Friday, June 18, 2010

HIMYM 5.22: "Robots vs. Wrestlers"

“One word, made-up: ‘Douchepocalypse’”


“Robots vs. Wrestlers” left me feeling rather empty. It was full of attempting-to-be funny jokes with no substance, and more importantly, no heart. Sure pretentious Ted and spazzing out Barney can be fun, and I love HIMYM’s running gags, but that’s really all there was to this episode. We have a sort of sappy ending voice over from Saget!Ted about how Robots vs. Wrestlers became a long-standing tradition for the group, but that wasn’t enough for me. And while I understand why it was done from a production perspective, I don’t really like how Robin’s absence from the group was handled. It didn’t mean as much as it should have, considering what led to it.

As the episode opens, the group, minus Robin, is at MacLaren’s, as they generally always are. Barney bounces in super-excited about his newest acquisition. He got five tickets to “Robots vs. Wrestlers.” Marshall and Ted think this is the greatest thing ever until Lily is a bit of a buzzkill. She asks Barney who the fifth ticket is for and reminds him that Robin is taking a break from the group. This makes Barney a little extra pouty and childish for the episode (Lily does make a reference to his abandonment issues at one point). We see Lily calling Robin later, and Robin declining the invitation to Robots vs. Wrestlers as expected. What wasn’t so expected was that she took the phone call right in the middle of her show, but that was pretty amusing.

The most interesting byproduct of Barney’s insecurity in this episode, is that his tirade about everyone is going to start leaving him (Robin to Don, Ted to becoming the male equivalent of a crazy cat lady, and Marshall and Lily to a family) get Marshall and Lily to start talking about the possibility of having kids. Marshall is much more enthusiastic about the prospect than Lily. Marshall thinks they’re ready for kids right now. Lily wants kids eventually, but not just yet. This debate continues throughout the episode, culminating in a running gag that was introduced in this season gaining a bit more significance.

This episode brought on the return of Pretentious Ted, more pretentious than we’ve ever seen him before. Generally, Pretentious Ted is associated with Ted in his college days when he was dating Karen and organizing Dr. X “Happenings.” As an adult, Ted has definitely toned it down, until now. Although the episode would have you believe that he’s always this pretentious, but that’s just not true from what we’ve actually seen on the show. Now, all of a sudden, Ted does things like quote poems and recite Dante’s inferno in the original Italian. It’s such a habit that whenever he starts going off on a pretentious topic, the rest of the group make fart noises. Normally, a shift like this wouldn’t bother me in a sitcom, but one of the things that has made HIMYM unique over the years is attention to continuity and characterization.

Ted gets to fully indulge in his pretentious side this episode because he receives an invitation in the mail meant for Marissa Heller, the woman who lived in his apartment before he and Marshall moved in all those years ago. Ted has been receiving Marissa’s mail almost from day one (although we’ve never even heard of her before…stop me before I go on a continuity rant again), and the gang has tried to put together a picture of what she must be like. She seems to like golf and soap operas, for instance. The aforementioned invitation is to a fancy, exclusive party held by Jefferson van Smoot at a famous New York City building. Ted being an architecture nerd is all over that. The rest of the gang agrees to help him crash the party when Ted mentions it has an open bar. They’ll mingle with the elite (and get trashed) before heading over to Robots vs. Wrestlers.

For obvious reasons, Lily is given the task of impersonating Marissa. I’m really stretching to find things I liked at all about this episode, but I thought it was funny that Lily wanted to give Marissa a British accent, and the rest of the group shot down her idea. Before Lily has a chance to put any plan into action, though, the real Marissa Heller shows up and gives her name to the bouncer. Not one to have his plans foiled, Barney tries to chat up Marissa in an attempt to get the gang invited up to the party. Surprisingly, Marissa is absolutely nothing like what her mail would suggest. I found this quite confusing and distracting, actually. Also surprisingly, Ted succeeds where Barney fails. Marissa is impressed by his love of architecture, and the group gains admittance to the party. The party is filled with the most pretentious people possible, and Ted is elated.

Ted may be elated, but everybody else feels out of place. Marshall hits a gong that nobody else has hit for decades, and he doesn’t like any of the hor d’oeuvres. Barney’s stories aren’t working on any of the women, because they know things like an ambassador’s medical history. Similarly to her husband, Lily picks up a candlestick that she shouldn’t have. Thinking the party is lame, the gang says it’s time to move on to Robots vs. Wrestlers. Ted, however, decides to stay at the party. While watching the aptly named event, Barney continues to freak out, believing that Ted has abandoned him forever as well. As Marshall and Lily seem to still be seriously considering having kids soon, Barney starts a list of things they need to promise to do if they have a baby. It’s such a long list that he’s still reciting it when they’re at MacLaren’s later.

Meanwhile, Ted starts to realize his own douchiness when he’s doing another full-on original Italian Dante’s Inferno recitation to a rapt audience of partygoers (although I did appreciate that Ted recognized his own douchiness- that was a good character moment in an otherwise fairly shallow episode). That isn’t what makes him leave the party and rejoin his friends, though. It’s a picture message they send to him from Robots vs. Wrestlers that does the trick. It turns out that Barney, Marshall, and Lily have found the fourth doppelganger- Mexican Wrestler Ted! I remember being excited about the doppelganger concept when it was first introduced in the beginning of this season, but I don’t think the gag has been around long enough to be really funny. The slaps (up until this year) were great, and the doppelgangers can’t compare.

The sighting of Mexican Wrestler Ted also has two other unintended effects. First, it makes Marshall and Lily decide on a somewhat more concrete answer about when they’re going to try for kids. Lily reminds Marshall that he probably would have held a grudge against their future child if that child caused him to stay in that night and miss seeing Mexican Wrestler Ted. They decide that once they see Barney’s doppelganger, the last one left, that’s when they’ll start trying. Finally, it also brings Robin back into the fold. She shows up at MacLaren’s and starts laughing at the picture along with everybody else. I’m really dissatisfied with how the “Robin leaves the group” plot was handled here. It should have been a monumental event, and here it is kind of laughed away after only a little bit of anxiety antics on Barney’s part.

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