Friday, September 7, 2012

The Concept That Has Already Been Done, How I Met Your Mother Season 3 Flops!

The Good: Moments of humor, Neil Patrick Harris's acting
The Bad: Predictable plots, Largely not funny, Light on DVD bonus features and episodes
The Basics: Disappointingly blase, season three of How I Met Your Mother offers little that is truly new to the series.

Even I have some boxed sets that cross my desk and I sit watching them and asking myself "Why am I continuing with this series?!" After all, there are so many hours of life left to live and our time on Earth is supposed to be precious. So, why should I waste time watching programs I have not enjoyed earlier seasons of? At best, the earlier seasons of How I Met Your Mother were mediocre or average. I watched the first season (reviewed here!) because I was a fan of Alyson Hannigan and Jason Segel's earlier works, but Neil Patrick Harris pretty much ruled the second season (reviewed here!). So, why did I sit down and watch How I Met Your Mother - Season 3 when the best it seemed to offer was an appearance by singer Britney Spears?

I suppose I am just that thorough. Or crazy. Or some safe combination of both. Regardless, it does seem like when the third season discs began spinning, I was far less interested in the program than I ever had been before. While one hopes that characters even in sitcoms might evolve, largely it is just the plot that progresses in the third season of How I Met Your Mother. Now less a love story in reverse, the show picks up where the second season left off, with Ted and Robin having broken up, which forces Ted into the dating world again.

Having broken up with Robin, Ted slowly begins to date again, though his friends keep his ex-girlfriend in their lives, forcing them to have contact fairly consistently. Robin, unlike Ted, has moved on from being dumped and when she returns with her boyfriend, Ted is nudged into action. Throughout the rest of the season, Ted tries to date other women, though he and Robin hook up from time to time.

Beyond that, Marshall and Lily continue to face more adult, couple challenges, like trying to buy a house and pay off debts. While they do that, Ted and Barney find themselves in conflict when Barney realizes he has feelings for Robin and Ted and Barney find that problematic. As Marshall and Lily move to a new apartment, Barney wrestles with his feelings and he and Robin hook up, causing a rift between the guys.

As with the early episodes, in the third season, How I Met Your Mother wanders well away from the title. Over the course of the nineteen episodes in this boxed set, Ted - who is telling the story to his children - continues to distract from the stated purpose of the show. Indeed, all of the relationship issues between Barney and Robin serve less to set up any meeting between Ted and his future wife than it does to flesh out those two characters and progress a long-running subplot (i.e. the concept that in the future, the kids refer to Robin as "Aunt Robin"). Moreover, episodes like "Dowisetrepla" which focus almost exclusively on Marshall and Lily have nothing to do with the story of how Ted meets his future wife.

In other words, in the third season, this is rapidly becoming just a standard sitcom, where the characters are largely flat and the plots and jokes are predictable. Episodes like "The Bracket" are filled with quick jokes that are often telegraphed as Barney tries to figure out which woman in his past he wronged the worst (quite a task for the womanizer). And "The Chain Of Screaming" wherein Marshall cries in front of his boss has little or nothing to do with anything else ever seen on the show. As Ted goes through one woman after another in his quest to meet the mother of his eventual children, the viewer begins to feel more and more like this is something they have seen before in the past. And it is; situations in this boxed set are hardly original or presented in any new or truly humorous way.

The third season continues an unfortunate trend in the series in terms of a lack of focus; Ted's relationship with Robin being over puts him in the path of multiple women, none of whom seem to be the titled mother. The result is a sense of, "Why is this guy telling this story?!" For a sitcom, it makes sense to have all of these random relationships that might eventually yield the woman of Ted's dreams, but from the storytelling aspect of "This is how I met your mother . . ." telling the story of all the women he was with before that just doesn't cut it. Half the episodes, I find myself saying "Get on with it!" And several of the third season episodes do not even involve Ted in a meaningful way, which is good because most of the characters are far more interesting than he is.

