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Wait for It
The Legendary Story of How I Met Your Mother An Unofficial Guide
By Jesse McLean, Jennifer Hale
ECW PRESS Copyright © 2014 Jesse McLean
All rights reserved.
season one (2005–2006)
LIFE IS JUST A LIVING ROOM SWORD DUEL
The gang's hold on youth is threatened
LEGEN ... DARY THOUGHTS ON THE SEASON
Romantic comedy feels like a primarily cinematic term, but some of the greatest romances in popular culture have played out on television screens. The tension of a couple overcoming a seemingly impossible barrier plays quite well across several weeks, months, or even years of programming. Whether the quintessential will-they-or-won't-they of Sam Malone and Diane Chambers on Cheers, the on-again, off-again trials of Ross and Rachel on Friends, or even the actual impossibility of a union between Will and Grace on, well, Will & Grace, all these shows benefited from the comedic (and occasionally dramatic) fuel of the type of conflict once thought to be the exclusive domain of filmmakers from Preston Sturges to Woody Allen.
How I Met Your Mother is, in essence, a long-form romantic comedy. Like many of the best films of this kind, it is set in New York, which has the breakneck pace that best suits the quick wit of the best rom-coms. And while there is more than one couple at the center of the proceedings, we find our hero in Josh Radnor's Ted Mosby, who has great chemistry with a number of potential mothers of his children. But the best chemistry is reserved for what plays out over the length of this first season: his romance with Cobie Smulders' Robin Scherbatsky.
While the show ticks off a number of boxes on the rom-com genre's list, the most interesting part is a very simple inversion. The fact that the romantic fool at the heart of the story is a guy and not a girl is a great indication of Carter Bays and Craig Thomas' unconventional worldview, one that would bring so much freshness and invention to the romantic comedy in general and the network sitcom in particular.
One of those innovations has to do with how the show is made. The multi-camera setup of How I Met Your Mother will look familiar to fans of shows that shoot in front of a live studio audience (The Big Bang Theory, Two and a Half Men). Actors generally prefer working on these type of shows as opposed to the more cinematic single-camera ones (30 Rock, The Office) because the hours are more sensible. Instead of shooting twelve- to fourteen-hour days like the single-camera shows, multi-cam shows shoot for one day and, with only a few days for read-throughs and rehearsals, make for a more human- and family-friendly schedule.
What Bays and Thomas did, however, was promise a multi-camera show but deliver what was in essence a single-camera script. With as many as sixty scenes, many of them flashbacks and flash-forwards, in each episode, How I Met Your Mother more closely resembles Parks and Recreation than 2 Broke Girls.
While this means that one episode takes three days to shoot, it also means that the producers couldn't imagine how to film an entire script in front of the same crowd from start to finish (prompting Thomas to suggest that such a situation "would blur the line between 'audience' and 'hostage situation'"). The innovation becomes clear when you consider that Bays and Thomas have made a show that looks as familiar and welcoming as a multi-camera show (with the standard laugh track obtained by airing the cut episode to a full audience) but with the smash cuts and quick cutaways of a single-camera program.
The creators also breathed life into the sitcom setting and the rom-com genre by putting a man at the center of the matrimonial time clock countdown. How many times have we seen women saddled with this type of premise, from the disconcerting man-trap angle of How to Marry a Millionaire all the way to the modern-day exploits of Bridget Jones or Carrie Bradshaw on Sex and the City? While the motivations may differ (to be set up for a comfortable life in the 1950s, versus finding true love while managing a satisfying career in an effort to "have it all" in a post 9/11 world), it has generally been considered the domain of female characters to fret over the romantic future and to pine over an as-yet-unmet spouse, that elusive person known as The One.
Another benefit of investing all these attributes in a male character is that it allows for all manner of neurotic complications and grand gestures that, if foisted on a woman, might feel unseemly at best and pathetic at worst, especially after we've all endured a lifetime of scatterbrained rom-com heroines. While much of the credit for the show's freshness is rightly assigned to the creators, Josh Radnor had the unenviable task of acting like a foolish romantic whose actions could easily be mistaken for those of a stalker. His considerable nebbish charisma certainly owes much to the modern romantic-comedy hero mold cast by Woody Allen, but archetypes don't help an actor who has to tell a character he barely knows "I love you" and make it seem adorable rather than creepy. That he can pull this off, along with an earnest confession at Robin's brownstone stoop that he's not really sorry for being such a romantic goon (a speech that would likely stand as Exhibit A in a restraining order case), is a testament to Radnor's skill and Ted's inherent charm — and a good reason to stick around to watch these twentysomethings start to grow up.
