The How I Met Your Mother Shame Index: Episode 11

Slate's Culture Blog
Dec. 15 2009 1:29 AM

The How I Met Your Mother Shame Index: Episode 11

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John Swansburg John Swansburg

John Swansburg is Slate's deputy editor.

The Shame Index is not typically one to get exercised about spoilers. But fans of

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How I Met Your Mother

who glimpsed an episode description this week had a joke ruined for them. "The gang struggles to quit smoking," read the synopsis from Time Warner cable; "the friends try to give up smoking," read the one on TVGuide.com. Which pretty much gave away that it was the whole gang that was trying to kick the habit, not just Robin. That this joke wasn't that funny to begin with was slim consolation.



Shameful:


—The debt

HIMYM

owes to

Friends

has been previously noted in this space. Nothing wrong with emulating a winning formula, but this episode owed too much to its forebear. Chandler Bing's battle with smoking addiction was a rich vein mined on

over the course of the

Friends

run. None of the

HIMYM

characters' sold their nicotine cravings as convincingly or amusingly as Matthew Perry did. The set-up of needing to smoke in order to impress your boss—Marshall's excuse for lighting up—is similarly taken directly from the

Friends

playbook: See Season 5, Episode 18, "

." That episode aired in April 1999—before smoking jokes became as stale as the air in Giuliani-era bar.



—Lily's smoker's voice. Do the writers of

HIMYM

have such a low opinion of Alyson Hannigan's comedic talents that they feel she needs special effects to be funny? Over Slapsgiving, she went around reducing people to ashes with her glowing eyes. In this episode, smoking makes her start talking like

. (The part was voiced by

). Enough with the gimics. Lily can be plenty funny without such nonsense.



—McRib jokes. Seriously—how long had this script been on ice?

The Simpsons

aired the

in February 2003.



—Don. The Shame Index is beginning to think the

HIMYM

team just doesn't like Robin very much. The writers have her fall in love with Barney, then they abruptly break off the relationship and force her to look on as Barney returns to his bed-hopping ways. The costume department frequently dresses her in ensembles that border on the absurd. (The color palette of one outfit this week looked as if it was inspired by a

.) And now poor Robin has

this guy

as her love interest? In his

with the

Los Angeles Times

last week, Carter Bays noted that Don might seem annoying at first, but would grow on Robin—and, presumably, viewers—over time. He's got a lot of growing to do. Ted Baxter—another small-time newsman—was solipsistic but forever sunny and ultimately good-hearted. Don just seems like a defeated jerk.



—That scrawny kid was supposed to be a young Marshall Eriksen? Utterly unconvincing.



—Relatedly: Are the writers of

HIMYM

really asking us to laugh for two straight weeks at gags based on Marshall traveling back in time? Last week we saw Future Marshall send over a plate of hot wings to Present Marshall. Fine; neither the best nor the worst bit from last week's episode. But to return to the well again this week is highly shameful. All the more so given the lameness of this week's iteration: Present Marshall going back in time to show Unconvincing Past Marshall a photo of Lily, which in turn gets Unconvincing Past Marshall's hormones racing. Is this what

HIMYM

has been reduced to? Time-travel-based masturbation jokes?



Awesome:


—Ted's children finally getting a speaking part—print those kids some SAG cards!



—Marshall's bad habit ... of buying

.



—Summer vacation in Minnesota.



—Ted: "Will you pass the onion rings?" Marshall: "What do you have,

? They're right here."



Yet another disappointing episode for HIMYM , which just can't get in a rhythm this season. Each week seems to bring news of a new upcoming guest star—New York Yankee Nick Swisher recently joined a list that already includes Amanda Peet and Tim Gunn. But the series doesn't need more cameos. It needs to take better care of the characters we already know and love.

Previous Shame Indices: Episode 1 , 2 , 3 , 4 , 5 , 6 , 7 , 8 , 9 , 10

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