Oof. That was a slog.
HIMYM Season 8 commits many cardinal sins for a sitcom, from forcing a relationship (Robin and Barney), to selling out its characters for cheap jokes (many times; but esp. Barney as a womanizing d-bag), to ridiculous, unbelievable twists (Barney pulling a several month ruse on Robin, then getting engaged to her).
But I want to open with an even more broad observation about the show: It became disturbingly sexist and chauvinist somewhere along the line. The female characters, Lily and Robin, alternate between nagging and sex-crazed. Lily displays few traits this season other than horniness (including the writers’ creepy fixation on a Lily-Robin Lesbian tryst), while Robin is described as “cool” because she tolerates Barney drooling over other women. Ted, meanwhile, engages in a relationship with a crazy woman because even the females in his life think he should be sleeping with someone if the sex is good enough, her psychological disorders be damned.
It’s these casually destructive philosophies that neuter a show that can, from time to time, be great, even at this old age… but is more often mediocre. There are four or five bland episodes for every clever, memorable episode, a truly abysmal ratio.
On the emotional/dramatic front, the most frustrating element of the season is the unfolding of Barney and Robin’s relationship. Barney’s “The Last Page” trick on Robin — pretending to date her nemesis, calculating when to act vulnerable, and using all this deception as evidence the two should be together — was a completely unbelievable way for a heavily foreshadowed romance to come together. It’s made more annoying by Ted and Robin’s interaction in the cab — his insistence she go find Barney — which has acting chemistry but fails every test of reasonable and enjoyable storytelling from the perspective of Ted’s lingering feelings for Robin.
Other arcs pack little heft. Lily getting a job as an art consultant did little to flesh out her weak characterization. Ted’s relationship with crazy Jeanette drags on longer than it should, providing a few funny moments but mostly inert stories filling the time with little payoff. The strongest part of the season is the opening, as Victoria’s presence — and the storytelling unity of “The Autumn of Breakups” — lifts the show in spite of its flaws. But other than that, there are few interesting stories here.
The actors mostly give it their all. Neil Patrick Harris does his best to give charm to a character who feels more and more slimy as the show enters its twilight years. Jason Segel, after proving his acting chops during the arc of his fathers’ death during Seasons 6 and 7, is left with little but throwaway jokes. Alyson Hanigan and Cobie Smulders are far from great, but never feel like their phoning it in — especially Smulders, who developed into a competent comedy actress since the early seasons, when she was mostly of a pretty face.
The season MVP, in my opinion, is Josh Radnor as Ted, who gave not only some fantastic comic delivery (the scene where he receives orders on a headset from Barney in “Weekend at Barney’s” had me doubled over), but gave the best single emotional moment of the season when he imagined running to the titular mother and begging to be with her for another 45 days in the dark ending of “Time Travelers.”
“Travelers” might have been the best episode of the season, and even it was something of a train wreck, its chief sin being a promised a Jason Segel-Cobie Smulders dance-off that appears off-camera. It had some nice callbacks — coat check girl — and a few cool flourishes — multiple versions of Barney and Ted singing “For the Longest Time” — while landing an emotional ending. But, for it to be a candidate for best of the season, you know that the show is struggling.
Another candidate for best episode is “Ring Up” in which Ted hooks up with Barney’s half-sister. That’s the essence of the joke right there, but it’s about as good as this season can do. Too bad.
From heavy leaning on annoying gags like Barney’s playbook, to dramatic and comic moments repeatedly falling flat, to no truly great moments to speak of, this was an all-around frustrating season. If I didn’t love these characters, the malleable timeline, and the inventive storytelling — and if I wasn’t so close to the finish line — I might abandon ship once again. Fingers crossed for a stronger ending.
(Oh, and as for my take on Ted and Robin? I’ll reserve comment until the end of the series, as that thread is left hanging.)
Season rankings thus far: 2, 1, 4, 3, 6, 5, 7, 8