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Holds up well after 20 years
Ah, Spellbinder, the Game of Thrones of my childhood days! One of my more vivid memories of the time I was a kid at elementary school in the mid-90s is that I was a huge fan of this series. So when I incidentally stumbled across the original episodes on youtube a few weeks ago, nostalgia hit me, combined with curiosity about how well it would hold up 20 years later.
And after watching all 26 episodes again I have to say, apart from outdated CGI and terrible 90s fashion (with the latter fortunately only being an issue in one of the two worlds the series deals with) it holds up surprisingly well. The quality of the writing is remarkable for a show aimed exclusively at a minor audience. Naturally, it runs heavily on the "adults are useless, kids save the day" trope, and our heroes rely on several convenient coincidences to get to the eventual happy ending. But with very few exceptions, the plot devices that cause a turn of events to the positive get solid exposition beforehand and thus aren't just introduced "ex machina" when the plot asks for them. There are even bits of foreshadowing (watch out for the license plate on Mr. Reynold's car in the pilot). But what the creators are really good at is building up tension. There were moments that had me on the edge of my seat when I re-watched it as an adult. Not to mention the cliffhangers. The acting is fine for the most part as well, and the theme music is memorable and nothing short of epic. It's not just a quality show for children, it's a quality show, period.
A short summary of the plot: 15-year-old Paul Reynolds from Sydney accidentally opens a portal to an alternate dimension and gets trapped in a parallel world. A feudal world that resembles medieval Europe, except the rulers, the so-called Spellbinder, master advanced technology based on magnetism and electricity and use devices such as radio communicators, flying ships and "power suits" that shoot lightnings. The status quo is protected by law: Technology and knowledge are exclusively reserved to the Spellbinder and forbidden to the peasant population. Paul quickly gets into trouble with this law, and although he can convince at least some people that he is from another world and just wants to get home, he is summoned to the Spellbinder court and threatened to be banished to the wastelands. Only Spellbinder Ashka seems sympathetic to his case and protects him. But as it turns out, she has no intention to help him get back home, and instead wants to take advantage of his knowledge in order to rise to power.
Paul trying to escape from this scheming and to find a way to open the portal again would be enough for some good television, but that's just act one. When Paul does eventually get back to his world after a standoff with Ashka, Riana, a peasant girl from the Spellbinder world who helped him along the way, is thrown through the portal as well and subsequently trapped in his world. In an inversion of the first act, we find out that surviving in our modern world as an outsider is just as hard as in Spellbinderland, and convincing people you're from a parallel world is even harder. While Riana tries to get home with help from Paul and his friends Alex and Katrina, Ashka's luck changes as her plotting is revealed to the Spellbinder regents and she has to flee the castle. The portal to Paul's world not only offers her a safe escape, but also potential access to powerful technology and weaponry that could be used to overthrow the regents. This sets off the third and final act.
For a main character, Paul will often act irrationally and be either naive or in a bad temper. But as he is a teenager, this portrayal is simply realistic. To me, a fictional character like that is more appealing than a whitewashed hero with zero flaws (Riana comes closest to this, but she makes up for it by being the bad-ass action girl of the series). And for the target audience, his little character flaws make him easy to identify with. If there's something to criticize about the series, it's the characterization of Paul's friends Alex and Katrina. They play a big role in getting Paul back from the parallel world in the first act, but once he's back they're demoted to playing his sidekicks. While Alex, playing the cliché of the teenager who fails at school but isn't all that dumb after all straight, can be regarded as the comic relief, the character of Katrina remains a bit underdeveloped. She's the science nerd, so on top of helping Paul get his life back, proofing the existence of parallel worlds excites and motivates her. Showing a bigger portion of her side to the story would have helped to justify some of her later decisions and actions.
The most interesting character arcs are reserved to two members of the Spellbinder class. There's regent Correon, who evolves from a grumpy old men with zero empathy to Paul's most important confederate to the embodiment of the hope for a better, juster future of the Spellbinder world. Note that the Spellbinder are in no way portrayed as inherently bad to begin with, just as being out of touch with the realities of living outside the Spellbinder castle. And then there's Ashka. The definite highlight of the series, brilliantly portrayed by Australian actress Heather Mitchell. She's so good at plotting, manipulating people, taking advantage of events, always being one step ahead and quickly adapting her plans to new situations, she would be a truly magnificent villain in any TV series, let alone a kids show.
I thoroughly enjoyed revisiting the Spellbinder world 20 years later. If your kid is watching this show, be assured that he/she is exposed to high quality television.
How I Met Your Mother: Daisy (2014)
Another emotional roller-coaster as the end draws nearer
Halfway through the final season Bays and Thomas somehow managed to pull HIMYM back on the right track, and with the exception of "Slapsgiving 3", they have been producing quality episodes ever since. "Daisy" is especially noteworthy, as it is full of laugh-out-loud moments while also handling outstanding emotional parts.
Plot in a paragraph: The Mosby Boys (Detective Mosby AKA Ted, Barney, Marshall, Ranjit and William Zabka) backtrack Lily's getaway of the previous night to her employer, the Captain, decide to teach him some manners and wind up discovering a way bigger secret Lily has been keeping from all of them the whole weekend. Meanwhile, Robin's mother is not exactly helpful when it comes to keeping the bride from freaking out.
All the scenes at the Captain's house are flat-out hilarious. His house-keeping crew, his over-the-top obsession with boats, the fact that he actually ended up getting engaged with Becky (better known as "Boats, Boats, Boats!"), just like Ted had imagined it during his "sandwich"-fueled delusion in "The Ashtray". Not to mention Detective Mosby's cocky gloating over finally cracking a case.
