Posted Tuesday, April 13, 2010, at 7:53 AM
There is a scene in Geoff Dyer's acclaimed 2009 novel
in which a man is mugged by a monkey. The unnamed narrator of the novel's second half is having lunch on a terrace at his hotel in Varanasi, India when a monkey swoops onto his table, snatches his prescription sunglasses, and dashes to a nearby ledge. Knowing the monkey has no use for the glasses, the man attempts to negotiate for their return. On a fruit tray, he finds three bananas with which to barter. He places one on the ledge. The monkey looks on, whether oblivious to the offer or playing hardball the man cannot tell. He places a second banana on the ledge. The monkey stands pat. The man places the third and final banana on the ledge:
The ball was in his court. I wanted my sunglasses back. Of course I wanted my sunglasses back, but I was conscious, also, of the historic importance of this encounter. In terms of development of his species, the step the monkey was about to take — the step I hoped he would take — was on par with Neil Armstrong's giant leap from the Lunar Module to the dusty surface of the moon.
"It's down to you," I said. "You've got a straight choice. You can leave the sunglasses and take the 'nanas. In other words, you can start evolving. Or you can take the 'nanas and make off with the glasses as well. But if you do that, you'll just be a fucking chimp for the rest of your days."
The Shame Index won't spoil what happens next, but he encourages you to visit the
of Dyer's novel and to read this excellent passage. (You can find it using Amazon's "Look Inside!" feature; it begins on page 253.) The scene lasts but three short pages, but the Index is confident it will bring you more joy and edification than spending any more time thinking about last night's episode of
How I Met Your Mother
. (Among other things, Dyer's invocation of Neil Armstrong is much funnier than Barney's ridiculous astronaut story, his
second NASA-related gambit
this season.) But if you insist:
— Mayor McWoof and the doll fetishist. The crazy denizens of Robin's morning show are often a reliable source of laughs, but McWoof was too broad and the doll man too familiar.
— Ted's model of the Empire State Building. Isn't Ted supposed to be a distinguished professor of architecture at Columbia University? What is he doing building a model that looks like it came from a kit purchased at a Times Square gift shop? (Credit where credit is due: The Sleepless in Seattle bit was funny.)
— Lily's monster voice ("I said clip "). Why have the HIMYM writers insisted on going back to this well over and over this season?
— The montage of Marshall accidentally hurting Lily. A funny notion, that Marshall would have a track-record of unintentionally doing physical harm to his petite wife. But the choreography was poorly handled — the freezer door incident was badly blocked, and the final punch to Lily's masked face was too violent. Less would have been more here.
— Marshall's story about having been mugged by a monkey. This plot just did not work for the Index, and as a result, the episode lost him pretty much from the start. Marshall's concern about Lily obtaining a gun seemed overheated. Why would Marshall feel he needed to concoct this absurd tale in order to prevent Lily from buying a weapon? (Lily's enthusiasm for gun ownership, breezily established, seemed to have more to do with the excitement of firing off rounds than with concern for her own or her husband's safety.) But this is a minor complaint. The larger issue here is that the monkey story failed as a rumination on truth in storytelling. Throughout HIMYM 's run, Ted's reliability as a narrator has consistently been called into question in amusing ways, whether he's trying to make himself look like a hero to his kids or simply trying to shield them from some of the more tawdry details or coarser language in his tales. The sheer ridiculousness of Marshall's lie, and its unconvincing purpose, left the Index not caring one way or the other what was true. The episode's lessons about truth and lies, meanwhile, were as painfully on the nose as the blow Marshall delivered to Lily on Halloween. Even the episode's finale, where we're left to wonder whether King Kong might actually have been reenacted in miniature on Robin's set, felt contrived, a lame attempt to tie together a bunch of silly details into the moral of the story.
Arthur, the pizza delivery man: "Marshall there's a cartoon of you on our coupons."
Barney's "Marshall likes pizza so much ..." joke. A genuinely odd, genuinely funny moment.
— "I'll allow it." The Index is a sucker for Marshall's Barbri humor.
— "It really is a jungle out there"; "Well, he's behind bars"; "There was a tail on him." Not nearly enough to rescue the monkey mugging plot, but the Index does enjoy it when the gang gets on a roll.
The Index swears he isn't just mad at this episode because Barney said that journalists lie all the time. Come to the episode's defense in the comments, and/or share your thoughts on literature's greatest moments in monkey-mugging.
Previous Shame Indices: Episode 1 , 2 , 3 , 4 , 5 , 6 , 7 , 8 , 9 , 10 , 11 , 12 , 13 , 14 , 15 , 16 , 17 , 18