Monday, February 18, 2013

How I Met Your Mother "The Ashtray" Review

Carter Bays and Craig Thomas won't use their plan to introduce the mother at season's end and make the final season about the group's adventures pre-mother. The idea had legs, though. "The Ashtray" seems like a good example of what that hypothetical season could be like, i.e. the kind of stories the show could tell. "The Ashtray" uses the basic structure of many HIMYM episodes. One character begins a story, another character tells the same story differently, and a third character tells the true version of the story. Silliness happens in acts one and two. Sweepy clean resolution happens in act three, and everyone smiles, and fans can go to sleep happy.

"The Ashtray" is about Lily, but it takes nearly fifteen minutes for the episode's story to turn towards Lily. Kyle MacLachan's The Captain character makes a triumphant return. The Captain was the only highlight of the sixth season of the show. MacLachan took his character's silliness and ran with it. I never laugh during HIMYM episodes. The Captain got me to laugh. I'd like to think the acting had more to do with my laughing than the writing. Ted receives a phone call from The Captain. The Captain needs to speak with him. Ted worries the reason lies in the last time he saw him, which was at an art show where The Captain displayed furious anger over Ted stealing Zoey from him. Ted remembers The Captain pointing a harpoon gun in his face, mocking him, and making him swear to never steal his girlfriend again. Ted's side of the story manages to shoehorn in another date of his, a girl that starred in a commercial for boats. The Boats girl begins and ends with the commercial. Ted freaks out about retribution for dating the boats girl because The Captain declared her his one and only.

Ted's wrong, of course, in his telling of the story. Robin picked up the story and took the audience back to the beginning wherein we learn Ted and his date smoked pot before Ted went to the art gallery. I picked up my copy of Coriolanus as I'm in act three and the action is getting rather intense. Coriolanus should've bit his tongue, but those damn tribunes had it out for him since act one. Anyway, I read what I could while Robin told her version of the story. After awhile, the constant re-telling of stories gets old. I already wrote my compliment towards the show's respect for the oral tradition of storytelling. Robin remembers getting hit on by The Captain (which just roll with it everybody) and the events we saw happen differently than Ted remembered.

Lily's story is the truest. Ted was high; Robin drunk. Ted ate shrimp and wiped his hands on a waiter. Robin tried to hook up with The Captain throughout the evening. Lily stands by and engages The Captain in a chat about art when he arrives at the art gallery. One of the tricks of telling a good story is pulling back on the big moments and letting them be, like the way someone gardening lets what they put into the ground alone to grow. The silliness is around Lily's story but its centrality is Lily's opinion of herself. The Captain shows her a piece of art, which his art consultant considers a masterpiece, but Lily likes a painting of an elephant. The Captain dismisses her opinion because she's just a kindergarten teacher. Lily steals his expensive ashtray.
Lily's story is reduced to a simple relatable aspect of life: regret about not pursing the dream, instead settling on something and then realizing what you settled for is permanent. The dream passed the dreamer by. Lily's mad at herself for only being a kindergarten teacher and not following her dreams in having an art career. Marshall tells her it's not too late to pursue what she loves. Lily thinks it is. She's a mother and set in her life. Art passed her by. HIMYM's always told stories that related to late twenty-somethings and early thirty-somethings. I think this story probably landed with a good chunk of the audience.

The Captain offers Lily a job to be his art consultant (because of course he does; this is How I Met Your Mother). She accepts it. Alyson Hanigan shined in her scene with Jason Segal. Segal spent much of the episode wanting to take a ride on The Captain's bus, so the turn in the final act was welcomed. Both actors are very good in serious scenes. Hanigan cries and does her best to make Lily's feeling an intrinsic part of her character, and Segal transitions easily from angry husband to supportive husband. It's nice to see the actors remember they're talented once every six months.

"The Ashtray" got me to laugh once, which is the first time I've laughed while watching this show in four years. Thus, the episode is a success. Bays and Thomas told a relatable story, threw in fun gags, one funny piece of acting from Kyle MacLachan, and basically left Barney out until they didn't. The absence of wedding stories for Barney and Robin was welcomed, as well as the absence of Ted and Jeanette. Indeed, the good times won't last. I will keep a copy of a novel or play for when HIMYM gets unbearable. It will. Indeed it will.


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About The Foot

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Originally, I titled the blog Jacob's Foot after the giant foot that Jacob inhabited in LOST. That ended. It became TV With The Foot in 2010. I wrote about a lot of TV.