Only for the actual revelation to completely change the mood. The HIMYM writers are so good at this. When they pull a trick like this, it makes you remember why you stuck with this series for 9 seasons, through all the sub-par episodes of season 5, season 8 or early season 9. This time, the emotional roller-coaster leads to the conclusion of the best Marshall-and-Lily-storyline in a long time.
What remains for the last four episodes is the Barney-Robin-Ted-triangle. The ending of "Daisy" indicates that we might not be done with that. We know from flash-forwards in previous episodes (especially "Farhampton") that Robin will freak out and have second thoughts about marrying Barney as the wedding approaches. Her dialogue with her mother in this episode probably plays a big role in getting her to that point, as she learns that Barney actually has a lot in common with her emotionally unavailable father. It makes sense within the series. This has been hinted at near the end of season 8 ("Something Old"). Winding up with someone resembling one of your parents has already been the theme of an episode of season 7 ("Noretta"). And if you think all the way back to season 1 ("Zip Zip Zip"), Robin's unresolved father issues was one of the first things about her to really grab Barney's attention.
Still, some of the similarities between Barney and Robin Scherbatsky Sr. presented here seemed a bit far-fetched and came out of nowhere. But this is my only criticism about this otherwise brilliant episode.
The final two minutes make up for a disappointing season
How I Met Your Mother has always had great season finales, culminating in live-changing events for the main characters full of all kinds of emotions. This one is no exception in being generally brilliant and hitting all the right emotions, and yet it is different. This time, the season finale is not the place and time to tie all the loose ends together and resolve them. Which explains the lackluster nature of the last couple of episodes and their shortage of plot development. Usually they build up to the plot resolution in the season finale. But what season 8 ultimately culminates in is not plot resolution, but one massive build-up. To the 9th and final season that will take all it's time for the ultimate plot resolution, tying up the loose ends that define the entire series. And those have been laid out overwhelmingly well in the final minutes of "Something New".
Let's talk about the episode title for a moment. There's a connection to the last episode but also the final two episodes of season 2 - Something Borrowed / Something Blue / Something Old / Something New. Obviously, they're all wedding-themed. It was Marshall and Lily's wedding at the end of season 2, and now the build-up to Barney and Robin's wedding at the end of season 8. But the meaning of the respective episode title goes beyond that. Lily borrowed a hat to cover up Marshall's ruined hair at their wedding. "Something Blue" refers to the blue french horn, the symbol of Ted and Robin's relationship, the end of which has been revealed in the season 2 finale. And while the Marshall-Lily-wedding coincided with Ted and Robin ending their relationship, the Barney-Robin-wedding will ultimately close the door on them. "Something Old" recalls their history in the scene at the Central Park carousel, with Robin wearing a blue blazer (coincidence or symbolism?). And besides the obvious reference to the locket, the episode title could also be interpreted as a nod to those old feelings between Ted and Robin that seem to be resurging. And now for "Something New". This episode title is even more ambiguous, there's so much it could refer to. There is a new twist to the story of Robin's lost locket. New future plans for Ted. Big news for Marshall. And the closing seconds have something new in store for the viewers, something they've been looking forward to for eight years...
O Captain! My Captain!
I wholeheartedly disagree with anyone who says the Captain's presence lowers the quality of an HIMYM episode. This eccentric millionaire is a hilarious addition to the series and by far the best thing to come out of the Zoey story line of season 6.
After one and a half years, he is back. And Ted, Robin and Lily all have reason to believe that this means trouble. Why? We find that out via flashbacks. Retelling the same story from different perspectives while adding small details that fundamentally change the whole matter each time has been a staple in the series, and the writers once again pull it off in an extremely funny way. As it turns out, the Captain's actions and motives are actually quite reasonable and not silly at all, if you disregard Ted and Robin's alcohol- and "sandwich"-fueled memories.
This is one of the rare episodes where all main characters are well involved without having a secondary story line, which is always a good sign. While Marshall provides good laughs along the way (his "Ted, you suck!"-speech and his obsession with getting to steer the Captain's boat are two standout examples), Ted, Lily and Robin are directly involved in the main story line, and Barney, well, tries to be. He clearly has a hard time accepting to be left out of a legendary story. This is one of the main talking points in the aftermath of the episode. Is this a sign of fears that his life will be less legendary once he's married? Or just his usual unresolved abandonment issues? Once again the writers mess around with the viewers in a similar fashion as in "Zoo or False", as there is an addendum to the story involving Barney. Which first seems obviously fictional in-universe, invented by Ted and Robin out of pure sympathy. Only for the Captain to reveal in a throwaway line: It actually happened. It is a sweet ending for Barney, but the ambiguous presentation also makes you wonder how much of these stories, that are basically all narrations from old Ted to his kids in 2030, are actually true in-universe.
The other talking point is Lily and what the ending means for the character. While Barney&Robin are the main focus in this second half of season 8 and Ted is getting closer to meeting his future wife, Marshall and Lily are in constant danger of being reduced to the status of baby Marvin's parents. Marshall at least has his career, including a pending application to become a judge. Now Lily has something else to look forward to as well, and that is great news for the series as a whole.
A funny episode with heart-warming parts, definitely above average for the otherwise rather uninspired 8th season.
Better Call Arthur
Well, that was quite a letdown after an excellent season opener. Wildly exaggerated character flaws, stereotypical comedy - this is season 5 all over again.
The story lines involving the main characters are rather ordinary. Having Barney as the focal point is usually a recipe for a great episode, but in this one he's acting a bit too crazy considering the long way he's come and how serious he was about Quinn by the end of season 7. See "exaggerated character flaws". In fact, "The Pre-Nup" rises and falls with its supporting cast.