For a season about the bumpy road from youth to adulthood, complete with all the skyrocket highs and shoe-leather lows that come from the dreams of youth being exceeded or dashed, it is no surprise that the pilot episode opens with a marriage proposal. Sure, it's a practice run with Marshall trying out his approach on his best friend, but it solidifies Ted's desire to be a married guy like his college buddy and roommate is about to become. It also signals that the next phase of adulthood is upon them — whether they struggle to succeed at it (Marshall and Lily) or maintain a seemingly primal urge to fight against it (Barney), they all must accept that life is moving forward.
Although Marshall and Ted claim to want things that would indicate adulthood, they have in effect extended their college dorm days by remaining roommates now that they're finished with school and focusing on their careers. Funny how a previous generation (denoted by the letter X) was once taken to task for boomeranging back to their parent's basements in their twenties, especially when compared to previous generations who tamed the West or fought in wars. Funnier still that the idea of the extended adolescence has become a much more acceptable phase of growing up, to the point where people these days routinely refer to people in their twenties as "kids."
Millennials don't have it any better, but this begrudging shift in the way that time in our lives is viewed helps to explain the enduring appeal of a show like How I Met Your Mother. Even if we didn't all spend our twenties in the Greatest City on Earth (I believe there's a pending on that), most of us can recall a time when there was a large gulch between who we were and who we thought we would become, and the primary task was to figure out how to get there.
Kids, back in my day (he said, in his best Future Ted Mosby voice) I remember seeing a movie called St. Elmo's Fire. It presented such a dreamy, improbable picture of that very time in your life that I, a teenager at the time, couldn't wait to get there. Struggling law students and would-be writers lived in charming exposed-brick apartments, and couples worked for politicians and lived in apparently undervalued loft spaces (how else could they afford them?). Imagine my surprise when I arrived at my twenties only to find that the only loft apartments I would ever spend any time in were in the movies.
While St. Elmo's Fire and How I Met Your Mother share surface similarities — the age of their protagonists, the ensemble dynamic, and even the bar that serves as a nucleus for their respective groups — the television show doesn't make things easy for the characters. Ted's struggle to find the future Mrs. Mosby while simultaneously succeeding at his architecture career feels very relatable (although I'm still not sure how he and law student Marshall can afford their apartment — maybe we'll go with a rent-control explanation). Similarly, Lily's initial reluctance to marry Marshall stems from worries that she's sacrificed her childhood dream of becoming an artist instead of the kindergarten teacher that she's ended up. Fans of the show are quick to point out that these are dilemmas that resonate with anyone who had grand dreams for their future self. And, in the end, isn't that most of us?
remember the time ...
HIGHLIGHTS, RUNNING GAGS, AND CATCHPHRASES
Any good comedy series will have recurring gags, but it's amazing to think of how many elements that appeared in the pilot episode have featured throughout the series. It's a testament to the vision of Carter Bays and Craig Thomas that the premiere episode featured the blue French horn, the appearance of driver/guardian angel Ranjit, laser tag, "Suit up!," "What up?" and Barney's Blog.
Other memorable happenings from the first season:
The live-action version of Linus and The Great Pumpkin in "The Slutty Pumpkin"
Learning exactly what liberty tastes like in "Sweet Taste of Liberty," only to be disappointed that the answer is "pennies"
One of Barney's best legendary lines in the show's entire run: "It's going to be legen — wait for it ... I hope you're not lactose intolerant 'cause the second half of that word is — dary!" ("Sweet Taste of Liberty")
The mysterious pineapple from "The Pineapple Incident": this episode is the most-watched episode of season one and the second highest of the series, after the season finale "Last Forever"
Robin's inability to turn down Barney's bets to say inappropriate things on the air ("Return of the Shirt")
The first appearance of the dreaded Cockamouse in "Matchmaker"
Poor Lily dwarfed by the giant Eriksen clan in "Belly Full of Turkey": this episode is also notable for the first appearances of jokes poking fun at Canada and Canadians, including the obvious pronunciation of about as aboot
The story Marshall tells in "Life Among the Gorillas," which is reminiscent of the "naturalistic as hell" story Tim Roth tells lead thug Lawrence Tierney in Reservoir Dogs
Ted's statement in "Milk" that his perfect woman would play bass like Kim Deal (Pixies and The Breeders) or Kim Gordon (Sonic Youth), which leaves us to wonder if this might offer a clue about the identity of the Mother
The start of Lily's not-so-secret attraction to Robin in "Best Prom Ever" when Robin kisses Lily to give her the "lesbian experience" she never had in college
The telepathic conversation Marshall and Lily have in "Mary the Paralegal," in the first in a long line of such conversations between the two soul mates
The suggestion in "Okay Awesome" that Marshall looks like a third Affleck brother ("... Brian Affleck?")
taking life and turning it into a series of crazy stories
For each season, we will take a look at selected episodes from the year: the funniest, the ones that add the most to Ted's search for the ever-elusive girl of his dreams, or simply the most memorable — those that have won this series a warm place in the hearts of so many. Also, wherever there are slaps, this guide will be there.
