Breaking up, Making up, and Barney in Between
Looking back on Season 2 of How I Met Your Mother
By Owen K. Craig, Mondo Magazine
The second season of any TV show is where it sinks or swims. It either proves it can stand on its own without using its concept as a crutch or it doesn’t, it’s where we find out if the characters will be given more depth, or if the gags will be stale. Most importantly, this is where we find out if we will get bored of the show. So, how was the second season of How I Met Your Mother? It was great…mostly.
Season Two began by dealing with the cliffhanger ending of last season. Marshall (Jason Segel) and Lily (Alyson Hannigan) have broken up and Ted (Josh Radnor) and Robin (Cobie Smulders) have gotten together. This new status quo led to some great and unexpected character dynamics that we hadn’t seen before. We saw Marshall dating, we saw him and Lily jealously trying to hurt each other, and we saw Robin in an actual relationship. Watching the character dynamics develop was both enriching and enlightening to see. Robin, especially, grew as a character this season and became much more likable as a result. The show all-most disposal of the extremely un-funny book-ending scenes — featuring the narrator talking to his kids about how he met their mother — was wise. Instead, the best part of the concept (the narrative voice) is kept with only the occasional shot of the kids (not speaking) to remind us of the idea that the show is a story being told.
But how were the episodes? The way I see it, the season can be divided into four subsections: the “Marshall and Lily Broken Up” section, the “Best Episodes Ever” section, the “Spinning Its Wheels” section and the “Wedding” section.
The “Marshall and Lily Broken Up” section consisted of the first six episodes of the season. Things felt slightly strange as the best couple currently on TV was not a couple at all. I couldn’t help but feel sad when watching Marshall trying to date other women (most of whom were inevitably stolen by Barney) while Lily tried to pretend she didn’t care. It was during these episodes that I realized how invested I had become in them as a couple and how great they were together, which is why they seemed so lost on their own. These episodes kept me addicted, as I couldn’t wait to see if they would get back together.
Other highlights in this section was seeing more light shed on Barney’s (Neil Patrick Harris) life by watching him guide Lily through his relationship-proof apartment — explaining how it “is not a place to leave a toothbrush” it is “a place to leave” (king-sized bed, one pillow). This section ended with the episode “Swarley,” which featured one of the best running gags in the show’s history as the gang starts calling Barney “Swarley” instead of his real name and drives him crazy. The episode also featured two guest appearances from Joss Whedon show alumni: Morena Baccarin and Tom Lenk (who join Amy Acker and Alexis Denisof as Whedon actors who have now appeared on this show). Also…you know…Alyson Hannigan. Finally, in the last scenes of the episode Marshall and Lily finally have a long awaited and extremely heart-warming reunion.
The second section of the season I have affectionately dubbed the “Best Episodes Ever” section. Starting with “Swarley” (it might be cheating to include this episode, but it’s right on the border of where the divide would be) the episodes here have some of the funniest gags seen on TV this year, whether its Barney playing a Chinese gambling game, Barney and Marshall’s slap bet, or Robin’s former career as a Canadian pop star. The episode “How Lily Stole Christmas” effectively dealt with some of the aftermath from the breakup and the episode “Singles Stamina” continued the trend this season of gradually revealing more about Barney. In this episode we get to meet his brother (played by Wayne Brady no less). The reveal of Barney having a gay, black brother who’s “just like him” was wonderfully handled and lead to one of the most heart-warming shows in this show’s history. It was during this block of episodes that this show went from being a show I like to one of my most anticipated shows every week.
With the twelfth to fifteenth (and the seventeenth) episodes we enter the “Spinning Its Wheels” section of the season. Here we get a bunch of decently funny but fairly unremarkable episodes. No real progress or character development is made here, and none of the gags are particularly memorable. To make matters worse, this section featured the worst episode in the show’s history. “First Time In New York” revolved around Robin’s little sister coming to visit and the gang trying to convince her not to have sex. The episode was preachy, unfunny (except for a flashback to Barney telling the story of the first time he did it), and kind of creepy. At this point I became worried that the show might be on a downward spiral. Luckily, I was wrong.
Putting my fears to rest was the final block of episodes of the season, the “Wedding” section, which featured two major plotlines: Marshall and Lily’s wedding; and Ted and Robin’s relationship falling apart. The show definitely fell back into its groove here. The wedding was romantic, the Ted/Robin breakup was compassionately handled without drawing focus from the wedding (letting the wedding play out as the breakup happens under our noses was brilliant) and we got some more hints at Barney’s compassion. The reveal in “Bachelor Party” that Barney is responsible for Marshall and Lily getting back together was one of the high points of the season for me and his meeting Bob Barker was both touching and hilarious. The finale was a perfect way to go out for the season, making reference to things that had come before (the return of Ranjit) while hinting at the future (Marshall realizing that he and Lily really are man and wife and smiling).
So the season ends with things seemingly as they were in Season One: Marhsall and Lily are back together, Ted and Robin are single, and Barney is still hilarious. However, it’s not that simple, because the characters have evolved. The season had an impact on who they are, which is what the story is all about: how the little moments in our lives change us in more ways than we would think.