A review of “How I Met Your Mother” coming up just as soon as I repeat the name “Willem Defoe”…
Once upon a time in the early ’90s, there was a sitcom called “Love & War,” writer Diane English’s follow-up to her Emmy-winning smash hit “Murphy Brown,” which starred Jay Thomas as a sportswriter and Susan Dey as the chef he fell for. Dey’s character was said to be based on English herself, and legend has it that English was so surprised and mortified when critics, viewers and everyone outside her immediate family failed to find Dey-as-English funny that she fired her after a season and replaced her with a new character played by Annie Potts.
Now, Susan Dey is not an inherently funny performer (nor, frankly, is she a particularly lifelike one, and it always amazed me she was considered a sex symbol for a while on “LA Law”), so it’s possible English just erred in casting her alter ego. Then again, “Murphy Brown” aged terribly once the show was even a few months removed from its various topical references, so it’s just as possible that English herself wasn’t as funny as she thought she was.
And I’ve spent two paragraphs on an 18-year-old show nobody but TV critics remember for two reasons: 1)Because I’d really rather put off writing about what feels like the low point of a very disappointing season of “HIMYM,” and 2)Because the English/Dey story always comes to mind when I watch comedies where one or more of the characters are inspired by members of the creative team.
Ted Evelyn Mosby was at least loosely based on “HIMYM” co-creator Carter Bays, and while I’m sure writer and character have diverged over the years (just as Marshall seems to have taken on more of Jason Segel’s personality and less of Craig Thomas’s) – I’ve paid enough attention to Bays’ Twitter feed and NY Times crossword obsession to suspect whose idea it was for Ted to be so psyched to pal around with Will Shortz. And in watching an episode like “Robots vs. Wrestlers,” in which Ted is at the peak of his douchiness, I can’t help but wonder if whatever part of Bays still exists inside of Ted (or vice versa) blinds him and the other writers to just how insufferable that aspect of the character is.
I want to say that they’re not blind – that this episode, like so many other episodes where Ted is being so smug and fetishistic and annoying, was largely making fun of him for acting that way. But the sheer amount of screentime devoted to that side of the character over the years – and particularly in this episode – suggests that we’re supposed to find it charming on some level. And while I’m sure those traits, when dialed down to real-life levels, might feel like an old, familiar joke among old friends, seeing them played as broadly as they usually are, by a character who can suffer from likability problems even when he’s not lecturing the world on everything, makes episodes like “Robots vs. Wrestlers” a chore to sit through – and that’s even when factoring in the fact that they gave us the spectacle of wrestlers fighting robots.
Besides giving us Ted at his most obnoxious, and finding a way to doubly marginalize Robin (first by writing her out of most of the episode, then by having her show up at the bar like she hadn’t just resolved to spend less time with her two exes), the episode couldn’t even be bothered to provide us with a decent payoff to the story of Marissa Heller, whose Ted levels of pretentiousness didn’t remotely match all the unforwarded mail Ted and Marshall had been studying over the years.
Bad, bad episode. I really hope Bays, Thomas and company have some good tricks up their sleeves for the last two episodes of the season, because this slump has been going on a while now.
What did everybody else think?