The Good: Funny, Good character development, Decent performances and guest actors
The Bad: Some truly preposterous plots
The Basics: I return to How I Met Your Mother for its fourth season DVD set . . . to discover the show got quite a bit better!
It has been a long time since I watched and reviewed any of How I Met Your Mother. The reason for that is very simple: the premise of it got pretty tired for me by the third season (reviewed here!) and virtually every time I sat down to watch the show, an internet meme I saw once about how the show was actually “Chicks I Banged Before Your Mother” would constantly run through my head. So, it was only the fact that my wife wanted to watch the show (and restarted the series without me) that I began to watch the series again. As a pleasant surprise for me, the fourth season of How I Met Your Mother was a vast improvement on how I remembered the show and I found myself getting into the show again.
Initially, I was drawn to How I Met Your Mother because of Alyson Hannigan and Jason Segal, whose other works I had generally enjoyed. But, like most people who watch How I Met Your Mother, I found myself vastly more intrigued by Neil Patrick Harris as the promiscuous playboy Barney Stinson than either Lily and Marshall or the show’s narrator, Ted Mosby. Part of the success of the fourth season of How I Met Your Mother certainly has to be that it is a season that fleshes out Barney in a meaningful way. While he is still a catchphrase-spouting scene-stealer, in the fourth season, he develops into a character wrestling with some realistically powerful emotions.
The fourth season of How I Met Your Mother picks up where the third left off, with Ted proposing to his girlfriend, Stella (the single mother). Because fans already know that Stella is not the titled mother of the series, the question going into the fourth season of How I Met Your Mother was how the Ted and Stella relationship would fall apart (assuming she said “yes” to his proposal). Fortunately, the show does not keep the viewer waiting long at all: Stella leaves Ted at the altar for the father of her child and Ted is suitably heartbroken. He is not the only one heartbroken, though: when Robin’s overseas job comes to an abrupt end, she moves back in with Ted and when they discover that having straightforward sex ends most of their roommate fights, Barney is upset.
Barney’s uncharacteristic emotions are only really noticed by Lily, to whom Barney has confessed he is in love with Robin. While Barney wrestles with his unresolved feelings for Robin (who remains in the dark about his passion for her), Marshall struggles with working for Goliath National Bank (and Barney) as he and Lily begin their debate on whether or not it is time to start trying to have a child. Ted, following his failed wedding, designs a building for Goliath National Bank (which Barney and Marshall do not have the heart to tell him the company has already scrapped) and he starts his own architecture firm, with disastrous consequences.
Amid the strongly serialized elements of the fourth season of How I Met Your Mother, the show does some of its best episodic works as well. Preposterous one-shot concept episodes like “The Naked Man” – which has Robin dating a guy who undresses when she is out of the room on the chance that when she comes back into the room she’ll sleep with him even though there is no relationship potential and then the guys in the group try the move – and one where Marshall has the gang going all around New York searching for the best burger he had years ago (as did Regis Philbin!) work exceptionally well. Concept episodes like “The Fight” and “Three Days Of Snow” work as one-shots, but also enhance the essential characters (especially the latter where Marshall and Lily realize how important their traditions are to their relationship). Some of the bottle episodes, though, are unfortunately derivative. “Little Minnesota” bears a striking resemblance to an episode of Frasier where Daphne and Frasier compete over the same English pub which hardly seems coincidental in that Pamela Fryman, who directed the episode also worked on Frasier!
In the fourth season of How I Met Your Mother the show makes good use of its characters. The primary characters this season include:
Ted Mosby – The man telling the story in flashback of how he did not meet the mother of this two children this season. Instead, this year is a winding narrative about how he almost married a completely different woman and had a near-miss with fame as an architect and also ended up sleeping with the kids’ Aunt Robin quite a bit! This year has Ted getting into a fight and having one night as a bartender at the downstairs bar, McClaren’s. He has a falling out with Lily when he learns that she has sabotaged all of his past relationships, including with his college girlfriend (who is, admittedly, a pretentious snob in both flashbacks and when she resurfaces in this season), and with Robin,
Robin Scherbatsky – Ted’s on-again, off-again girlfriend (including this season), who is now his roommate given that Marshall and Lily have moved into their (not quite) dream apartment. She is out of work most of the season following quitting her job and leaving an overseas job to return to New York. She reveals that she did an obscure sex act with an equally obscure Canadian celebrity, as well as hitting on Ted’s personal assistant when he uses their apartment as a home office. She gets a new television job (thanks to Barney’s help), though it is on in the middle of the night, so none of her friends watch it,
Marshall Eriksen – Disturbed over working for Goliath National Bank, he becomes obsessed with finding his perfect hamburger again. He and Lily remain happily married for the season and he and Barney bond over, alternatively, tormenting and helping Ted. He makes an ass of himself when coaching Lily’s basketball team and he comes to miss his family in Minnesota, which gives him and Robin something to bond over,
Lily Aldrin – Is told Barney’s secret right away and comes to have a soft spot for him as a result. She and Marshall have a very successful marriage for the season. She is relegated to a supporting role this season, though she discovers Robin has some unfortunate character traits she dislikes (“Whooo!”), she and Marhsall struggle to continue their tradition of meeting at the airport when she returns from travel (her with a locally-bought beer from the place she was at). She also reveals that she has intervened in Ted’s relationships based on her own vision of how she wants to have porch friends when she and Marshall are older,
And Barney Stinson – He confesses his love for Robin to Lily, is outed as having a fake family to try to make his mother happy, and works as a general corporate tool for Goliath National Bank. He accepts challenges like impersonating an 80 year-old man to pick up a younger woman and eagerly embraces the challenge of The Naked Man. Ted works hard to keep him from hooking up with Ted’s younger sister when she visits New York and he actually tries to do something nice for Ted by hiring actors to play along with the idea that Ted’s building is still being built. He almost makes it through Ted’s Murtaugh list, though it puts him in serious pain and he learns that Robin is the only one who does not know how he feels about her.
The fourth season of How I Met Your Mother has all of the primary performers playing at the top of their ability. Neil Patrick Harris and Josh Radnor are both able to play their characters of Barney and Ted with more emotional depth and complications than in prior seasons. Harris’s Barney Stinson becomes a realized emotional character as he wrestles with having the love of his life so close, but unable and unwilling to act upon his feelings. Radnor actually makes Ted tormented by the loss of being left at the altar and that plays well to the giant character leaps the character makes in the fourth season. In the fourth season, these two men show more complications and depth for their characters than the other actors.
Ultimately, the fourth season of How I Met Your Mother is funnier, better-performed and feels fresher than some of the prior seasons, which makes it a great place to pick up the series.
For other works with Lyndsy Fonesca, please visit my reviews of:
Hot Tub Time Machine
Heroes - Season 2
For other television reviews, please visit my Television Review Index Page for an organized listing!
© 2013 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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