Tuesday, September 22, 2009

HIMYM 5.01: "Definitions"

“Lily, I told you, use your indoor ‘woo!’”


I have had quite the wonderful past few days, TV-wise, at least. With all my gushing yesterday, it’s pretty obvious I enjoyed the heck out of Sunday’s Emmy broadcast, and last night two of my favorite shows, How I Met Your Mother and The Big Bang Theory, premiered. Last night’s episode of HIMYM, as the title so kindly points out, dealt with definitions, both defining relationships and defining yourself.

The episode begins with a quick sequence to recap what happened in the Season 4 finale and bring us up to speed on what happened over the summer. Since we last saw them, Barney and Robin tried hooking up in secret, because Lily’s initial reaction when she first found out that they kissed was way overbearing. She instantly wanted double dates and group camping trips and plans for their future kids to marry. Although they were eventually discovered (after they both tried to pretend they were dating other people as an excuse to sneak off together), Barney and Robin still refused to make the relationship “official”. Meanwhile, Ted was fretting over his upcoming first day as a college professor. The gang gave him a hilarious gift, an Indiana Jones-style fedora and whip (courtesy of Barney’s “whip guy,” of course). This led to plenty of silliness throughout the rest of the episode, as Marshall has a little…too…much fun with using that whip.

The consequences of Robin and Barney refusing to define their relationship become greater as the episode progresses. At one point, Marshall’s old law school buddy Brad (have I ever mentioned how great HIMYM is about providing continuity with recurring characters?) asks Robin out to a Canucks/Rangers hockey game. Robin accepts because she can’t officially use the “I have a boyfriend” excuse. After another, always funny, “Robin goes super Canadian” joke, the Kiss Cam turns on her and Brad. Robin reveals that there’s something going on with Barney, and Brad suggests that Robin give the Kiss Cam a go. If she feels bad about it, then Barney is who she is supposed to be with. Robin is typical Robin, saying “Why not? Lay it on me.” Instead of getting a kiss from Robin, however, Brad gets a sucker punch…from Barney. Who, I might add, promptly cowers behind stadium seats begging for a truce.

Now that Robin and Barney’s aversion to having “the talk” has resulted in physical violence, Lily thinks she needs to step up her game. She locks Barney and Robin in Robin’s room, refusing to let them out until they have “the talk,” write down an acceptable result, and pass it under the door for her to read. My personal favorite definition is “Barn-man and Robin.” When I first watched the episode, I’ll have to admit that I was pretty pissed off at Lily. She went way too far in trying to impose her ideas about what a happy relationship should be on a very unconventional couple. It bothered me that Lily refused to accept that people could be happy living their lives in a different way than she would. As I thought about it a little more, though, two things toned down my Lily-hate somewhat. The first is a scene mid-way through the episode, before the door locking incident, where the writers basically acknowledge that Lily is behaving irrationally. At MacLaren’s, Lily is once again pushing Robin and Barney. Barney takes Lily aside for a “private convo,” and he asks why Lily can’t just let them be happy. Lily has a completely illogical response. “You’re not happy! You just think you’re happy because you feel happy!” The second thing that made me feel a bit better was realizing that her antics were actually in character. Lily can be really pushy. The whole episode “Aldrin Justice” or the Marshall coaches the Kindergarten basketball team subplot in “Murtaugh” are perfect examples of that.

I actually enjoyed the Ted is nervous about being a professor plot in this episode as well, despite the fact that I usually don’t care all that much about Ted. Ted was nervous about his first day to the point of having anxiety dreams, and when the first day arrives, he does indeed make a big mistake. After constantly alternating whether or not he’s going to be “strict teacher” or “friend to the students,” it turns out that Ted wasn’t even in the right classroom. He was trying to teach Architecture 101 to Economics 305 students. This whole sequence included some great sight gags like Ted not knowing how to spell Professor and getting some help from a student, and also a rare display of Josh Radnor’s comedy chops. Ted is usually the straight man to his more bizarre friends, but his alternating between “strict” and “friend” every other sentence was amazing.

Ted returns home from his first day (more successful once he actually gets to the correct classroom) to find Robin and Barney still locked in Robin's room. Marshall decides to raise the stakes, and he uses a fan to make the scent of bacon waft into Robin’s room. Robin and Barney decide that they’re too hungry to delay “the talk” any more. They do indeed say some meaningful things to each other, in between denying that they’re actually “having the talk.” They’re couching it as continuing to lie about the status of their relationship, just in the opposite way. As they walk off to brunch hand in hand at the end of the episode, however, I think Lily is right when she says that they don’t realize that they weren’t really lying.

While not one of my very favorite episodes (it wouldn’t make the 15 Most Legendary list), “Definitions” was a solid start to the season. There were two important paradigm shifts in this episode, Ted’s new career and Barney and Robin’s relationship, but those shifts were allowed to happen without changing some of the core things that make HIMYM what it is. Even though we were told at the end of Season 4 that “the Mother” was in Ted’s classroom, it turns out she was in the Economics classroom, not Ted’s actual classroom. So there’s a good explanation for drawing out her reveal further. Despite being in a relationship, Barney and Robin still retain their core character traits. I knew Barney was still Barney when he, from the other side of the locked door, said “Hey, Ted! Door five!” after hearing Ted had a successful first day.

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