Monday, September 17, 2012

How I Met Your Mother: Season 7 Recap

Before the September 24th premiere of How I Met Your Mother's eighth season, I thought it would be appropriate to look back at where we were this past year to better understand where we are now. That's why I waited until now to post my season 7 recap. After I talk about season 7, I'd like to express where I hope all of this goes.

Let's begin with the recap. Much like my reviews, I want to first offer my quick takes and then discuss the season as a whole.

Oh, and spoiler alert if you didn't bother watching season 7. Unless this is your plan, to just read the recap of the seventh season so you're prepared for the eighth.I wouldn't recommend it, I'm going to talk about things that I assume you know, and I may or may not bother to explain it to you. You'll just have to sit there, nodding like you understand it, but in reality it's just whooshing over your head. If that's how you want it to be, it's your life, you live it however you want. No judgement here.

Strongest Episode: Trilogy Time. I really liked the idea of looking back at their lives in three-year increments, and having each era look ahead to where they thought they'd be. This kind of time-hopping episode is the series' strongest attribute. I also liked the subplot of Barney and Quinn growing closer, particularly regarding the point in the relationship when they are comfortable enough to fart around each other.

Weakest Episode: The Magician's Code. The season just did not end well. I'm not a fan of Ted running off with Victoria, because it again highlights how bad he is at making the right relationship choices. This better pay off. Barneys proposal also took way too long and was the worst kind of treading water. Then, as I mentioned in my review, the writers have to hammer us with the idea that it will all make sense. Look guys, show, don't tell.

Otherwise strong episode ruined by a tedious subplot: Symphony of Illumination. Here we find out that Robin can't have kids, and this door being firmly shut isn't easy for her to deal with. Her narrating the story to her imaginary children was both poignant and a real mind trip. It's too bad we had to put up with Marshall being stranded on a roof by a neighbor kid. The episode didn't need a subplot, it needed to stay on Robin the entire time.

Best Ted Moment: He gives up the apartment and lets Marshall and Lily have it. It was the best growth he had all season.

Best Barney Moment: He goes home and breaks his mugs, proving to Quinn that he's serious about being in a couple.

Best Robin Moment: Talking to her imaginary children she'll never have.

Best Marshall Moment: Putting the ultrasound on Cootes' desk, getting his boss to actually care about the environment again.

Best Lily Moment: Her worries about hosting a party really being about her as a parent.

Best reveal: Barney is one-quarter Canadian. My only complaint is that they haven't done enough with it.

Worst reveal: Robin as the bride. Not so much for it being her, but for the ham-fisted way we were told that it would all make sense.

Best guest star: Alexis Denisof as Sandy Rivers. He never fails to make me smile.

Best new character: Kevin, Robin's therapist and inappropriate boyfriend. He was a great foil for the gang, pointing out their issues while a temporary part of their group. Like many other great aspects of this season, he was sorely under-utilized. My favorite moment with him was when he kept diagnosing everyone. Sadly, he didn't last. 

Most wasted potential: Robin having to land a helicopter on her own. That should have been an entire episode, with all the characters forced to look at their own mortality as they watch their friend fight for her life. It could have explored Robin's own struggles with her desire for fame and recognition, and what truly matters to her the most. She could have been forced to consider her own legacy, wondering how people were going to remember her, especially in light of her infertility. Instead, it was a C-plot.

Best storyline: Barney getting serious with Quinn. She's a great foil for him, turning the tables on him the way he did with women. I also liked how she would go along with his crazy schemes, especially regarding the Broath. Unlike Nora, Quinn knew exactly who and what Barney was, and I liked that we got a chance to see barney truly pursue a relationship. Now we have to see why he marries Robin when he proposed to Quinn.

Worst storyline: Ted's dating life. Just because he's hasn't met The Mother yet doesn't mean he has to be a complete dating disaster. What's worse, it's that he never seems to learn anything, or learns the wrong lessons and does things that make it harder and harder for me to sympathize with him. I expect this kind of behavior from season 3 Ted, who understandable had a long way to go. But season 7 Ted should have been a much better person, and the show has really shortchanged his character. Had he spent more time being an architect or professor, he'd have been a lot more sympathetic, and dare I say it, awesome.