Chief among these is the womanizing rich guy, Barney. Barney is very much a "type," the single, smarmy, womanizing friend who acts as a foil to the Lily/Marshall relationship. He is largely self-centered, highly successful in a financial sense and brutally honest about his desire not to commit or be in a long-term relationship. Still, in this season Barney is given a bit more depth in that he finds himself genuinely attracted to Robin and with Ted dating again, Barney takes him under his wing to help him navigate the treacherous shoals of the dating world.

But for the most part, this situation comedy becomes the average sitcom with episodic bits that generally follow chronologically, but do not appear to be building up to anything bigger. As well, there is a startling lack of genuine character development this season. Still, it is worthwhile to know who the characters are and in the third season of How I Met Your Mother, the main characters are:

Ted Mosby - Once again single, he is on the prowl for a serious, long-term relationship. To that end, he begins hitting on whatever woman might have him, often out with Barney. He dabbles with a threesome, a somewhat crazy young woman, and a doctor and her receptionist. He has a tattoo removed and hooks up with Robin even after their breakup. He and Barney have a falling out, though, when Barney and Robin sleep together. He also deals with a porn star who is using his name,

Robin - Broken up with Ted, she tries to move on, though she finds herself getting continually hurt. She lets an old boyfriend hurt her and dabbles with Ted, while maintaining her strong friendship with Lily (and Marshall). And when she is at her most vulnerable, she and Barney give it a spin, with serious consequences for her and Ted,

Barry Stinson - He is a womanizer and a jerk, his slapbet with Marshall is finally resolved and he continues to go through women without regard to them. This leads someone to come after him and he works to figure out which woman would do that. Barry also finds that after all their time hanging out, he might actually love Robin and this leads to a fracture between him and Ted,

Lily - Deep in debt from her use of credit cards, Lily is forced to talk with her husband Marshall about that. She is happily married and this season is largely stuck in a supporting role, outside her pursuit of a new home,

and Marshall - Lily's husband and best friend of Ted, he is now involved in corporate law. Unfortunately, he finds himself having ethical dilemmas like deciding whether or not to defend polluters and accidentally being driven to tears by his boss. He and Ted drift a bit as his relationship with Lily takes more of his time.

Neil Patrick Harris continued to be the highlight of the show as Barney. His performance is downright smarmy and unlike anything else . . . save the prior two seasons of the show. Still, it is a worthwhile and wrongly wonderful job for Harris and his presence and performance alone prevents every episode from being an abject failure. Harris has a wonderful sense of comic timing to him and he plays that in every scene he is in.

As for the other four actors, they have settled into their ruts quite consistently. Segel and Hannigan seem to be working mostly on autopilot at this point and any chemistry on-screen they had in earlier seasons is long since spent. As well, Josh Radnor and Cobie Smulders (Ted and Robin) seem to similarly be plodding through their roles, never infusing any real energy into their performances to make watching their characters intriguing at all. Outside Harris, the show continues to suffer because all of the performers are playing types who fall within the safe niche of the casting. They are not stretched as actors, they simply fill the slot that was originally carved out for each of them.

On DVD, the series adds very little to what was originally presented on television. The boxed set has commentary tracks on several episodes and the third disc includes a very standard gag reel, though this one is uncensored. As well, there is a little video of Lily and Marshall's honeymoon, music videos, and a few additional scenes. There is a behind-the-scenes featurette as well, but none of these additional features make the source material more palatable.

And the third season continues to suffer because it is not actually growing in a compelling way and after two previous years of wandering, it is about time. Even fans of the actors involved will find little reason to add this to their permanent collections.

For other works with Alyson Hannigan, be sure to check out my reviews of:
Date Movie
Farce Of The Penguins
Veronica Mars - Season Two
Buffy The Vampire Slayer


For other film and television reviews, please check out my Movie Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2012, 2009 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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