Enter Bob Odenkirk as the episode's saving grace. His portrayal of GNB's senior lawyer Arthur Hobbs is thoroughly hilarious. Especially the part where he hits on Lily. If the series is running out of ideas, better call Arthur! The low point, however, was Klaus (played by Thomas Lennon). Which is particularly disappointing since he was brilliant in the season opener. The writers should have left it at that. But not only did Klaus return unnecessarily, he returned as a pathetic walking stereotype. Thus ruining the positive impression he made in the previous episode, and raising the question why Victoria ever considered marrying him.
And national stereotypes are funny in small and frequent doses, but this was just too much. As a German, I have to be careful here not to perpetuate yet another stereotype (us having no sense of humor - which was surprisingly averted here via the sitcom-within-the-sitcom; or played straight, since this German sitcom was presented as being actually quite unfunny). The thing with the overly long composite words from the last episode was funny, because it's true, even though "Lebenslangerschicksalsschatz" and "Beinaheleidenschaftlichergegenstand" are made up. Same about Klaus' query for pig intestines. That actually was the single funniest line from "The Pre-Nup" for me personally. But the nudity thing was overdone. I get it, Germans have a more relaxed (or "healthier", depending on your perspective) attitude towards the naked human body compared to Americans. But Klaus running around in the apartment naked in front of his ex-fiancée and her new boyfriend is just absurd. Well, except if he has reason to believe that certain bodily features of his are apt to make his ex-fiancée's new boyfriend feel inadequate. That would have been clever, but sadly the writers didn't hint at that. And what on earth is this ferret thing all about? Is it because of the nihilists in "The Big Lebowski", who happen to be German as well? I have lived in Germany my entire life, I know countless German pet owners. Most of them have dogs and cats just like ordinary people. Some maybe have a guinea pig. Then there's the occasional weirdo how owns reptiles or a tarantula. But I have never heard of anyone who owns a ferret as a pet. I'm not even sure if that's legal in Germany.
Chemistry & Timing
A brilliant season opener. Similar to the start of season 6, but equally good if not better. Again we get glimpses of the wedding where Ted is going to meet the Mother as bookends of the episode while the main plot is entirely a flashback. And it has definitely the same feel to it as season 6, with the only difference that hopefully this one won't be ruined by Zoey.
In the last season opener, the main themes of the season were set up. Marshall and Lily trying to have kids, Marshall's close relationship to his father, Barney's search for his own father. If this is anything to go by, the main themes of season 7 will be Lily's pregnancy, but also the relationship between Barney and Robin. This episode actually focuses on Robin's perspective of the matter, which is refreshing. Robin is often the fifth wheel of the gang, so it's nice to see her more in the center of attention for a change. Hopefully there will be more of that in the rest of season 7.
And then there's Ted. He is starting to realize that his search for "the one" has lost its direction. It became obvious to the viewer in season 5, but back then his character was most of the time portrayed in a too cartoonish way to be aware of that himself. Most of season 6 he spent in a brutal relationship with Zoey. So where is he going next? Ominously, he brings up the 40-and-still-single-deal in a nice moment with Robin on the balcony, which is kind of reminiscent of the scene with him and Barney at the end of season 2. It is noteworthy that for the first time Ted is the one who brings the deal up. It has been Robin who previously came up with it. But that was before she fell in love with Barney. Still, in that scene on the balcony, I'd say there's still some chemistry left between Ted and Robin. But timing, as they say...
How I Met Your Mother: Legendaddy (2011)
I'm running out of superlatives for Neil Patrick Harris
This is what Barney's story arc of the 6th season has been building up to: He finally gets to meet his dad, Jerry. How is this big moment being dealt with? Not for the first time this season, the writers go for the dramatic option.
Jerry turns out not to be what Barney wanted him to be. Even worse, he has a family, including a son that got a proper childhood. Barney first reacts by being close-lipped and avoiding him. But after the gang pressures him into giving his dad one more chance and join his family for dinner, Barney ends up confronting him with all the anger, disappointment and abandonment issues Jerry's absence during his childhood has caused him.
Pretty heavy stuff for a sitcom. It works for two reasons. The first reason is a light-hearted supporting B-story centered around Marshall, who provides some good laughs in between the more intense moments. The second and most important reason is an outstanding performance by Neil Patrick Harris. He has been brilliant countless times before, but this tour de force of dramatic acting has been unprecedented within the show. Kudos to him!
P.S.: Don't google Vietnamese shame wheel! You're not ready.
A modern classic of the Bond series
One of the biggest challenges for modern era James Bond movies has always been meeting the best possible compromise between gritty realism and old-school Bond campiness. Some ended up way too far on the gritty end (Quantum of Solace), some tried too hard to reenact classic Bond camp and turned out utterly ridiculous (Die Another Day) and some are all over the place between the two extremes (Spectre). GoldenEye is the one that hits that perfect middle ground.
Martin Campbell directed both this one and Casino Royale, and there are indeed some similarities between the two movies. It starts with the score music, which is generally more contemporary than in other Bond movies (some may say generic, but it goes well with the action sequences), while the classic Bond theme music is reserved for one crowning moment of awesomeness. Both GoldenEye and Casino Royale can be regarded as a reboot of the series, in which Bond gets a makeover and generally a more modern vibe. GoldenEye often doesn't get enough credit in this respect, but it introduced the by far strongest female character this inherently sexist franchise has ever seen. Enter Judy Dench as M, Bond's new boss, who is not afraid to call Bond out on his character flaws and to raise the question if an old-school spy like him is still relevant in modern times - long before Skyfall did it, and even longer before Spectre rather lazily rehashed that plot point of the former. Then there's the theme of betrayal, a former friend and colleague who becomes an enemy to Bond, leading to a few rather serious moments that make the title character reconsider some things he used to believe in. GoldenEye did it, long before the post-Jason-Bourne reboot starring Daniel Craig popularized the theme within the series. Even the obligatory Bond girl, Izabella Scorupco as Natalya Simonova, is not just an accessory part here and more of a strong, independent woman, a computer specialist turned sole survivor of a terrorist attack, who actually contributes to the resolution of the plot in the final showdown to a great extent. Speaking of the plot, it is actually quite realistic for a Bond movie. The cold war is over, but the relics include super-weapons that have now become useless, and wherever there's an gratuitous super-weapon, there's terrorists trying to take advantage of that. Credit has to be given to Sean Bean here for his portrayal of a distinctly human Bond villain.
