“Honey I’m A Prize And You’re A Catch”

October 19, 2011 at 3:23 am (Uncategorized)

If you know me well, you know that for years my secret shame has been my enjoyment of a sitcom that is formulaic, has a laugh track, sits smack in the middle of prime time and on a major network.  As I described it once on a message board, it is a show that is totally derivative, totally unoriginal, and yet still I find it legen-

Wait for it!


Of course, I’m talking about the CBS Monday night sitcom “How I Met Your Mother”.  When the show started 6 years ago, I confess to not knowing much about it.  I think I stumbled on it thanks to having left my first-ever DVR set to cast too wide a net, and upon noticing that it had captured an early season 1 episode or two, decided to watch five minutes or so before safely deleting it and moving on.  Obviously it got its hooks into me fairly deeply, and became a must-Tivo Monday night thing going forward.

Now I know what you’re thinking.  The show is awful.  Maybe…or maybe you haven’t seen it.  The creative forces behind the show are Carter Bays and Craig Thomas, two guys who cut their writing teeth by working on The Late Show with David Letterman.  They’re funny guys.  They write snappy dialogue.  So the show has that going for it.  Bays and Thomas also are interested in working within the confines of the narrow and constrictive confines of the sitcom formula, but subverting those bonds with childlike glee, playing with story constructions that use in medias res, imperfect narrators, flashbacks within flashbacks, and “found” props on the internet (go ahead and google “Lorenzo Von Matterhorn”).  The show has an insanely likeable cast; Jason Segel, Alyson Hanigan and Neil Patrick Harris are TV vets who happily support or subvert their earlier television personas, and newcomers Cobie Smulders and Josh Radnor more than carry their own on the show.   (Radnor in particular seems extremely underrated to me.  He plays a largely thankless straight-man role to the rest of the cast with a winning aplomb, almost coming across as a John Cusack with actual range.)  Finally the show has going for it some of the best music you’ll hear in a sitcom with  Guided By Voices, Ted Leo, and Nada Surf among the many artists who’ve been featured in the show.  (Sadly, licensing issues have forced the creators to remove or replace much of this music from the show on DVD and in syndication.)

(Tangent time:  I think the moment the show won me as a fan for life happened that first season.   In an episode called “The Pineapple Incident”, all the things I mentioned above come together gloriously.  Ted has an unrequited crush on Robyn, who is out on a date.  Ted gets wildly drunk and punches up “Voices” by Cheap Trick on the juke box and while standing on a table sings it into Robyn’s cell phone.  It is a sort of shmaltzy, but winningly funny scene in an episode where the story is told Sanjuro-style from the points of view of all the major characters.  At the end of the episode, very quietly, they fade in “Voices” again, but this time it isn’t the Cheap Trick original, but rather Jon Brion’s delicate, fragile, wistful cover.   That cover is a small miracle of its own–it originally appears on an album called Meaningless, to date the only non-soundtrack album of solo material that this pop genius has recorded and which was at the time released solo through Brion himself long before he found fame as the king of cinema soundtracks.  That somehow it found its way into a network show–and yes, I knew it immediately–stopped me cold.  I cannot imagine a more rare or cooler song to have ever appeared on prime time TV.  Seriously, Jon Brion’s cover of “Voices” on a network sitcom is every bit as subversively hip as Elliott Smith performing on the Oscars telecast.)

At any rate, if you’re a frequent watcher of the show, this season you got one of the best subtle payoffs in sitcom history, and one that no longer makes me feel a little dorky for loving this show so much.  See, another hallmark of HIMYM is the way it unapologetically does callbacks to earlier episodes and maintains running in-jokes (Robyn Sparkles, The Slap Bet, etc.) across multiple episodes and seasons.  This one, however, was so artfully done and so subtle, I’m not sure more than a handful of people caught it, and it is worth flying up the flagpole of pop culture ephemera and saluting.

Way back in 2006 during the first season of the show (we’re now well into season 7), Ted meets a beautiful woman at a friend’s wedding.  For whatever reason, they decide not to complicate their meet cute at the wedding by burdening it with expectations of future dates, so Ted and the girl, Victoria, only know one another by first names, and agree from the outset not to exchange phone numbers or anything else–they just want that night to be a perfect memory.  Of course, both have such a wonderful time that Ted has to find her, and that’s the setup of season 1, episode 13, called “Drumroll Please”.  At the end of the episode, Ted finds Victoria–turns out the only reason she was at the wedding was that she made the wedding cake and is a professional baker–and runs into her store to discover that she’s as happy to see him as he is to see her.  During the entire scene, Pavement’s “Spit On A Stranger” is playing.   Sadly for Ted and Vic, the romance can’t last; she gets a fellowship (don’t I know that agony) to take her to Germany to cook and their long-distance relationship falls apart when Ted cheats on her with Robyn.

So.  Flash forward to this season.  The show brings Victoria back for an episode…and turns out she’s getting married.  Still, there are obvious sparks between now-single Ted and Vic.  In the episode’s final scene, Victoria takes a final leave of Ted, telling him why their relationship would have never worked out anyway.  During this scene, “Spit On A Stranger” is playing again, but it isn’t the original, hopeful and jaunty Pavement version–instead it’s Kathryn Williams’s almost mournful cover version.  Now that is one spectacular callback, maybe one of the neatest otherwise throwaway moments I can remember in a simple sitcom setting.  But now consider this:  thanks to the aforementioned licensing issues, the Pavement version of “Spit On A Stranger” was removed from that first-season episode after the end of that season in 2006.  On the DVD for season 1, and in syndication, there’s music, but it’s just generic guitar build playing.   So…unless you were watching the show in 2006, and unless you recognized a Pavement song, and then unless you were still watching in 2011 and unless you somehow remembered that Pavement song playing the first time Ted and Victoria met now playing when they say a final goodbye, you’d miss the whole point.  I don’t know why, particularly, but I just found that to be extraordinary.

1 Comment

  1. WangZi said,

    HIMYM has some great tunes in it…

    Mother of Pearl…Roxy Music as an example

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