‘How I Met Your Mother’ – ‘Challenge Accepted’: Don’t make me puke

A review of the “How I Met Your Mother” season finale coming up just as soon as I speak conductor…

Since the “HIMYM” writers seemed so determined to beat us over the head with the idea that the Arcadian was a metaphor for Ted and Zoey’s relationship, I’d like to believe that blowing the place up and starting over will be a metaphor not only for that relationship, but for so many elements of the show. After these last few episodes, though, I’m incredibly dubious.

Honestly, I’m not sure where to begin with “Challenge Accepted,” which bothered me in a bunch of different ways. So I’ll be kind and open with the few small pockets that I liked. Dave Foley made me laugh with his enthusiastic delivery of all those lines about the gross environmental atrocities he was showing Marshall, and I hope he’s back next year as Marshall’s new boss. Really, the whole Marshall storyline was mostly fine. I mean, sure, it expected us all to never once ponder the question of whether this was morning sickness – and/or expected us to not mind that neither Marshall nor Lily brought it up – which was silly, but the whole business with Marshall enjoying what he thought were his final pre-puking moments were amusing. And, as he has all season, Jason Segel killed it with the dramatic moments, first with Marshall’s rant about how this year keeps getting worse and worse, then with his reaction to Lily’s big news. Lily puking repeatedly wasn’t particularly funny in and of itself (I talked in last week’s “Parks and Rec” about the challenge of doing an artful vomit joke; these were not that, even with the velociraptor sound effects), but on the whole – and especially compared to everything else in the episode – it worked.

But oh dear lord did the rest of the episode aggravate me, to the point where I wound up skimming my reviews of this season afterwards to remind myself of the many episodes that I did quite like. That’s how bad a taste in my mouth these last couple of shows have left.

First, why more Zoey? Why? A few of you suggested that last week’s episode didn’t live up to Slightly Future Ted’s promise of a spectacularly ugly breakup because we’d be getting even more ugliness this week. Nope; just Zoey feeling sorry for herself, Ted pondering whether to take her back, slapstick, a really random Chi McBride cameo(*), a spectacularly obnoxious “And kids, that’s how I met your mother… psych!” joke from Future Ted, and a whole lot of wallowing in stuff that hasn’t worked all season. They kicked Zoey to the curb last week; why devote another episode to her?

(*) Look, I love Chi McBride and his spectacular fashion sense as much as the next TV critic, but if you’re going to put him into your episode, given him something to do besides dubbing Ted “hotshot.” Please. The man is incredibly funny when allowed to be.

And while NPH and Cobie Smulders had a nice moment in the back of the cab where they were talking about their feelings for each other while pretending to talk about Ted and Zoey, I’m not sure I’m looking forward to this Robin/Barney/Nora triangle they’re setting up. I’m glad the writers seem willing to revisit the idea of Robin and Barney, which I think is the opportunity they badly bungled last season, but I think I’m at a point with “HIMYM” where I no longer care about the teases, or the speculation about those teases. While I’d like for the woman Barney’s marrying “a little ways down the road” to be Robin, I don’t want to start parsing scenes for clues, because Bays and Thomas have made it clear that they’ll drag mysteries out long past the point where they’re in any way interesting.

If Ted doesn’t meet the Mother til Barney’s wedding, and if Barney Stinson – even the Barney who was able to have that conversation with Nora near the end of this episode – is going to need a while to plausibly become the marrying kind, then my guess is that the earliest we meet the Mother is late next season, and possibly not even until the following season, since I could easily see next May’s episodes being built around the birth of Lily and Marshall’s baby. Maybe they find a way to convincingly rush Barney to the alter, but I doubt it.

And, again, I don’t care about the future anymore. The “HIMYM” episodes that worked this season – that had me defending the show at a time when many of you seemed upset that I wasn’t bashing it on a weekly basis – were the ones that were about moments in the present, like the death of Marshall’s father, or the present and the past, like “Blitzgiving.” The show hasn’t had a good relationship with the future for a while, where the hints are often more fun than the payoffs, and/or when the payoffs come so far down the line as to be pointless. In the show’s early days, for instance, I’d be pleased to know that Lily’s pregnancy is now established so we can find out why Ted was wearing the green dress in that scene from “The Mermaid Theory,” but I’m struggling to think of the last thing Future Ted told us would be coming soon that I actually enjoyed when it came.

Somebody asked me on Twitter the other day if I think Bays and Thomas lied to the critics who attended that intimate little mea culpa session at last summer’s press tour. I don’t think so at all. I think they did recognize that season 5 didn’t work, and they made efforts to do better this year – and at times, they succeeded. There were both good story arcs and individual episodes this season, and on the whole I do think it was a notable improvement from season 5.

At the same time, I think Bays and Thomas grossly miscalculated with the appeal of the Zoey storyline, then didn’t know how to back out of it gracefully. That’s no fundamental sin, even if a lot of it wasn’t pleasant to watch. But I’d really like to meet the Mother already, because I think the show is going to continue writing other Ted stories until she turns up, and because, again, the show has become much better at telling stories in the moment than at bending the timeline to its whims. And now that they’ve explicitly tied the meeting to Barney’s wedding (rather than Punchy’s, which could happen at any point next season), we’re still going to have to wait a while to get there (or else Barney’s going to need a major personality transplant).

So… I don’t know. I’ll be back in the fall, both for the characters and for those episodes where the show works the way it used to. But my expectations are going to be modest, until or unless the writers decide that a lot of their games have outlived their usefulness and it’s time to move the show forward. Bays told Joe Adalian that “we’re in the twilight of the show.” The two-season renewal won’t definitely mark the end, but it easily could. The other characters seem to be moving forward significantly. Lily and Marshall are going to have a baby. Barney is letting go of his commitment issues and will be getting married at some point. At this late stage, not only is it not going to wreck things if Ted meets the Mother; I think it’s the show’s best chance to stay creatively relevant in this twilight.

What did everybody else think?