Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The HIMYM gang smokes?!?

Last Cigarette Ever
How I Met Your Mother: Season 5, Episode 11

The premise of "Last Cigarette Ever" was lackluster at best. Since when does everyone in the HIMYM smoke? I can see Robin as a smoker. (Just see Season 2, Episode 18, "Moving Day," in which Robin enjoys a cigarette in the bathtub while her new live-in boyfriend Ted hangs out with Barney). I can even understand Lily as a smoker, too. (Season 2, Episode 21, "Something Borrowed," when Lily smokes to calm herself after all the disasters at her wedding). But Ted, Marshall, AND Barney as smokers?!!? No way.

I get that the writers expected viewers to be shocked, just like Future Ted's kids are as he reveals that each. and. every. one. of his friends - and himself - used to be part-time smokers. But it just felt like the writers were grasping at straws, just trying to find something to fill in an episode. We've had filler episodes before - like Season 4, Episode 2, "The Best Burger in New York" - but they were more entertaining (and believable and in line with who the characters were).

This a very, very, very far fall since last week's episode, The Window, which I thought was the best of the season so far. So, what's up Carter and Bays?!? Where's the creativity? Where's the crazy shenanigans that I've loved throughout pretty much every season? (Including this season, even when I haven't always agreed with the way the characters have been portrayed?)

For the most part, the writers have been consistent in the portrayal of the HIMYM gang. But, over the course of five seasons, it's not surprising that they occasionally need to change to characters over time - like Lily keeping Barney's secret love for Robin under wraps for months. But the premise and majority of last night's episode just left me annoyed. It seemed so out of the blue - and not in HIMYM's usual funny way.

To date, this is - by far - my worst review of HIMYM. Usually I show the love, and tons of it. But despite my vast criticisms (and groans while watching) there were a few glimmers of funny throughout the episode:
* Robin's storyline - yes, a storyline belonging to Robin and only Robin! - about an annoying co-anchor, Don, who pays no heed to the teleprompter and loves wearing tighty-whities around the set.
* Lily's manly smoker voice c/o Harvey Fierstein
* Marshall trying to get his old boss - remember Season 3, Episode 15 "Chain of Screaming"? - to remember him so he doesn't get fired, even if it means smoking.
* Marshall having a hard time dealing with the loss of McRib.
* The gang tuning in to Robin's show, finally, and calling in.
* Robin having a new love interest in Don. Yeah, yeah, I've always supported the Barney/Robin thing, but I'm interested to see this new dynamic play out. Here's hoping Don isn't as big of a jerk as he was portrayed last night.
* Marshall going back in time to beat-up on his 13-year-old self for lighting that first cigarette.
* In the last scene before the tag, Ted giving some hints as to what's in the gang's future by saying when they'll finally have their 'last cigarette.' (The only useful thing in the whole 'cigarette' storyline debacle, if you ask me).

Despite the overall lackluster episode, last night's HIMYM garned its highest ratings yet. For those of you who watched for the first time and wondered what all the hype is about after seeing this poor performance, I say STICK WITH IT. This is my first overall negative review of this show, and I'm hoping that the new year will bring plenty more legen-wait for it-dary episodes. There will be some more info about the Mother (I'm almost positive of it), and what's not to love about an upcoming musical number?

What did you think of "Last Cigarette Ever"? Was I too harsh in my assessment of the episode? What was your reaction when you found out they were all long-time smokers? Did you believe it? And what'd you think of Robin's new love interest, Don? Share your thoughts below!

Photo: cbs.com

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Ted and the "perfect" girl

The Window
How I Met Your Mother: Season 5, Episode 10

Ted finally finds a window of opportunity, and the gang tries to help him catch the "perfect" girl. Meanwhile, Barney takes a bet, and Marshall (again) tries to come to terms with the corporate life he's created for himself.

At the beginning of "The Window," Ted dashes out the door of McLaren's after receiving a phone call from an older woman saying the window is open. According to Ted (and Marshall & Lily), Maggie is the perfect girl - which is a problem because every guy who meets her thinks so, too. When she's finally single for a minute - in the 12 years Ted has known her, our hero races over to her apartment and asks her on a date before she can run into any other guy, postmen included.

The problem? When Ted arrives early for his date, Robins reminds him about the class he's supposed to teach that night. Maggie refuses to sit in, so Ted charges Marshall & Lily with watching over her to make sure that no guy comes in contact with her, even if it's just on the walk from the bathroom to the booth.

But Marshall and Lily don't stay long. Marshall has been sorting through some things his mother sent him. He pulls out a pair of denim overalls, which, naturally, leads to Barney challenging himself to get laid while wearing them. Marshall also pulls out a letter his 15-year-old self wrote his 30-year-old self. Despite some ridiculous goals - including growing out his rat-tail and legally changing his name to 'Vanilla Thunder' - his teenage goals affect him, and he runs away from the table, claiming he needs to take care of something at work.

Lily leaves Maggie in the care of Robin. Her turn babysitting is immediately threatened when Maggie's co-worker, Jim, starts chatting her up. Trying absolutely everything to get Jim's attention, Robin manages to make herself Jim's date to a erotic canine art gallery - which means Robin can leave Maggie with only one person... Barney.

