(For the next several days, some of our writers will be swapping duties on some of our most popular shows. Some of them will like what they see, but for different reasons. Some of them will have vastly different opinions from the regular reviewers. And some of them won’t be all that different. It’s Second Opinions Week at TV Club.)
Greetings and salutations to all you expecting mothers out there. I'm taking over from Donna tonight, which is a heady responsibility: not only am I filling some awfully big shoes (metaphorically, I mean), I'm also getting my one night, one chance only to put together some thoughts about one of my favorite comedies on TV. I've had some problems with How I Met Your Mother the past season or two, and this season has frustrated me with its tonal inconsistencies and occasionally clunky writing, but I still love the cast and the concept, and I still very much enjoy hanging out with these characters. So there's a fair amount of pressure here, and that brings me to ask myself: what ingredients would make for the perfect TV Club review?
1. Open with a vaguely connected personal anecdote, casually presented at room temperature:
Actually, that's a little tough in this case, since while I enjoyed "The Perfect Cocktail" well enough, it wasn't the deepest episode, nor was it the funniest the show has ever been. So how about—the first time I got drunk, I was 20, in college, and I was getting kind of desperate. Partly there was a girl, and partly there was just the general frustration of being me (which is so hard, you guys have no idea), but I made my decision, and as is often the case with me, I went full bore. I was at a party for theater students, undergrads and grads alike, and I told the grad actor who was throwing the party that I wanted to have some beer, and he told me I should have the good stuff. So he gave me a Red Hook. (The AV Club does not officially endorse Red Hook beer, although it was fairly tasty.) And there were more after that. Of the night itself, I remember getting very interested in looking at people, as there's a part of my brain that becomes increasingly convinced in direct relation to my alcoholic intake that I can will women to find me attractive by glaring at a spot just to the left of their nose. I laughed a lot. On the walk back to campus, I lay down on the yellow line in the middle of the road because I'd heard about that scene in The Program, and I thought it would be hilarious. I have no idea why, and I don't think I was suicidal or anything, but it did take some fairly fast-talk from my friends to get me back on my feet. I did not have a hangover the following morning. In fact, I felt more relaxed and at ease with myself than I had in years, and people I knew kept commenting on that, as though a few beers had given me access to a state of Zen-like calm I'd seen in others, but had never suspected resided within myself, buried under so much anxiety and angst.
2. Add in a cursory plot summary. Sometimes it helps to dice up the details in with the rest of the review, to give the piece a pleasing narrative flow.
Which is why, even thought it's basically ridiculous, I didn't find it entirely impossible to accept Lily and Robin's plan tonight for helping Marshall and Barney get over their (hastily established) feud. The set-up: Marshall, having finally quite his soul-sucking job at Goliath, is having a hard time finding the sort of work he left GNB to find, because his backstabbing boss is, well, stabbing him in the back during job interviews. So he agrees to work for Zoey to try and protect the Arcadian, which pisses Barney off. Ted dodges the issue because he and Zoey have agreed to never, ever discuss the Arcadian (which makes it sort of odd that she trumpets Marshall's involvement to the entire group, right?), so Marshall and Barney get involved in a prank war that escalates to the point of getting the group kicked out of the bar. Lily and Robin decide that it's meddlin' time, and set about constructing the perfect combination of booze that will help Marshall and Barney get over themselves. Meanwhile, Ted finally decides he's had enough of Zoey's devotion to the Arcadian, so he forces her to spend a night in the hotel, just to prove it's not worth saving.
3. Discuss the positives of the episode. Try to avoid using bland phrases like, "It was funny" or "I liked that," as they provide little to chew on.
Yeah, I probably should've spread that plot out more. But I'm going to stick to the premise here, come hell or high water, because that's what good writing is, right? You stick to the premise, even when that premise no longer suits the needs of the work you're creating. So, the good in "Cocktail." The prank war was funny. Marshall's increasingly elaborate (and yet still character consistent, in that they were never that elaborate) attempts to cockblock Barney were obvious they were entertaining, and the runner of Barney sending Marshall pictures of himself doing horrible things to whatever Marshall happened to be touching was clever, and paid off at the end when Robin and Lily used the same trick to get rid of the booth pirates. (The best part of the gag, of course, being that both Barney and R & L used the same guy to deliver the pictures. I apologize if this is someone who's appeared on the show before, as I've missed a few episodes this season. I mean, I still love the show, and I still record it every week, but I just don't get as excited as I used to, because I feel like I know what to expect. That happens, and it's not always a show's fault when I drop it, but… you ever try and get back in touch with a high school friend, and they're just the same as they always were, and they want to keep doing the what you always did, and it's fun at first, but then you have to move on? Yeah. I don't need them to innovate. But I'm tired of them assuming the same notes will always sound as good.) The drink montage was cute, although I'm baffled that beer never occurred to either of them until the end. As always, the cast makes the most out of the jokes, which is why HIMYM is nearly always watchable, even when it's lazy. And I wouldn't even call tonight lazy! (Lazy for me was "Bad News," which used a bizarre, self-defeating gimmick, and a shock ending—powerful, admittedly, and well-acted—to cover for a really weak script.) I also liked that "Cocktail" gave Zoey just a little more depth, finally giving her some actual, non-granola reason for wanting to preserve the Arcadian.
4. Add spice by providing a reasonable, well-argued critique of what you feel didn't work in the episode. Be diplomatic. Make connections to the season as a whole, but try not to take any of it personally.
