‘How I Met Your Mother’ – ‘Last Words’: Marvin’s funeral had heart, but football in the groin had a football in the groin

Senior Television Writer
01.17.11 78 Comments

My review of tonight’s “How I Met Your Mother” coming up just as soon as I whip up a batch of my fancy tofu sushi bagels…

I felt like my opinion of the tragic ending of the previous episode was going to depend in part on how it was handled in the next one, and I unfortunately found “Last Words” to be well-meaning but terribly uneven.

It’s one thing for a sitcom to go to a dark place for 30 seconds the way “HIMYM” did at the end of “Bad News,” and another to devote a whole episode to grief. There’s a certain compact you have with the audience that you’re going to try to make them laugh, and going back and forth between jokes and an honest attempt to depict mourning is a really hard thing to pull off. And I think “Last Words” only pulled it off part of the time.

On the comic end of things, Robin turning into Red from “The Shawshank Redemption” was a running gag with legs, and one of the better Robin subplots in a long time. It felt appropriate to the setting and it had enough variations that they could keep going back to it. Ditto Lily trying to find a useful role at the funeral and realizing that it was to be Judy’s punching bag. On the other hand, Barney and Ted’s attempt to make Marshall laugh via viral groin injury videos felt too broad, as did the presence of Danny Strong as the obnoxious ex-bully Reverend Trey. Had Trey turned out to be an okay guy in the present – or, at least, good at his job even as he still hated Marshall – it might have worked, but instead he was a cartoon bad guy in an episode that wanted to be more human.(*)

(*) Interestingly, CBS’ press site has a couple of stills of a scene that must have been cut from the episode, in which you can see Trey lying on the ground as Marshall and the gang celebrate around him. I’m assuming it was an attempt to tie together the bullying and groin-punching gags, but without having seen it, I have no idea if that would have made either subplot better, or just annoyed me more.

But even the episode’s more serious side was problematic, in that Marshall spent the whole episode obsessing over something that we knew to be irrelevant, given that we’d seen “Bad News.” No, maybe Marvin didn’t say the perfect final sentence to him, but we know that father and son had a great conversation about Marshall and Lily’s fertility issues, that Marvin was just as reassuring and paternal and wonderful to Marshall there as he was in those moments described by his mom and brothers.

I recognize that grief isn’t rational, that sometimes you get hung up on things that aren’t important or accurate or whatever, but as Marshall kept lamenting his lack of a great final memory with his father, I kept saying to myself, “But you had one! We saw it!” The fact that Marvin didn’t go back to the airport right that second doesn’t change that. And if Lily or Ted or somebody had pointed this out – if, in fact, the episode had treated the last words obsession as an irrational coping mechanism, which the others recognized immediately and Marshall eventually did – I think the story would have worked much better. Jason Segel was great throughout (as was Alyson Hannigan in the scene where Lily had to watch Marshall yell at God), but a lot of the story felt like the show trying to force another heart-warming moment when I think they could have built one more naturally out of what had come before.

And on a completely nitpicky note, I’m sure that while ESPN fantasy analyst Matthew Berry is pleased that Marshall called the third “Crocodile Dundee” movie (which Berry co-wrote in his former life) the second-best of the series, the title was “Crocodile Dundee in Los Angeles,” which I think actually sounds funnier than “Crocodile Dundee 3.”

What did everybody else think?

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