Naturally, this frightens Ted. He had been trying to wrap up his class early, but to his dismay (and to his delight) everyone wanted to hear what he had to say about bridges. When he accidentally writes what's on his mind - MAGGIE - on the board, he tries to play it off as an acronym, but the classroom doesn't buy it. They start asking questions of his love life, focusing on: are you really ready for a serious relationship?

With no time to answer the question, he runs back to the bar. After Maggie calls Barney's overalls cute, Barney informs Ted that he has 10-minutes before the window closes again. Running down the street, Ted yells, "I hate Barney Stinson!" to which an unseen female yells, "Me too!" Classic.

Ted arrives at the bar just in time to run into Jim, who managed to escape Robin's clutches. Barney, too, throws his name into the hat, telling them that after he gets Maggie, the window will open again in 10 minutes. The guys fight about how long they've loved her, until they notice she's disappeared.

Robin sent her off in a cab, so she could escape the greedy guy vultures. Ted gives a lofty speech, so in character for him, and concedes that Maggie deserves to be single for a little while.... and then, as expected with his character, too, he bolts out the door, racing to Maggie's apartment, pushing Jim and Barney away in the process.

But they're too late. She ran into her childhood sweetheart and old next door neighbor, which prompts Ted to say that it was the second best romantic story he's ever heard. Despite the window with Maggie closing forever, Ted finally realizes he really is ready for a serious relationship... which begs the question, when has he not be? Yeah, he's gone through some rough patches in the past year, but he was always, always, always on the lookout for a serious relationship. If he hadn't been, why didn't he just throw in the relationship towel like Robin did, which is one of those things people do "Before They Meet the Love of Their Lives"'?

I understand why the writers let Ted have this realization... we're about to get a lot more of Ted's story... but it's disappointing that his conclusion is something that he's wanted all along.

As for Marshall, his story ended with attempting to prove to himself that he could still accomplish something on his list: slam dunk a basketball. Fail. Even after Lily lowers the hoop a foot. But, luckily for Marshall, Lily is there to remind him that he's successful and he's done things his 15-year-old self never dreamed of.

While I love seeing this side of Marshall and Lily - rather than Lily and her 'you're dead to me' stare, this storyline has somewhat been done before. Marshall's unhappiness with selling-out even led him to quitting his job in a previous episode. At least, he's learned not to do that again, I suppose.

Before wrapping up, let's not forget the tag: Marshall sits in McLaren's and writes a letter to his 60-year-old self. In it, he asks for proof of time travel on December 7th at exactly 8:29pm. Marshall looks around the bar, nothing happens, and then... Lily brings over a plate of free hot wings that someone returned because they were too hot. Miracle!

The camera pans over and we're treated to an older Marshall who is being served by Wendy the waitress, who's apparently returned as part of the supporting cast.

Despite my critiques of the storyline, this was by far my favorite of the season so far. The whole gang had a role to play. Barney's plot was simple and classic Barney - even with the shudder-inducing moment that he goes to sleep with the old lady, Maggie's neighbor who had earlier called Ted, just so he can get out of the overalls.

Overall (hah, you know they cover everything), "The Window" led to plenty of laughs, and here's hoping that HIMYM is back on track for the rest of the season.

What did you think of Ted's pursuit of Maggie? Do you think Marshall will ever 'save the world'? What happened to Robin and her totally horrible - but funny - tactics of getting Jim's attention? And, will Barney ever change? Share your comments below!

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Why I Love Outlining

I know not everyone is going to agree with me on this, but I abso-friggin-lutley love outlining my novel... but only at a certain time in the novel-writing process.

I didn't outline my novel before I wrote my first draft. Sure, I made a timeline of important events - since I need to get the chronology straight since I based a lot of things I wrote on actual events - but I do NOT outline as a first step, ever. Otherwise, I'd feel too constrained, and I'd feel that the story wouldn't naturally unfold.

That said, on draft 3.5, I got stuck. I knew what I wanted to add, I knew I needed to move some scenes around, and I knew I needed to delete a few scenes (as much as it hurt to do), but I didn't know where to start.

So, I started my outline to get the big picture of my whole novel on just a few pages. In the end, I organized this outline based on what I learned over at Paperback Writer.

But first, I started simple with the barest of the bare Chapter descriptions followed by a few hits of 'enter' to give myself some room to make handwritten notes. I then cut all the chapters into slips of paper and took two hours of sitting on the dining room floor to reorganize the pieces of the novel puzzle. It was so cathartic. I finally started to see how certain scenes worked together - or not - and made sure that the two timelines were both given the word and page space they needed.

I added, moved things around, and, gasp, threw out a couple chapters (the hardest to get rid of being the first two), and then I taped the slips of paper together.

Then it was back to the computer. I rearranged the outline and then filled out the outline with specific scenes, all the while making notes of what I needed to add or to work out when I went back to rewriting the novel. And boy oh boy do I have a ton of stuff I still need to rewrite.

But here's the thing. While I had some ideas of how I wanted the novel to change and grow before I sat down to outline, I never expected most of what I realized when I actually did the work. The novel is going to be so much better now and that much closer to being done, all because I took a break from writing (kind of) and outlined.

Do you outline? Or, how do you go about making drastic changes to your work? If you outline, when do you: before starting the novel or sometime after? How do you use outlines? Or do you absolutely hate them?