But you know what? Zoey is still ridiculous, and it's still annoying that she's been on the show as long as she has, especially now that Kyle MacLachlan, who is, for me, the only good to come out of this arc, has gone. I like Jennifer Morrison fine, she did some decent work on House, but here she might as well just walk around wearing a red-shirt and talking about how many days she has left till retirement. She's canon fodder(sic), just like nearly all of Ted's girlfriends have been, and while that was fine for a while, because it was soapy and cute and made for some good stories, it's getting old. Zoey's big reveal tonight is that she's trying to protect the Arcadian because her family lived there when she was growing up. Which is lovely, but seems like a selfish reason for wasting everyone's time, especially seeing as how she isn't able to spend one night in the place, even when she has something to prove by doing so. And of course Ted gets all weak in the knees after her speech and decides he's going to back her at the end, much to the chagrin of Barney. Ted pulls out the "I love you" gun, which we should probably all be grateful he didn't pull out half a season ago, given how this usually goes.
This is supposed to be well-reasoned, but I'm not sure I can be well-reasoned. This is making me weirdly angry, about a show I generally don't have intensely strong feelings about one way or the other these days. And maybe that's my problem. You know that stupid drinking story I told above? Screw that. It's barely relevant. "Cocktail" isn't really about drinking, and it's not really about friendship, and it's certainly not about love. It's about call-backs. It's about reminding you that you've been watching this show for a while, to give you that warm, nuzzling sensation that you're getting what you've always liked, only in that mushy, sort of luke-warm way all leftovers get on the second night. We get the return of the cock-a-mouse. Lily likes to hit on Robin when she's drunk. Barney is running plays on strangers, as always, and the one interesting idea here, of Marshall trying to make his way by his principles, is shrugged off in favor of the Gimmick. The Gimmick being that different drinks do different things to our heroes, and that's cute, sure, but it doesn't really build properly. We get a series of cut-away gags showing Marshall, Barney, and the others affected by various drinks. Then we see Marshall and Barney doing some of what we already know they'll do, and there's no real pay-off, other than learning that beer is the cure-all, and champagne ruins everything.
I shouldn't be frustrated by this. It was all passable, and occasionally clever, and I always like Robin and Lily pairing up to do some meddlin'. (Also, I was happy to catch the cock-a-mouse reference, which was the point.) Maybe it's just that this whole episode felt like it was idling, and this whole season has had too much of that. There's a lot of discussion about whether or not the show needs to bring the mother out, as the constant teasing of revelations makes every season a little more like some kind of bizarre romantic version of Gilligan's Island; will Ted ever find a true love who can take him away from Bachelor Reef? But you know what the real problem is? The romance is gone. There was some romance in the Robin and Barney story, and Marshall and Lily will always be sweet, but the last time Ted had a relationship worth giving a damn about was at least a year ago. I don't care about the teasing and the umbrella and the Lost-lite mythology. I want stories that aren't just a way to keep the franchise running till the series finale. In its best seasons, this was a wild, smart, hilarious show, and the fuel that kept that engine running was passion. Ted Mosby may be a douche, but he's the same douche we all are, the same douche I was at that party where I got drunk like an idiot because I couldn't get the girl. I want this show to take risks again. I want to be excited when it inverts time, when it wears its heart on the sleeve of its ridiculous plaid sports coat. I'm tired of being tired with all this. Don't give us the mother because the fans want answers. Give us the mother so the story can mean something again, so we're not just laughing at echoes because they remind us of what we used to love.
5. Um. Try and tie it all together somehow? God, this is like that time you used Kraft singles as pizza cheese.
It's great having John Lithgow on the show. Marshall's dad's death was a strong choice, and Jason Segel rose to the task very well. But the knowledge that Thomas and Bays have contracted for two more seasons scares the crap out of me. They can save this, and those two seasons could be glorious. There've been signs this year that could happen. But it could also be pretty awful, and there have been signs of that, too. So, please: stop with the dodging. Either give Ted a meaningful relationship, or make him single for a while. Let us give a damn about what happens to him beyond wondering just how long Bob Saget's kids are going to put up with this crap. Realize that we all (or at least me) fell in love with this show because the elaborate confections of plot and contrivance were built on top of the sincere conviction that this was a story worth telling. And a story worth telling is also a story worth ending.
6. Sprinkle lightly with Stray Observations, then set in comments for the roasting it deserves.
- I was going to do a riff on how great character Barney is, and how he's part of a long TV tradition of the lovable sleaze (much as I love Lithgow, I will always wish John Larroquette had been the dad), but this ep really wasn't about Barney at all. Besides, I probably would've gone on this rant about how awkward Barney's rampant hook-ups seems post-Robin, and nobody wants that.
- "Screw the environment!" Although I'm not sure the kind of agency Marshall is trying to work for would completely trust the word of the scary evil super bank.
- "We fired him when we caught him clubbing a seal in his office with an even cuter seal."
- "So Oprah's retiring. Oof! What's that world gonna be like?"
- "No, I'm still not ready to put my mouth on anything yet." "*sigh* I know."
- "I'm sorry, but your crabs—have super-herpes."
- The Drinks: Red wine—helps Barney reach a "sad clarity. Gin—drives Marshall to pick fights with his reflection. Martinis—bring out Lily's Robin-curious side. Daiquiris—Marshall finds himself incredibly beautiful. Peppermint schnapps—Barney acts like Richard Dawson, the host of Family Fued. Bourbon—convinces Ted he can beatbox (he can't). Absinthe—makes Robin go crazy. Whisky (minus the "e," 'cause that makes it Scottish)—brings out Marshall and Barney's mopey sides. Beer—the solution to everything. Champagne—the worst ever.
- "Look, I can handle you trying to prevent me from fulfilling a life-long dream. That's just being in a relationship."