And yet GoldenEye still has all the ingredients of a classic Bond movie. There's gadgets. There's one-liners. There's baccarat and Vodka Martinis. There's a hilariously over-the-top (or more like on-a-top) caricature of a mercenary with superhuman strength and a lust for killing that even disturbs the evil masterminds. That happens to be an extremely attractive woman with an aptly ambiguous name. Classic. There's also an iconic theme song, arguably the second-greatest one in the entire series right after Shirley Bassey's "Goldfinger". And, last but not least, there is THAT TANK CHASE!
These ingredients alone would be enough to make GoldenEye a good Bond movie. What makes it a great one is the fact that, very much unlike Spectre, the result of all this is a coherent, well-balanced and well-paced movie. It doesn't seem out of place for this Bond to have his moment of doubt and pain and in the next scene race a tank through St. Petersburg while casually adjusting his tie. Credit has to be given to Martin Campbell, who quite frankly should have directed every Bond movie ever, if his record is anything to go by, but also to Pierce Brosnan, who does a quite formidable job absorbing all the traits of the previous portrayals of Bond. He is a snarky womanizer like Sean Connery, he is physically strong like George Lazenby, he is witty like Roger Moore, but he also masters the darker and more serious territory of his predecessor Timothy Dalton. You may call it a composite character, but that's exactly what makes this movie work so well.
Obviously, there are some flaws, but compared to other Bond movies the list is relatively short. Alec Trevelyan, despite everything that's great about his evil-but-distinctly-human character, suffers a serious case of Bond villain stupidity when he carelessly wastes more than one opportunity to easily kill Bond for good. There are some outdated stereotypes, e.g. "the Russians", a cast of German, Dutch, French, Polish and Scottish actors who - even in private - only talk in English with a fake Russian accent. Or Jack Wade A.K.A. that American guy from the CIA, who is portrayed in such a stereotypical manner that the authors wisely decided not to (ab)use the Felix Leiter name for the character. And the Bond car is a bit disappointing. It has the usual missiles, guns and other gadgets, but they are never used. Purists might be bothered by the fact that it is not an Aston Martin or a Lotus, but a BMW Z3. And that considering it doesn't do anything cool, it seems to be in the movie just for the sake of product placement. I personally used to like the BMW Z3, but when I watch GoldenEye now, I have to admit that it is one of the few things in this movie that haven't aged well.
But, seriously, who cares about Bond's car when there is a TANK CHASE?
One of my favorite episodes ever
This one is easily the best episode of season 6 so far and one of my favorite episodes of the whole series. This is one of the rare cases where all main characters are equally represented in three equally strong story lines that all provide good laughs as well as more serious, emotional moments.
Let's start with Ted. He unexpectedly runs into his arch-enemy Zoey as the gang is invited to a high class event at the Natural History Museum, courtesy of GNB. As it turns out, she is married to an old rich man who calls himself The Captain. Ted is visibly excited upon learning about this new side of her and can't stop mocking her and her elitist friends, which results in great hilarity. This is the funniest and wittiest Ted we have seen in a long time. I love him in this role. Sadly, he soon falls for Zoey's fake tears and gets tricked into talking trash about GNB and his own project, which is disappointing to watch and the only low point in an otherwise brilliant episode. He makes up for it in his following exchange with The Captain, a well written dialogue delivered by two great characters.
Marshall and Lily take on a more serious issue. While working at GNB, Marshall has lost part of his idealistic attitude and has put off his plans of working in environmental law. Lily is worried about this change in his attitude, partly because he spends so many hours at his job and partly because she fears that this change might affect some of his other views as well. A realistic portrayal of a relatable problem. And yet the writers manage to get some hilarious moments out of that storyline, mostly via an imaginary conversation between Lily and "College Marshall". As it turns out, Marshall has not changed when it comes to their relationship, and Lily has to accept that he is "Corporate Marshall" at this point in his life. But that might not be the end of the story after all...
But the best part of the episode is once again the Barney and Robin storyline. It starts out as a funny but harmless little filler piece. They dare each other to touch and play with exhibits, and as Neil Patrick Harris is involved, of course there are some good laughs. And I have to say, although I didn't like their stint as a couple in season 5 (though that wasn't the only thing I didn't like about season 5), that Barney and Robin have great chemistry here. Eventually they get caught by a security officer, who then rambles on about all the pranks and shenanigans he has seen since working at the museum, including dinosaurs from the cretaceous period hanging out with dinosaurs from the jurassic period. This is one of my favorite jokes of the episode, as it is both a nod at the "cats and dogs living together" line from Ghostbusters and a hilarious reference of a common mistake in dinosaur-themed movies and even museums. And then, out of nowhere, a revelation that entirely changes the tone and leads into a serious and emotional finale. A final masterstroke that takes an already thoroughly funny and well-balanced episode to another level.
How I Met Your Mother: Big Days (2010)
A fresh start after a disappointing season
Right from the start there is a different feel to this episode than to the entirety of the rather disappointing fifth season. The characters don't come across as a joke and are treated respectfully instead, as are all of their respective issues. Every member of the main cast has a few funny lines here, but also at least one grave moment. And some new themes are laid out that might shape this new season.
