'How I Met Your Mother': 'The Poker Game' and the problem with real time

how-i-met-your-mother-s9-poker-game.jpgThe moments in Monday's (Oct. 14) "How I Met Your Mother" that either were not set at or not directly about things happening at the Farhampton Inn were pretty enjoyable. The ones that were, though, signal what could become real issues with this final season.

So, the good parts of "The Poker Game" first. The B-story with Ted, Lily, Marshall and the mystery wedding gift from six years ago fulfilled a number of the things creators Carter Bays and Craig Thomas have said they want to do with this season. It filled in some previously unseen bit of the gang's history and called back to some well-remembered past moments, including their roles in Stuart and Claudia's relationship and Ted and Marshall's road trips to Chicago for amazing/awful pizza.

And based on what we know of Ted and his love of the correct way of doing things, his gift-giving fetish -- and horror at thinking he didn't actually get Lily and Marshall a wedding present, and grand gesture to make it up to Marshall -- makes perfect sense, and is the funnier for it. So too his and Marshall's respective passive-aggressiveness over the perceived slights. Plus a Katie Holmes cameo as the Slutty Pumpkin!

What is making less and less sense is why, other than because they've come this far, Barney and Robin are still getting married. And here's where again the difficulty of telling a real-time story rears its head.*

(*Yes, it's becoming a broken record. But it's hard not to talk about it the way the past couple of episodes have gone.)

The way TV shows, comedies in particular, tend to work is that we drop in on these characters for a half-hour each week, and regardless of how much time the episode itself spans, we hang out with them as we would with friends, seeing the best side of them and then going our separate ways till the next time out.

By attacking the wedding weekend on such a micro level, though, "HIMYM" has in some respects taken that away. The show hasn't been afraid of showing conflict among its couples in the past, but they tended to be the big ones, ones that could drive character arcs for a good amount of time, both in terms of number of episodes and time elapsed within the series.

Now, it feels as though we're in for small and medium-sized argument between Robin and Barney, mostly variations on his terror at committing to one woman and, in this case, desire to avoid conflict. Those aren't small things, but they have to be either shrunk to fit the half-hour or, as happened at the end of "The Poker Game," blown so out of proportion that it artificially extends the conflict for a while. So we have Barney telling his family they're dead to him and Robin and Barney's mom pledging emotional war for however many episodes the show can get Frances Conroy to appear. It takes a lot of the shine off that TV friendship.

Other notes from "The Poker Game":

  • We're once again Motherless for this episode, making it now three weeks since we saw Cristin Milioti. At this point, a lot of fans would probably just take a shot of the Mother checking into her room or getting a coffee somewhere in Farhampton.
  • One funny moment from within the Barney-Robin conflict: Lily, Ranjit and Billy Zabka all popping out of their hiding places after they supposedly leave the room.
  • Who's in the shower in Stuart's room? I fully suspect "OMG the Mother and Stuart" conspiracy theories, but that would pretty much destroy the goodwill the Mother has. There's no way that would happen -- right?

What did you think of "How I Met Your Mother" this week?
Photo/Video credit: CBS