Funniest moment: Lily and Marshal's dads in bed together. The idea of both Lily and Marshall marrying each other's dads is funny enough, but seeing Bill Faggerbakke and Chris Elliott in bed together was comedy genius. It's one of those jokes an entire episode is built around, and it works.

Dirtiest Joke: Marshall describing the sex dream Lily had with Papa Smurf and Bill Cosby. It's still the filthiest joke I've ever heard on the show and I'm surprised it made it past the censors. 

Best Pop Culture Reference: Weird Al, in his classic mode, getting the idea for like a surgeon from young Ted.

Best Callback: The flashbacks to 2006 and 2009 during Trilogy Time. It was interesting that in both years, Robin was dating someone in the group.

Best Foreshadowing: Ted taking his daughter to Trilogy Time. How else is the going to learn that Han shot first?

Best Payoff: We find out why Ted was wearing a dress, declaring he and Barney to be "even." While I figured it was because he lost a bet, I loved the fact that it was to cheer up his bro during a tough time. It was one of Ted's best moments this season.

Full Recap: There are a lot more great and terrible moments to talk about, and you can read more about them in my individual reviews. As you can see, while I wasn't especially enthusiastic about the seventh season, that doesn't mean I didn't enjoy a lot of it. It also doesn't mean this upcoming eighth season won't be legen...wait for it...

Because that's what we've been doing these past seven years. Waiting for one very important moment, when Ted finally meets The Mother. We've had moments when he's come close, the St. Patrick's Day party, the wrong classroom, dating her roommate. We also know when it happens, the day of The Wedding. Barney's wedding, in fact. As we learned at the end of last season, he's marrying Robin.

This means two very big things are going to happen this season, if I' not mistaken. We're going to see why Barney and Robin get married, and we're going to meet The Mother.

This has to be the season Ted meets her. Given the show's timeline, the fact that his daughter is born in 2014 or early 2015, Ted will need to meet her soon. Since this show loves to save big reveals until the end of the season, Ted proposing to Stella, Lily being pregnant, Robin as the bride, Ted will probably meet her next May.

Before that happens, though, I want to see one very important thing happen. I want to see Ted really become the man he needs to be. This woman we've been hearing about is supposedly amazing. The Ted we've seen these past few seasons really isn't much of a catch, and while he started showing some character development, I felt all of it was dashed when he and Victoria drove off into the sunset.

We haven't seen the end of the story yet, though. Ted running off with Victoria could actually lead to something good. Perhaps five minutes into it, Ted will come to his senses and finally become the great man we know he can be. (Or at least the pretty good guy telling his kids a long rambling story about everyone's sex lives.) I'd like to see Ted focus on actually being a better person, a better friend, a better architect, a better teacher. Those pursuits can still be funny, hijinks can still ensure if the show will trust itself and its characters more.

Season seven felt like the show was just killing time, and I know I sounded like a broken record pointing it out again and again. It's one of my biggest pet peeves with long-arc shows: they know where they are going, but have a hard time doing more than just putting all the pieces into place. The key is to make the process just as interesting. Make us care about each step of the way, because if the show doesn't, we have no emotional investment in what's happening now. The show used to be really good at that during its first few seasons.

This is a big contrast between season seven and six. While season six was plagued by too much Zoey, and had some of the weakest episodes of the entire show's run, it also had some of the best. The episode "Bad News," which literally counted down to Marshall's father's death, was one of the biggest punches to the gut since Radar popped into O.R. to give the news of Henry's death. Marshal's reaction is still one of his character's best moments. The followup episode, with Marshall finding his dad's last voice mail was also fantastic.

That was the season Barney met his father, played by none other than John Lithgow. Those two episodes were both hilarious and heavy, and book-ended the season's theme of fatherhood quite nicely. Marshall lost his dad, and Barney was just rediscovering his. Say what you will about the rest of the season, those episodes are some of the best they've ever done.