Most notably, for Ted this actually seems to be the overall theme of the series, how he meets the mother of his kids, which is finally spotlighted again. In a flash-forward, which is nicely interwoven with the present events of the episode, we learn more about the day and event when said theme comes to its conclusion. In addition to that, Cindy returns. We already know the Mother is her roommate, so this encounter between her and Ted will certainly be of some significance. And it comes with a surprise twist.
The other theme of this episode that could also be a theme of the whole season is fathers. Marshall is looking forward to becoming a father himself, as he and Lily have decided to try to get a baby. Lily however takes an issue with the involvement of Marshall's father in the whole matter. And Barney has his own opinion on fathers, as he does not know who his father is. In his moment of gravity, he admits that this actually bothers him.
Meanwhile, Robin is trying to get over the breakup with Don, in a fashion not dissimilar to Marshall's suffering early in season 2, when Lily temporarily left him. Her role in this season is not yet clear, but the fact that she takes a breakup this hard proves that she has indeed evolved as a character, as Ted indicated in the finale of the last season.
A season opener fit to raise our hopes for a new direction in the series that rather resembles season 1-4 than season 5.
This might be the worst episode of How I Met Your Mother so far. It revolves around an overly pretentious caricature of Ted. Barney, Marshall and Lily are accessory parts, Robin is hardly featured at all.
There are a few funny parts. We meet the fourth doppelganger, Mexican Wrestler Ted, which is awesome. I also enjoyed the Willem Defoe joke, especially its reprise at the end of the episode.
But what on earth have they done to Ted? Yes, he had his pretentious college phase that is always amusing in flashbacks, but reciting Italian poetry at MacLaren's pub in front of his friends? Seriously? There's nothing wrong with liking Italian poetry. But if your best friends for like 10 years constantly respond with fart noises, at some point you should take the hint.
The whole theme of friends drifting apart is interesting and compelling, but it could have been dealt better with. The final message, Robots vs. Wrestlers being the one event that brings the gang together year after year, is uplifting, but sadly it is contradicted every time Robots vs. Wrestlers is mentioned in later episodes.
How I Met Your Mother: Twin Beds (2010)
A flawed episode, but an important one
This episode is really tough to rate. There are several things I dislike about it. Mostly the Marshall and Lily part. It's okay if two out of five main characters get a filler storyline once in a while. But this one is not only dismissed and never mentioned again in future episodes, it is also borderline disturbing. Marshall and Lily are assigned the role of the perfect couple in this series. Why on earth would the creators make them get separate beds? Besides, there is an odd one-off characterization of Ted that seems out of place in the context of the whole series. Yes, he may be a little pretentious at times. But suddenly he fulfills every gay stereotype in the book? Since when does he drink Appletinis? Or complement the Jets on their "costumes"? Ted Mosby is not J.D. from Scrubs. Ted Mosby drinks beer in bars in which Marshall would opt for a fruity cocktail with a swirly straw, and we know for a fact that he's passionate about the Super Bowl and college basketball. And not because of the costumes.
Then again, I really like the Don storyline as it moves the plot forward and brings up an important issue. Ted is not over Robin. This has been hinted at very subtly, but now the cards are on the table. It seems natural and realistic to me. More realistic than him not being remotely bothered by Robin dating Barney at the time. Ted dated Roin for a year and she's been a big part of his life ever since even after they broke up. It looks as if Ted did just a really good job not admitting his feelings for Robin lately, probably not even to himself.
As Robin gets serious with other people (first Barney, now Don), it is time to remember why she and Ted broke up in the first place. And this is actually done great in this episode. First with the letter, then with the blue french horn, the leitmotif of Ted and Robin's relationship. The ending is simply excellent.
So it's difficult to draw a conclusion to this uneven episode. There are flaws as well as great parts. But most importantly, there is a new dynamic to the Ted-Robin-Barney triangle, which will certainly affect the course of the series.
A refreshing episode
This episode wouldn't have really stood out in season 4. But in a season full of generic sitcom jokes and low on plot development, its emotional depth is refreshing.
While the plot of 'Home Wreckers' doesn't necessarily bring Ted closer to meeting The Mother, it features an important moment in his life (or two, actually). Once again Marshall is being a great friend to him in a heart-warming scene.
In terms of continuity, there's a noteworthy flashback of Barney driving Ted's mother to the airport, which refers to the events of S02E03 ('Brunch'). It starts with her finishing the story about her brooch, the story Barney asked her to tell him back in said episode. A nice little detail. Then again, the scene shows Barney driving a car before the events of 'Arrivederci Fiero', where it was implied (although it wasn't explicitly stated that this was still the case in the present of that episode as it was revealed via a flashback) that he never learned how to drive.
HIMYM is back on track
After the legen- wait for it -dary "The Playbook", HIMYM delivers another fine episode with "Slapsgiving 2". It seems like all the series needed to get back on the right track was Barney and Robin breaking up. Now we can move the plot forward and introduce some new conflicts. This time, Lily's difficult relationship to her father. And how her husband Marshall, who by contrast is quite the family man, deals with it.
Lily's dad, who is played by Chris Elliott, is a nice addition to the group. Lily and Marshall have been treated as a joke earlier this season, so it's nice to see them being treated with some dignity by the writers and going through a real conflict for a change. Who would have thought that a character like Lily has still potential to grow?
While the main plot is rather serious for a sitcom, the side plot focusing on Barney and the continuation of the slap bet provides lots of fun. Barney goes back and forth between being mentally tortured and scared and being a manipulative bastard. What a great performance by Neil Patrick Harris! Marshall decides to yield his fourth slap, so Ted and Robin fight about who gets to slap Barney. And it gets messy. To the point that Ted admits to still being in love with Robin. Whether he was deliberately lying (as assumed by Robin) or accidentally telling a big truth he recently did a good job in hiding is not thoroughly revealed. That certainly makes things interesting for the rest of the season.
