The Good: Moments of character, Moments of performance
The Bad: Plots and jokes are becoming ever-more familiar
The Basics: Despite what the title claims, Barney and Robin dominated the fifth season of How I Met Your Mother.
When a long-running television show has a winning formula, the writers and producers have a tough mandate to follow. They have to balance the balance the familiar and successful elements of a show against advancing a plot and the characters so that the show does not simply fall into a repetitive rut that bores the fan base. Friends (reviewed here!) did that fairly successfully by jerking viewers around with the on-again, off-again relationship between Ross and Rachel (only very seldom acknowledging how very infrequent the relationship was actually “on”) and Frasier (reviewed here!) very cleverly stretched out the demise of Niles’s marriage(s) to play out the long arc of his attraction to Daphne over many seasons. On How I Met Your Mother, Barney – played with consistent hilarity by Neil Patrick Harris – is one of the key winning elements and much of his appeal comes from the ridiculously uncomplicated way he pursues women for sex. But, to keep him from being disliked for the way he disposes of women whom he beds, the writers wrote a growing attraction for Barney. Barney has been somewhat hopelessly attracted to Robin by the time the fifth season begins. But at the climax of the fourth season (reviewed here!), Barney is outed as being in love with Robin and that forced the writers to actually figure out what direction the show would go in after that revelation.
Unlike Frasier, which committed to the Niles/Daphne relationship and brought viewers along for all the complexities that arose from their changing relationship (and characters!), How I Met Your Mother went with returning the show to the tried and true formula as soon as possible. As such, it is little surprise to those who pick up the fifth season, that after all the build-up and legwork done in Season Four of the show, How I Met Your Mother buries the Barney/Robin relationship remarkably quickly (eight episodes into the twenty-four episode season). In an act of particularly blatant cowardice on the part of the writers and producers, the effect of the relationship and its failure impacts Robin (who was oblivious to Barney’s feelings!) more than it does Barney. This allows Barney to return to form faster and the writers and producers of How I Met Your Mother highlight that with episodes like “The Playbook,” “Girls Vs. Suits,” and “Perfect Week.” Given how well Neil Patrick Harris performed the angst of Barney being so close to the woman he loved so much, the lack of genuine emotional ramifications to having and losing the love of his life rings false in the fifth season.
That said, the fifth season of How I Met Your Mother is watchable and generally enjoyable. Picking up where season four left off, Lily puts pressure on Barney and Robin to define their new relationship. When they agree to date for Lily’s sake, they soon find that is more complicated than they expected. Barney turns to Ted to teach him all about Robin’s likes and dislikes, which annoy Robin (especially when it turns out Ted is largely right about her!) and Marshall and Lily try to use Barney and Robin as their new “couples friend,” with disastrous results. It does not take long before Robin is annoyed by everything Barney says and does and Barney lets himself go to the point he is morbidly obese and the two call the relationship off.
In the wake of the break-up, Barney returns to his old womanizing ways and Robin struggles to deal with the emotional ramifications of losing Barney. As Robin builds an unexpected relationship with her failure of a co-anchor at Wake Up New York!, Don, Ted commits to being a college professor and even starts to have fun with his students. Throughout the season, Marshall and Lily begin to move closer to being comfortable with having children of their own and Ted has his least remarkable year of dating everyone but the mother of his (eventual) children.
The fifth season of How I Met Your Mother might well be the season that seems to have abandoned its premise more than any of the others. Ted Mosby, despite narrating the show, is much more of a supporting character in this season and no major steps are taken to get Ted closer to meeting the woman who will eventually mother his two children. Instead, the stronger plotlines in the fifth season involve Robin and Barney – together and then apart – and Marshall and Lily working on their own relationship. Ted Mosby becomes more of an observer in their lives and the only way this is at all refreshing for the viewers is that this is not a season that commits Ted to yet another obvious dead-end relationship with a woman who will not be “the mother.”
That is not to say that Ted Mosby does not have a few good moments in season five. The penultimate episode of the season, which has Ted dealing with a movie based upon his relationship with Stella in which the Ted Mosby character is the villain, is funny and painfully awkward to watch, but advances Ted’s character well. “The Wedding Bride” is presented as such a stupid romantic comedy (with an absolutely perfect stupid title!) that it gives Ted one of the few moments of real catharsis in the season and frees him up to truly move on in the next.
More than in the prior seasons, How I Met Your Mother Season Five falls into the familiar traps television shows get into when they have been on for a while: it relies upon guest stars to bring in viewers. In the fifth season of How I Met Your Mother, notable and prominent guest stars include Jennifer Lopez, who takes on Barney as a self-help relationship guru who refuses to put out, Amanda Peet, who provides temptation for Marshall, and Judy Greer, who is dating Ted when “The Wedding Bride” is released in theaters.
The fifth season of How I Met Your Mother is more familiar than funny, but it makes up for the middling humor by doing some decent character work on the important supporting characters in the narrative of Ted Mosby’s romantic life. Despite mortgaging the complicated relationship Barney and Robin could have had for a return to form, there is enough in How I Met Your Mother Season Five to recommend.
For other works with the amazing Amanda Peet, be sure to visit my reviews of:
The X-Files: I Want To Believe
Studio 60 On The Sunset Strip
A Lot Like Love
The Whole Ten Yards
Something’s Gotta Give
The Whole Nine Yards
For other television reviews, please check out my Television Review Index Page for an organized listing!
© 2013 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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