwall, expressed frustration over the series’ ongoing fears of change and forward momentum. However, I read just as many reviews and tweets that celebrated the gut-wrenching emotion of Robin’s decision to stick with Kevin, leaving Barney completely alone just moments after he decided to buck up, be honest with Nora and take a chance at a second chance with Robin.
I’m not here to discuss those responses, I just wanted to use them to note that my feelings on “Tick, Tick, Tick…” and really How I Met Your Mother in general fall somewhere in between those two camps. As I said before, I don’t think I’m as frustrated as the likes of Sepinwall and I probably didn’t love this episode like many of the folks I follow on Twitter did. Nevertheless, I totally see both perspectives on this episode and on this series. As I’ve watched season seven of How I Met Your Mother, I’ve been trying to formulate exactly how to really analyze it or express my thoughts on it and I think last night’s episode actually helped me crack that process open.
At this point in its run, How I Met Your Mother isn’t a great series. On a week-to-week basis, it can be very good or very bad, sometimes both depending on the various subplots and threads that are included within an individual episode. It’s inconsistent and trying to hold it up to the same kind of levels of greatness that it reached in season two is likely only going to end in disappointment in failure. I’m not advocating that we stop asking the best of our favorite long-running series, but suggesting that we look at them somewhat differently, at least part of the time.
Therefore, the way I judge an episode of How I Met Your Mother isn’t unlike the way I judge an episode of Glee. That might sound like a ridiculous comparison and perhaps it is. However, I think the two series are more similar than we might think because both can provide tremendous individual moments (and on the good days, full episodes) that don’t necessarily stem from quality plot or character development or lead to similarly solid advancements in those areas.
I would definitely posit that How I Met Your Mother is a much better series than Glee, even in its older age, and that HIMYM has a quantitative advantage over Glee in regards to number of these great individual moments. But the similarities are there, at least for me. Like Glee, HIMYM goes straight for the big, sweeping proclamations and wears its heart on its sleeve. Sometimes, doing so doesn’t work out because the story isn’t developed enough, we don’t care about the characters in the story or a number of other random factors.
If you will allow me to pull in a sports metaphor for a second here, HIMYM is no longer the consistent all-around baseball hitter. The series used to be able to hit for average and for power. Now? HIMYM still takes a boat-load of bit cuts, but only hits the ball over the fence occasionally. But when it does, we stand up and cheer and remember all those old, great times the series did in before.
The final few minutes of “Tick, Tick, Tick…” brought us one of those fantastic, emotionally stirring, 500-foot home run moments. Neil Patrick Harris and Cobie Smulders were fantastic throughout the episode, but especially strong in those closing scenes. Watching Robin come into the bar with Kevin as Barney breaks down on the inside is definitely the high-point in a fairly solid season. The scene is also one of the better moments in the legitimately illustrious lifespan of the Barney Stinson character. It all reminded me of how lovely How I Met Your Mother can be when it its romantic aims are actually reinforced with quality writing and storytelling.
However, I’m still somewhat skeptical of what this means for Barney, Robin and How I Met Your Mother as a whole. We know that the series’ writing staff mishandled the Barney-Robin pairing previously and like Sepinwall, I think that Bays and Thomas are at least somewhat terrified of pushing the story into the final swing because they’re A.) unsure when the series will actually end and B.) afraid it will scare off the audience. So even though this moment was fantastic, I could just easily see next week’s episode focusing on Barney re-dedicating himself to bro-dom and the Playbook and all that nonsense we’ve seen before. That would be miserable and likely awful and there’s probably at least a 30 percent chance it happens.
Ultimately though, where this story goes throughout the rest of the season doesn’t take away from last night’s greatness for me. If I’m disappointed by those future episodes and how the series handles Barney and Robin’s relationship, then I’ll deal with those emotions when they come. But I’m not going to let skepticism ruin an individual moment, even if I know that the series is going to do just fine ruining it on its own fruition in the coming weeks. How I Met Your Mother is now a series that provides individually great moments over full consistency and while I would much rather prefer the latter, I can deal with the former, especially in the direct aftermath of those moments.