How I Met Your Mother: Bagpipes (2009)
The Flanderization continues
This episode has lots of funny moments, starting with Narrator Ted's obvious censorship and euphemisms and including a reference to the concept of the slap bet (this time with Marshall as the victim). Yet it's sad to watch the characters be more and more reduced to some silly traits in the name of comedy.
In this episode, Barney is pure evil while Marshall is acting irrationally and plain stupid. This sets off a huge fight between Marshall and Lily for no reason. Even worse, at the end of the episode, just when the fight is finally over, Marshall breaks character. Disposable plastic glasses? Seriously? Isn't Marshall supposed to be "eco-guy"? What about garbage island (okay, that's a little ways down the road, but it's not like Marshall hasn't always been very environmentally aware)?
And what about the soundtrack to the fighting scene between Barney and Robin? No "Murder Train"? I'd call that a missed opportunity.
Still funny, still f... aaand now it's sad!
A thoroughly enjoyable episode with lots of laugh-out-loud moments. I love Barney's innkeeper jokes ("don't charge for Wifi, it seems greedy!"), and Marshall's songs and photo montages are hilarious.
But in between the laughs, it becomes more and more apparent early in this fifth season of How I Met Your Mother that they tread a dangerous path with their characters. Especially Marshall and Lily seem to get gradually dumbed down as their traits and quirks get more exaggerated. Ted is affected as well, he's now the tweed wearing professor who doesn't get laid (well, at first *cough* spoilers! *cough*).
Barney and Robin carry the story at the moment, everything else seems to be resolved and sorted out after the end of season 4. In a series that has always been driven by the story just as much as by the jokes. As long as the creators pull off episodes that are as funny as this one, it could be carried by the jokes alone for some time, but if the prize for the laughs is the dignity of the characters as they get dumber and dumber, the series will inevitably hit a tipping point.
How I Met Your Mother: The Leap (2009)
Perfect 21 minutes of television
A fitting and utterly satisfying end to the best season of How I Met Your Mother. This is the moment to tie up loose ends and to bring certain story lines to a conclusion that have shaped the season thus far. And all of this is done supremely well here. Naturally, the lingering feelings between Barney and Robin had to be confronted. But not without adding some unexpected twists and turns to it. As for Ted, the reason why it turned out to be so important for him to meet Stella again is revealed in the closing moments, after a heart-warming, inspirational speech by Lily (she's perfect for that role, it's good to have her back). And with that information, this aptly named episode probably features the biggest leap towards meeting the Mother in the entire series so far. Now we know why Ted had to meet Stella, fall in love with her, get left at the altar by her, and meet her again at the crossroad by all sorts of lucky coincidences.
Furthermore, there are so many callbacks and references to earlier episodes woven into the story. This, while providing good laughs, adds to the impression that the entire season so far, despite being very good on its own, has been just the build-up, culminating in these perfect 21 minutes of television.
The callbacks I noticed: Marshall's ill-advised five words he'd soon regret ("I can jump that far"), as foreshadowed in 'Three Days of Snow' (S04E13). Bill, the hospital nurse, who wouldn't let Ted go to Happy Fun Land in 'Miracles' (S03E20). "The Mosby", the concept of scaring off a person of the opposite sex by telling her/him you're in love with her/him, as famously introduced in the pilot and purposefully applied by Barney to get rid of a clingy girl in 'Purple Giraffe' (S01E02). Sven, the Swedish architecture collective that was almost awarded the job to design the GNB tower in 'Woooo!'(S04E08). Meta-jokes about the actress' pregnancy - after Robin two episodes ago, it's now Lily who jokingly claims to be pregnant. And of course, as promised by narrator Ted several times, we finally get the full story of the goat from the homonymous episode (S03E17). As foreshadowed in S04E10, a fight between Ted and the goat ensues, which is set to a familiar soundtrack: Murder Train by the Foreskins, Robin's ex-boyfriend's band from 'Sandcastles in the Sand' (S03E16).
An outstanding Ted-centered episode
I have to say that for two episodes in a row now the creators have succeeded in making us forget Lily is absent (due to Alyson Hannigan's pregnancy) by providing a great Ted-centered story reminiscent of the early days of the series, with the rest of the now diminished gang being reduced to the supporting characters they once used to be. After Ted was reminded of how it feels to be in love again in the last episode, this time he gets one small but significant step closer to meeting "the Mother". How? By standing in the right spot at the right time. The concept is similar to the season 3 finale "Miracles", with flashbacks and nonlinear storytelling, but the realization is even more elaborate. The flashbacks that explain how he got there are more detailed, each one contains one entire sub-plot dedicated to one of the supporting characters. And we only find out what happened to Ted in said right spot at the very end. What a cliffhanger! And no, I'm not going to spoil it.
The sub-plots are noteworthy as well. For the Robin part, they worked Cobie Smulders' pregnancy in as a meta-joke, which is always funny. They did the same in "The Possimpible", when they presented Alyson Hannigan's pregnancy belly as the result of Lily's hot dog eating contest. During Marshall's sub-plot, the fish list stand-up comedy is revisited, and we get an intervention.
But the award for 'best supporting actor' goes once again to Neil Patrick Harris. We've heard a few different stories by now about how Barney became the womanizing sociopath he is. There's Shannon cheating on him with a jackass in a suit, Rhonda giving him (a bit too much) confidence when she sleeps with him, and recently we have met his mother, who used to enjoy her live in a similar way which must have influenced a young Barney more than he realized. Now we learn that he had already sworn to sleep with 200 girls as a kid to come back at a middle school bully. I guess it makes sense that it took not one, but all of these events to shape Barney the way he is now. In this episode, Barney finally fulfills his oath, which raises the question what's next for him. And the final scene contains a hint at the answer.
