Wednesday, January 26, 2011

HIMYM 6.13: "Bad News"

“I’m not ready for this.”

Because I’m still a little behind on my blogging, I knew what was coming with this episode when I watched it. I’m not really sure how that has affected my perceptions about the episode, although I’m sure it has in some way. “Bad News” was quite controversial when it aired, mostly because of the tragic blindside at the end. Although, really, with a title like “Bad News,” it doesn’t really make much sense to expect a happy ending. The final scene was quite an abrupt change in tone. Before that point, the episode was a rather light, middling episode of HIMYM. There were kooky moments, but nothing that really made the episode stand out as either especially good or especially bad. The final scene, beautifully acted by Jason Segel and Alyson Hannigan, elevated this episode to something slightly above ordinary. I think this is an example of an episode of HIMYM that really resonates more with those of us in our late 20’s/early 30’s than other viewers, because watching the final scene really made me do some thinking.

The episode opens with Saget!Ted reminding us how baby crazy Lily and Marshall have been recently. We seem them nervously visiting their doctor only six days after they started trying, and we see them visit the doctor again after several months of trying. Their doctor recommends they see a reproductive specialist if they’re concerned (although the doctor doesn’t seem especially concerned himself). When Lily meets her new doctor, she is (rightfully) disturbed that he looks almost exactly like Barney. Well, it’s Neil Patrick Harris with brown hair and a beard and a rather affected accent, so yeah, it makes sense that he looks like Barney! Later at MacLaren’s, Ted makes the mistake of admitting to Lily that nobody really thought the last Barney “doppelganger” looked like Barney. Lily freaks out, thinking that she and Marshall have violated their “covenant with the universe” by trying for a baby before they saw the real doppelganger.

Marshall goes with Lily to her next appointment to see what all the fuss is about, and at first, he thinks it’s Barney too. Never mind the fact that Marshall himself said earlier that he was with Barney for the entire day of Lily’s first doctor’s appointment. I suppose it really isn’t all that out of the realm of possibility that Barney would feign being a gynecologist. It seems like something he’d like to brag about achieving, at least. Marshall fairly quickly realizes a way to determine for sure whether or not the doctor is Barney- he pulls on the doctor’s beard. The beard is real, so Marshall is convinced. Lily, however, is still not convinced, and she’s really, really skeeved out by the possibility that Barney could examine her lady parts. Marshall ends up bringing Barney to the office so Lily can see both Barney and the doctor at once. Lily insists that Barney stays for the entire appointment just so she can ensure he and the doctor are separate people. He ends up having to wear this rather ridiculous blindfold, and for good reason. He spends the whole time (really unsuccessfully) trying to take pictures of the proceedings with his cell phone.

Meanwhile, Robin was the focus of the B-story in this episode. Her new job at World Wide News is not going very well, mostly thanks to the return of the incomparable Sandy Rivers. We haven’t seen Sandy since season 1, but since he’s played by Alexis Denisof, real life husband of Alyson Hannigan, I suppose his return was inevitable. Sandy is a fun, smarmy character, although I have to say that out of all the guest starring roles played by significant others of the regular cast (there have been three), my favorite is Scooter, played by Neil Patrick Harris’ partner David Burtka. Anyway, back on topic, Sandy makes Robin’s first day of work miserable by telling the entire World Wide News staff that he slept with Robin. It turns out that isn’t true. Sandy recognized her and just couldn’t think of why he would remember her if he hadn’t slept with her. The next day, things get worse when Sandy actually remembers why he knows Robin. He shows the rest of the staff video of Robin slipping in horse poo during a news broadcast. On Robin’s third day, Sandy has even more video. He shows everybody the Robin Sparkles videos and other embarrassing Robin newscasting moments. It’s a pretty funny montage, but horribly embarrassing for Robin.

Ted had been trying to convince Robin to be the bigger person in this feud with Sandy, but after things get so out of hand, Ted wants to handle it himself. He goes to Sandy’s apartment itching for a fight (Ted practices some really dorky ninja moves along the way) and finds Sandy scantily clad and partying it up…without his toupee. Ted thinks quickly and snaps a photo for blackmail purposes. He happily gives the photo to Robin so she can end Sandy’s reign of terror once and for all. Robin didn’t end up using the photo. She embraced her kookiness and brought in an old Robin Sparkles jacket instead. The nickname “Sparkles” would stick with her at the office, but she didn’t mind so much anymore. Especially after one of her coworkers spills coffee on himself and provides some redirection.

Switching tracks back to the main plot of this episode, Marshall and Lily get a message from the doctor that Lily is fertile. They’re super excited, and Marshall is about to call his dad to tell him the good news. Then he realizes that if Lily is fine, he must be the problem. He’s too embarrassed and ashamed to call now. Marshall’s dad keeps trying to call him, but Marshall refuses to answer. He wants to get checked out first so he can give his parents some definite answers if he has to break bad news. He tells Lily that he only likes to tell his dad good news. When he tells his dad good news, that’s when the good news feels real. I can definitely identify with that, living in a different city from my parents myself.

Marshall visits the doctor for his appointment, and he has a freak out about giving a sample for testing. I found this whole part of the episode to be rather ridiculous and right out of the “sitcom couple wants a baby” book of tropes. It was stupid, not a commentary on the lives of late 20/early 30-somethings. To make things worse (from a viewer who doesn’t like juvenile humor’s perspective), Marshall begs the doctor to be allowed to go home to collect the sample, where he’ll be more comfortable.

When Marshall opens the door to Dowisetrepla, he’s mortified to see that his parents have made an unannounced visit to New York. They were worried because he hadn’t spoken to them for a few days. Lily offers to distract her in-laws while Marshall goes into the bathroom and does his business. It didn’t go well. Despite Lily’s (miniscule, really) efforts, Marshall’s parents keep talking to him through the bathroom door, saying things that really cramp his style. Frustrated, Marshall leaves the bathroom and is about to leave the apartment when Lily spills the beans about what is really going on. Marshall has a really great conversation with his parents about how if he can’t have biological children, they’re okay with that. His dad says adoption or any other fertility procedures are fine, they’ll still love him. That moment of seriousness was sorely needed to bring us back from all the stupidity and silliness.

We next see Marshall back at the doctor’s office, waiting to get the results from his tests. The doctor says that Marshall is unable to have children, and he starts suggesting that Marshall go enter a laser tag tournament to improve his sperm count. This time, Barney really is posing as the doctor. He has wanted Marshall to be his laser tag partner for the entire episode. When he first asked the group if anyone would be his partner and they were all unenthusiastic, Robin was conspicuously missing. So I’m really wondering why he didn’t eventually ask her to go, since they seem to be on better terms now. The Barney and Robin laser tag scene in season 1’s “Zip Zip Zip” is one of my favorite moments of the entire series. Anyway, the real doctor enters the room and tells Marshall that he’s perfectly fine. Marshall tries to call his dad to tell him the good news, but he gets no answer.

Throughout the episode, semi-hidden numbers had been counting down to the moment of bad news. The numbers start counting down at a break-neck speed, and we soon switch from silly comedy to an ominous tone. Marshall, who is out on the sidewalk, sees Lily get out of a cab. He rushes towards her to tell her the good news, but he doesn’t have a chance. Lily is crying because she has gotten some horrible news. Marshall’s father has died of a heart attack. The moment where Lily and Marshall embrace, completely devastated, I think will go down as one of the best performances Jason Segel and Alyson Hannigan have given on this show. All Marshall can say is “I’m not ready for this.” It’s a heartbreaking line that really hits home.

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