The return of Robin Sparkles and her unintentionally dirty children's show was also one of the season's best. Thankfully the show hasn't overplayed Robin Sparkles, and when they do, they make it count.

While season seven didn't have the Zoey lows, it didn't reach the show's usual heights either. When I look back at the seventh season, I think about how much better it could have been with just a few minor changes. All the parts were there for some good television. They still hit it out of the park on occasion, but more often than not they got in their own way and brought greatness down to mediocrity.

That doesn't mean there isn't hope. There's always hope. What are my hopes for season eight? I'm going into this as spoiler free as possible, so don't tell me if you already know I'm about to be disappointed. Allow me my ignorant bliss for a little while longer.

I want to see Barney to continue to progress. Even though we know he an Quinn don't end up together, I want it to be for a legitimate, grown-up reason, not because she dumps him for cheating with Robin. Again. There's a lot of depth to Barney, and it's time to let that come out. I'd love to see more of him and his father. He and John Lithgow had great chemistry and should be paired up as often as possible.

I want Marshall and Lily to take a cue from Ross and Rachel regarding how it's possible for a show to survive a baby. While some sitcoms drop off in quality when characters have a baby, Friends maintained its charm by remembering who these characters were, baby or no baby. Of course, I know we're going to get the typical new parents stories, and we already got a glimpse of that when we discovered they are so keeping score when the baby is born.

However, we don't need every single storyline about them to be centered on the baby. I want to see more about Lily's career as an artist, and Marshall's fight to save the world. Those stories are just as important for their characters, only now they have more poignancy and weight because of their child. Now their work is not just about them, but about leaving the world a better place and passing on a legacy to their children.

We also have at least two more slaps coming, and we already know when one of them is going down. Or across. As in across the face because that's how slaps normally work. You get slapped across the face. Got it? Okay, moving on.

I want to see more of Robin's career and general awesomeness. This season seemed to define her by her lack relationships or lack thereof. The show had no shortage of Robin stories when she was an anchor for the evening news or host of a morning show on so early that even her stalker wouldn't watch it. We need to see her being the reporter she's supposed to be, not just mooning after Barney.

I really want to see the show actually use its potential. I don't want them to cram their best stories into B or C plots. I also don't want to see them stretch out what should be one scene into the entire episode. I want to see fewer inane subplots and more focus on these characters. I want them to look back on what worked in the first few seasons, because the show has every potential to rise to that level of greatness again. It just has to let itself.

Finally, as I mentioned above, I want Ted to meet The Mother. It's time. We've been waiting eight years, and they've run out of interesting storylines for Ted. (Having forgotten he's an architect and a college professor, concentrating solely on his personal life.) It's time for this to happen. We're going to find out what happened at Barney's wedding and how it all leads up to that thing with The Mother's yellow umbrella.

If there is one moment that absolutely has to live up to the hype, it's this one. We've been let down by so many other shows that promised a great ending: Lost, Battlestar Galactica, Smallville. This legen...waitingforitforeightyearsandwe'realloutofpatience...dary meeting has been built up over the course of the show, and not only is it important for all the fans, it's equally important for the show's legacy. Will we remember this show as once having so much charm and potential but ultimately becoming a disappointment? Or will we remember this as a show that did the impossible, stretched a premise for eight seasons and gave us an ending that was totally worth it? This season is when we find out.

I also know what I'd love to see if the show goes on for a ninth season. There's talk of that happening, but what I do not want to see is them dragging on the Mother plotline any more. Instead, I'd love to have the season co-narrated by both Ted and The Mother. I'd love her to join Ted in telling the kids the story, and perhaps have them arguing back and forth over the actual details. Ted has already proven to be unreliable at times, and it would be fun to see her call him on it. That would definitely give new life to the show and help it extend beyond its original premise.

There you have it, my thoughts on last season and what I hope to see this season. I'm ever the optimist and I'm rooting for them. As usual, I'll recap and review every episode along this last stretch. See you there.


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