I like how this episode manages to move the overall plot forward for both Ted and Barney while involving so many classic HIMYM elements: Nonlinear storytelling, flashbacks, old Ted addressing the kids (we actually haven't seen them on-screen for a while), Robin embarrassing herself live on air, the yellow umbrella, interventions, the fish list. Continuity-wise, there are two little minus points though: Ted not wearing his red boots while pitching the idea of a restaurant shaped like a cowboy hat was a missed opportunity. And in "The Bracket", Barney claimed he wouldn't keep a list of the women he's slept with (a scrapbook, it is!) - yet his sub-plot in this episode is all about such a list. Well, maybe he kept track of the total via the scrapbook and created the list on short notice to prepare for the 200th. That would also explain why the list was flawed...
A drop in quality
The string of excellent episodes through season 4 inevitably had to end, and so it does with 'Old King Clancy'. There are two story lines, of which none is truly great. Ted's story is the stronger one, as it leads to a major turn in the path of his career. The execution is quite solid, there are a few good laughs and some funny supporting characters. But it is also somewhat depressing without reaching the level of emotionality other influential events in the main characters' lives are usually hallmarked by in this series.
Robin's story is a harmless filler piece played for the laughs. It's funny and original if you watch the episode for the first time, but upon repeated viewing it doesn't really hold up.
The highlights of this episode are the recruitment of Marshall and Barney's "task force" at GNB and the introduction of Marshall's infamous fish-themed stand-up comedy.
Don't overlook Robin's character development
It's funny how people praise Barney's character development, but whenever Robin shows signs of having moved on from being a lone warrior, incapable of maintaining a relationship, it's "out of character". She deserves some character development too.
This episode is all about the revelation near the end, the impact it has on the whole story and how it even makes you reconsider previous events. Barney and Marshall don't have much to do here. The 'Big Lebowski' reference is funny and Marshall's Chewbacca impression never fails to crack me up. But considering the emphasis of the episode, there's no point in writing a spoiler-free review. If you haven't watched it yet, don't read any further.
So Lily was the reason Ted and Robin broke up. She had a point, Ted and Robin needed to address their oppositional future plans some time, but until then they had a good relationship that lasted one year and probably would have lasted way longer without external interference. Which is even more impressive considering Robin had to take lessons in how to behave in a relationship early in season 1. So how does she feel about it, looking back? She's a strong independent woman, but that doesn't mean she likes to be alone. From her perspective, the only reason to break up with Ted was her career. Which has hit a few bumps since. When she quit her job in Japan, she chose the completely wrong moment to open up to Ted about her feelings. When she was unemployed and moved to Ted's apartment, she brought up the idea of having sex to improve the atmosphere. She and Ted were equally responsible for accidentally slipping back into couple's routine. And she wasn't the one who insisted to end the arrangement after that - it was Ted.
It all makes sense at the end of this episode. Just look at Robin's facial expressions and body language (Cobie Smulders does an amazing job here, by the way). Again, Robin brings up the big question: "Would we still be dating right now?" Just look at her. "But Lily was right" clearly wasn't the answer she wanted to hear. Neither was "we still do (need to do our own thing)". Then, out of nowhere, she comes up with the 40-and-still-single-pact. Judging her excited reaction to Ted's "proposal", she probably also would have said yes if he had asked her to get back together right now.
We have seen Ted chase after Robin so many times that it's easy to overlook that this time, it's actually the other way round. After all the disappointment she underwent in her career, after realizing she's probably not gonna be a worldwide success as a famous journalist, after settling for hosting a morning show with hardly any viewership, Robin is indeed ready to get back together with Ted. But this time Ted, who clearly still suffers from the breakup with Stella, does not reciprocate her feelings. And then there's Barney, to make things even more complicated.
A bit uneven, but still very good
This one is part of a string of excellent episodes that in my opinion make season 4 the best season of How I Met Your Mother. Everything since 'The Naked Man' has been gold. And maybe that exalted standard of comparison is the only reason this particular episode doesn't seem to shine quite so bright.
It's still a very good one. The interaction of Barney and Ted is great. Ranjit has an appearance, so does Carl. There are telepathic conversations. Marshall does an amazing robot impression. We get flash forwards to scenes from later episodes ("I can jump that far", "I'm gonna win her back"). The "bingo" conversation between Barney and Ted might be one of the funniest dialogs in the entire series. It's just the Marshall and Lily storyline that, albeit being sweet, doesn't get me excited. It makes the episode a bit uneven, because the Barney and Ted storyline is awesome and way superior.
We also get to see more Marshall and Robin interaction. This has been a common feature in the last few episodes. They always appeared to be people that happen to have mutual close friends rather than actually being close friends with each other. Earlier in the season, this has been further established. Robin insulted Marshall in 'Not a father's day', Marshall insulted Robin in 'The Naked Man', and in 'Woooo!' Robin expressed the desire to spend more time with Lily without Marshall being around. And then, with 'Little Minnesota' we got an episode dedicated to the things they have in common. And they finally spend some time together outside of the group. This episode continues on that path, although the dichotomy of their respective characters becomes once again apparent. Maybe Robin respects Marshall more since she found out that he can be a bad-ass fighter...
A final thought on Ted. He seems to have become more cynical and Barney-like lately. Since he got left at the altar, he had meaningless sex with the elevator girl, Robin, and now possibly a college chick, but no new love interest. In 'The Fight', he explicitly said: "I remember that nice guy being left at the altar for a taekwondo instructor." This shattering event might have had a bigger impact on his character than he was ready to admit directly afterwards.
Remember what old Ted said in the first episode of season 3: "This is the story of how I became who I had to become before I could meet your mother."
Classic Barney Stinson
Neil Patrick Harris as Barney Stinson is the star of an extremely fun episode about the pros and cons of having kids.
