How I Met Your Mother Season 9, Episode 11 “Bedtime Stories”
Written by Carter Bays & Craig Thomas
Directed by Pamela Fryman
Airs Monday nights at 8pm ET on CBS
I’ve always had mixed feelings about ‘novelty’ episodes like “Bedtime Stories”: while they often give late-season episodes a nice injection of wit and energy, by construction they require a show to conform to different rules, both for creative types and audiences watching the final product. Novelty episodes can be quite enjoyable, but it’s a surface pleasure, one that comes from watching a show mold itself into something else – which, unfortunately, usually comes at the expense of character. “Bedtime Stories” is no different: it’s three-story Mother Goose structure works well in justifying the novelty of the episode, and there’s enough ingenuity in the rhyme construction – moving from the predictable iambic pentameter at times to dabble into other schemes, usually incorporating voice overs or background characters into the flow – to keep things interesting. Problem is, it’s mostly unfunny, broad comedic material: and to boot, it spends most of its time highlighting the tired bachelor adventures of Ted and Barney, stories the show needs to move away from as it heads towards the finale.
In fact, all three of the episode’s little rhythmic novellas are constructed out of some lame premises: Ted doesn’t hook up with a girl Barney slept with, despondent Robin steals (and eats) a cake, and Barney tells a ridiculous Barney story. That’s really all there is to it – it doesn’t dip back into the pasts of its characters for any discernible reason except they can, and unsurprisingly leads to three very forgettable stories that doesn’t really search for any kind of emotional resolution (which naturally makes for unsatisfying storytelling). There are some clever little gags in the three fables Marshall tells Marvin on the bus ride (and Ted subsequently tells his children, an example of the show’s natural form bumping up against the construction of its novelty), but they’re comedic air: the jokes are forgotten as soon as they’re told, as are the stories once they’ve completed and the gang is sitting around the bar laughing.
But right there, “Bedtime Stories” takes a surprising turn, and finds an interesting way to validate its silliness: as Marshall explains to his young son, the stories he tells are about a time in life when the real ‘troubles’ of the world weren’t a care. There’s a reason those terrible experiences make for good memories: nostalgia is something that alters the memory of anything, be it a lost love, an embarrassing personal failure – or in Marvin’s case, a crappy bus ride highlighted by some fireworks, which eventually become his first memory. In the end, the lesson of “Bedtime Stories” is a good one: no matter how much bad stuff can happen in one night, all it takes to make it memorable is a bit of splendor. Sometimes, it can be something large and grandiose like firework – and other times, it’s just a beer and some laughs with friends.
That notion is something that the first twenty minutes of “Bedtime Stories” doesn’t really try to capture: it enjoys its antics a little too much for its own good, only pulling back in the final seconds to reveal its true intentions – which in its defense, is the kind of thing I always tuned into HIMYM for in the first place. When its at its best, How I Met Your Mother’s romanticized ideals about true love and friendship show the value of having close friends and family during the times in life when we struggle to find self-definition. It’s only through others (like we see with Lily’s response to Robin quitting on eating the cake) that we’re able to see the value in otherwise terrible life experiences sometimes – and that includes the most important bond in a male’s life, the one he has with his son (or father).
There haven’t been a lot of “good” episodes of How I Met Your Mother this season: in fact, there’s really only been a few enjoyable moments sandwiched between a lot of storytelling gimmicks and terrible thumb-twiddling antics (and in the case of Ted’s “gift”, some really horrific things being done for the sake of dramatic effect). “Bedtime Stories” is an amalgamation of everything that is HIMYM this season, two acts of forgettable, sometimes head-shakingly mediocre antics, with an emotional resolution that feels equally tacked on and emotionally poignant.
– a great choice to cast Lin-Manuel Miranda as Marshall’s bus mate. It’s kind of unfair to Jason Segel, whose ability to deliver his dialogue in the different meters the script requires. However, this is a factor in many scenes, as Alyson Hannigan and Neil Patrick Harris blow away anyone else speaking in scenes with them (Hannigan is particularly impressive, especially during her “eat the whole damn thing” speech to Robin).
– what three things does Barney remember about his conquest? “Her boobs, her rack, her chest.”
– The show’s poetic highlight: “Sadly, while your troubles stop once we get to the end, when we arrive is when my troubles begin.” Just a great little father/son moment there.
– When did JVDB’s character get hair? How did he get rich enough for a jacuzz’? Wasn’t a big fan of his appearance here as a catalyst for Psycho Robin.
– having been through the experience myself, I can’t bring myself to laugh at any jokes involving stomach pumping. Not pleasant.