[10 October 2012]
Among fans and critics of the CBS sitcom How I Met Your Mother, season five is generally regarded as the weakest link in the chain. The show, however, bounced back nicely with season six, which saw the characters growing, dealing with tragedy and change, and moving forward with their lives in satisfying ways. Season seven, now out on DVD and Blu-ray, is an unfortunate step back, and you can’t help but feel that time is running out on the series.
Season seven isn’t terrible, not by any means. Every episode is still a lot of fun, the characters are engaging in their own quirky ways, and the stories unfold using some of the most inventive narrative structures of any show—especially a sitcom—since Arrested Development. Fans of the show should be satisfied, but following on the heels of a significant achievement in season six something is definitely lacking in season seven.
Some old problemsarise for both the program as an entity, as well as the characters within their fictional universe. One of the biggest knocks on How I Met Your Mother has always been the protagonist, Ted’s (Josh Radnor), cloying search for love, for “the One”. Last season did an admirable job of holding that in check, but this time around it comes roaring back with a vengeance.
Ted spends a fair amount of time revisiting past relationships. There’s a bit where feelings for Robin (Cobie Smulders) resurface. Victoria (Ashley Williams) pops back in for the first time since season one, again, causing some old feeling to come up. But, after years of waiting in anticipation, we finally get to meet the mythical Slutty Pumpkin. You get the point they’re trying to make here, but it feels like a rehash.
More of the same is the order of the day. The season begins with Barney’s (Neil Patrick Harris) wedding. You don’t see the bride, but you know from earlier on that this particular wedding is where Ted finally meets the mythical mother he’s been telling his kids about all these years. For the rest of the season the show keeps flashing forward, revealing more and more bits of story.
You also get a lot of something happening, followed by a Bob Sagat voiceover where he says, “That’s a crazy story, we’ll get to that,” and then they move on to something else. Which gets super obnoxious, super quick.
While there are some narrative missteps in this vein, there are also a couple of high points. One example is the episode that employs future Ted’s technique—narrator from the future talking to futuristic children—only Robin is the one doing the talking. That’s not as simple as it sounds—there’s a twist to the episode that packs a stunning emotional wallop.
Like previous seasons, How I Met Your Mother is best when the focus falls not on Ted, but on his friends. Barney, Robin, Lily (Alyson Hannigan), and Marshall (Jason Segel), all have their standout moments, both emotionally and humor wise. The problem is consistency. For every “Beercules” (props for bringing the game of “Edward 40 Hands” to primetime television), there’s another in an increasingly stale series of wacky misadventures surrounding Lily’s pregnancy. For every touching moment with a parent, there’s a tired, extended bit about a Ducky tie (which comes with the special edition DVD). Scenes fall flat with more regularity than in previous installments, and it’s largely when the writers attempt to extend a gag and play it out over multiple episodes.
Guest stars play significant roles over the course of season seven. Chief among them are Kal Penn (Harold & Kumar Go To White Castle), Becki Newton, and Martin Short, who all have parts that span multiple episodes. Short plays Marshall’s new boss, a legendary environmental lawyer who is both cuddly and ferocious, much like an Ewok. It’s a relatively minor role, played mostly for laughs.
Penn and Newton, however, provide romantic interests and major emotional outlets for Robin and Barney, respectively. Kevin (Penn) leads Robin in a direction that she never thought possible, and is the impetus for a number of major life decisions and realizations. Similarly, Quinn (Newton) is a feisty stripper who sees Barney for who he really is, and who spits his own game as good if not better. Her presence strips Barney raw in a way he never has been ‘stripped’ before.
As previously mentioned, the “Ducky Tie Edition” arrives with, you guessed it, a god-awful ducky tie. The set also comes with a wide array of extras and behind-the-scenes. A collection of deleted scenes are fun enough, and though there are some nice scenes, there is nothing super groundbreaking. The same goes for the gag reel. One feature captures the ceremony of Neil Patrick Harris accepting his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. In addition to NPH’s speech, you get to see both Jason Segel and Avengers director Joss Whedon introduce him. This is a unique little extra.
Each of the three discs comes with an audio commentary track—on the episodes “The Best Man”, “The Drunk Train”, and “Karma”. Only the last one has actual cast members, but it’s nice to hear the writers and producers take on the episodes. More than anything else, these illustrate the chemistry between the cast and crew. They make it sound like working on the show, in any capacity, is an absolute blast.
The high points are the featurettes “How We Wrote Your Mother” and “How We Make Your Mother”. These are good looks at the process behind creating the show. “Wrote” is primarily the writers and creators sharing which bits from the show are actually autobiographical, and how they spun them into fiction.