Marshall and Lily think about having a baby and have to decide if they are ready for it. Whereas Marshall is excited about the idea but swamped with work at GNB, Lily is unassured and reverts to Ted, Robin and a lot of wine to help with the decision. Meanwhile, Barney creates a new holiday for single guys without kids and inducts us into the theory of the 'cheerleader effect'. While Barney's theories are usually insane, I find this particular one to actually be a real thing.
Some of the jokes may cast a slur at childless single life, but Neil Patrick Harris' performance makes more than up for it. Besides all the fun, it is good to see some Ted and Robin interaction again.
The inevitable sequel to "Shelter Island"
The previous episode ended with Ted being left at the altar. This one can be regarded as the sequel, illustrating the aftermath and the consequences the gang necessarily has to deal with, before the "Stella"-chapter can finally be closed. How can you make something like that fun?
This is done quite well. Barney's and Lily's stories are funny, and we learn more about Robin's past. More precisely, about her father issues, which have been first mentioned in S01E14. It's not all great continuity, though. In S01E20, we learned Robin used to play field hockey. Now we see her play "actual" hockey as a teenager. So much for "I never played any teams sports" (S01E06)...
Not the most enjoyable episode, but we needed to get that stuff out of the way. And for the most part, cast and writers make the best out of it.
Love it or hate it - this episode has everything HIMYM stands for
You would expect sitcom authors to drop a bombshell like that in the season finale. But five episodes into a new season? Wow. That's what makes How I Met Your Mother so special. They are never afraid to make it hurt, and to polarize, while they're at it.
First of all, let's talk about Ted and Robin. Their relationship seems to be downplayed in many reviews and fan reactions. At this point in the series, they know each other for roughly three years. One of these years, they spent exclusively as a couple. Which went absolutely fine until they realized that their oppositional future plans would prevent a 'happily ever after' for them. For the most part of one other year, Ted has been chasing after Robin. So only the remaining year, only a third of the time they know each other, they spent as friends without openly displaying romantic feelings for each other. And they still managed to sleep together at some point during that time.
So not only are Stella's concerns valid and understandable. Beyond that, Robin's objection, albeit surprising and seemingly coming out of nowhere, does in fact make sense. Is the Ted and Robin chapter really irretrievably closed? Doesn't seem that way from Robin's perspective. As for Ted, maybe there is a reason why of all people it's Marshall, Ted's best friend, who sides with Stella on the no exes issue. He knows Ted better than Ted knows himself. If Ted refuses to confront certain feelings, you can bet Marshall is on to him. Marshall has also been the one who articulated his concerns about Ted moving too fast with Stella most explicitly. Why is Ted rushing into this? Does he hope he'll truly get over Robin once he's happily married, and therefore he can't get there fast enough? I wouldn't put it past the creators of the show that they actually had something like this in mind as a subconscious motivation for Ted's decisions. When I had a close look at the flashbacks Ted had in his near-death experience, when his cab was T-boned, I was astounded to see how many of them featured Robin. I counted 15 scenes with Robin in the foreground, and only 3 with Stella. And yet Ted's immediate reaction was to propose to Stella. Sometimes you think you're living out one story, but the truth turns out to be something else entirely.
Back to this episode. After Barney had digested the shock of Robin moving away, he came up with a simple plan about how to compensate for not spending so much time with her anymore: Sleep with her at the next opportunity! And it could have worked, as Robin got indeed emotional and vulnerable at Ted's wedding. It is interesting to see her approach Barney on her own when she's in that kind of place. After what happened when she got dumped by Simon, she must know where this is leading. What she doesn't remotely realize is that Barney might actually be looking for more than casual sex. That misconception might lead to hurt feelings for Barney at some point. As of this point in the series, however, his biggest concern is that Robin wasn't desperate enough to engage in a three-way. Well, Stella's sister stepped into the breach. Does Barney officially win the belt now?
I guess you either love or hate this episode. I love it, for the emotions, the intensity, and the fallout: Ted and Stella are done. Ted and Robin might not be. And the Robin and Barney story is getting more and more intriguing.
How I Met Your Mother: I Heart NJ (2008)
Good episode that moves the plot forward
After a more personal Marshall episode that didn't have a major impact on the course of the series, we're back to life changing events, and the plot points from episode 1 are continued.
It is getting more obvious that Ted rushed into his engagement with Stella without knowing her well enough and without thinking of all the consequences. He's not even able to pick up on her sarcasm, which leads to his assumption that Stella would be willing to move to Manhattan with her daughter. As it turns out, she is not. So Ted has to move to New Jersey. And if it wasn't evidenced via flashbacks in this episode how much Ted despises New Jersey, we'd already know it from S03E02, when Ted wouldn't even enter New Jersey for a one-night stand. This leads to an argument in front of Ted's friends, who are all inveterate New Yorkers - except Marshall, who suddenly switches sides and roots for New Jersey, which provides the best comedy of the episode. Then again, it's Marshall who must already doubt Ted and Stella's compatibility since she failed the Star Wars test two episodes earlier. At the end, Ted gives in and agrees to move to the detested city of New Jersey. Mostly because of Lucy, Stella's daughter. You have to wonder if Ted's decisions in this relationship are thought out well. First he went from wanting to break up with Stella to proposing to her within one day, and now he learns that he's expected to move to the place he hates more than anything else, and he agrees to do so only a couple of hours later.
The Barney and Robin story from episode 1 of this season is continued as well. We already know that Robin hates her job at Metro News 1, and that Barney encouraged her to take a chance and apply for a more challenging job. Now we see her finally quit her old job. But all she gets out of her audition at the other news agency is a job as foreign correspondent in Japan. Which is devastating news for Barney. He might not have planned to confess his love to her any time soon, but surely he can't stand the thought of not spending time with her on a regular basis.
All in all a good episode that complies well with the series' continuity, moves the plot forward and sets the stage for some interesting conflicts.