Normally watching an episode of How I Met Your Mother takes me roughly 23 minutes – episodes of the sitcom run for 30 minutes, but subtracting time for commercials due to watching via TiVo, I’m able to shave a few minutes off. Watching last night’s episode, however, took me the full 30 minutes (and maybe a little more) despite the fact that it was on TiVo. That’s because I had to keep rewinding to find the numbers.
As soon as the episode began, I couldn’t help but notice a pamphlet at Lily & Marshall’s doctor’s office which said “50” on it in bright red digits. The next scene featured one that said “49.” One scene later we got the number 48 and it was clear that the producers were working towards something.
That’s when the first rewind came – my viewing partner hadn’t noticed the numbers and I had to rewind to show her. The rest of the rewinding came whenever one of us missed a number (I’ll admit to missing a few on the first go through, most notably 15 which was in the lower right corner of the screen).
So, it was clear early on that How I Met Your Mother was counting down, but to what and why. Through the years, the series has done a great job of bringing back old moments – things said in passing in one episode regularly appear down the line in another. Had Ted mentioned at any point that some sort of event was preceded by a countdown? Had the show made it clear at any time what a countdown would indicate? There was a hint that whatever the countdown was heading towards wouldn’t be a happy and joyous moment as the episode was titled “Bad News,” but had the show ever told us what sort of bad news came with a countdown.
Not that I could recall.
It’s a little hard with How I Met Your Mother to remember every minor thing Ted has ever told his children – even knowing that some will come back – and I certainly didn’t remember any mention of a countdown (save for the slap bet, but that clearly wasn’t where we were headed). A quick google search (one that wouldn’t endanger my spoiling the ending of the episode) didn’t provide any answers on what a countdown on HIMYM would mean, so I decided to just roll with the punches, keep trying to spot the numbers, and wait for number one.
Eventually, of course, number one arrived and with it, the episode’s bad news. I don’t want to spoil anything for those of you out there who may not have seen it (but come on, why didn’t you watch last night?), so I won’t delve in to exactly what took place, but I think it was a great dramatic moment on the show and I think the actors involved handled it really well. It may be a more serious moment than any the show has had in the past, but How I Met Your Mother has managed to have many a serious moment over the years and throughout the laughs.
As they continue in their run, many sitcoms take a noticeable turn towards the dramatic, but I don’t think that’s what’s going to happen with HIMYM, at least not at this stage. The show is off-beat and quirky, with a great set of characters and while not every season has been as funny as the show’s first two, it doesn’t feel like the producers have run out of funny. Instead, I think it was another good dramatic moment in the comedy, one which will almost certainly affect where the show heads for at least the next few episodes if not longer, but not one which signals an overall tonal shift.
Personally, I like when the show goes dramatic for spurts – as funny as HIMYM may be, they’re telling a pretty serious tale and dramatic moments are warranted in a serious tale. The countdown was a good way to prepare us for the big moment last night, allowing the show to be funny throughout while still letting us know that something was going to happen. It’s not a device the producers can use regularly (or perhaps ever again), but it worked this time and I’m already looking forward to the next episode.