1.05 OKAY AWESOME
The whole notion of losing one's youth is interesting, but never more so than in this episode, where there is a concerted interest in trying to shed those early years. Well, even if it's only Lily, who decides she wants to try being a grown-up after lying about her beer-guzzling weekend to a coworker. Marshall agrees, if only to make her happy (as always) and pledges to "rock it, maturity style!" at an upcoming wine tasting the couple will host.
Meanwhile, Robin represents the pull of younger days when she invites Ted and Barney to an exclusive club called Okay. The allure of these clubs (with their ear-splitting volume and wallet-splitting drinks) always seems to me to be for those who have just started going and those who used to go and now look back on those days nostalgically.
Either way, a lot of this episode is about not only how to grow up (and how not to) but also the difficulty of communication, whether at a thumping bar or a snoozy grown-ups party (the high five that fellow wine tasters share after the line "You gotta go for the thirty-year fixed mortgage" is heartbreaking). The subtitles over the deafening music work well (and are used to great comic effect, reminiscent of Woody Allen's Annie Hall) and provide what is likely network television's most accurate portrayal to date of a night in a club.
Even more realistic is what Marshall goes through when he arrives at the club after ditching his own wine tasting through the bathroom window. He gets a temporary crown knocked loose just as he is ready to bust a move and goes into the bathroom to search for aspirin. What he does in there is not shown, but the wide-eyed and invigorated Marshall who exits makes us wonder what exactly was going on in that bathroom. Cocaine? Ecstasy? Or, as Josh Radnor posits in the DVD audio commentary for this episode, a "cup of coffee"?
Ted realizes that he hates clubs and only goes out of a sense of obligation to the effort to meet the future Mrs. Ted Mosby. When he strikes up a conversation with the club's "coat wench" (Jayma Mays, who would later find stardom on Glee as well as with roles in The Smurfs and Epic Movie) she neatly sums up everything that's wrong with growing up: "Everything you're supposed to like actually sucks."
Naturally, the gang discovers that youth isn't so easily discarded — and that the quality of your life is determined not by where you spend it but by who you spend it with. At the very least, they discover that the club is no place to find true love or, in Barney's case, grind with a "fine cutlet" for a one-night tryst — especially when that cutlet turns out to be your cousin Leslie.
empire state building fun facts
Barney's cousin is played by choreographer Kristin Denehey, who choreographed Marshall's late-episode dance number in this episode, as well as the rain dance Ted performs later this season in "Come On" (along with appearing in the film version of Rent and orchestrating dance moves on Entourage, The Sing-Off, and the dance movie Go For It!).
One of the three geeks outside of the club is played by Samm Levine, another ex — Freaks and Geeks cast member, a further sign of Bays and Thomas' devotion to that series.
1.08 THE DUEL
Growing up is a concern in this episode, but even more so is the idea of independence. And as usual for How I Met Your Mother, the standard tropes are inverted and it is the women who are more concerned with life outside of their relationships than the men.
It turns out that Lily has maintained an apartment of her own in New York despite her de facto role as fellow roommate of Marshall and Ted. It's no surprise that this is a surprise to Robin, but when Lily returns after a three-month absence, she is shocked to learn that her apartment is no more. Even more surprising, it has turned into a Chinese restaurant that uses her furniture to complement the eatery's décor.
The idea of not letting go of the past is also prevalent in this episode. Ted doesn't want things to change, an outlook best epitomized by his love for a fifty-year-old coffeemaker he affectionately calls "Shocky," which, true to its nickname, zaps him every time he plugs it in and produces coffee that tastes a little "rusty." When Lily officially moves in with the boys and throws out Shocky in favor of a machine that makes coffee that tastes good and doesn't electrocute the intended drinker, Ted thinks he's being edged out of the apartment and, along the way, the life to which he's become accustomed.
Excerpted from Wait for It by Jesse McLean, Jennifer Hale. Copyright © 2014 Jesse McLean. Excerpted by permission of ECW PRESS.
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