It was a dirty trick but effective. How I Met Your Mother used its own narration device as a bit of misdirection in “Symphony of Illumination” and the effect was jarring, entertaining and can be fairly called a cheap trick.
When last we saw Robin (Cobie Smulders) she told Barney (Neil Patrick Harris) that she was pregnant and he was the father. After picking his jaw up off the floor, after Robin coldcocked him twice for typically Barney comments, (“So, you’re pregnant? Looks like nobody told your boobs”) Barney actually seemed excited about being a dad.
That lasted until a trip to the baby store with Lily (Alyson Hannigan) and a glimpse of the whining, crying, soul-crushing, sweat-pants wearing future set them straight. As Robin has said on more than a few occasions, she doesn’t want kids; nor does Barney really; it’s one of the reasons why they’re such a good match.
That made the scene in the doctor’s office (welcome back Vicky Lewis) so much fun. When Barney and Robin found out they weren’t having a baby the only answer was the Maury Povich not the father celebration dance; beautiful.
Naturally, that was merely the superficial reaction. One of the things we all love about How I Met Your Mother is the way these characters are rarely as simply drawn as they may appear. The not being pregnant led to the revelation that Robin can’t get pregnant at all and that realization hit home harder than she and we expected.
In the silly B-story Marshall (Jason Segal) decides that he is going to have the most obnoxious Christmas decorations in his new neighborhood; with a Manheim Steamroller theme and everything. Marshall’s plan backfires when the kid he thought was looking up to him instead strands him on his roof and proceeded to trash his house.
Silly was the only word for this subplot until it took a wrong turn into an ugly topic. After trapping Marshall on the roof the kid took a picture of his privates on Marshall’s phone in order to keep Marshall from screaming for help. This terribly uncomfortable joke comes at a time when sex abuse scandals involving teenage boys are all over the news.
Readers chide me regularly for bringing serious topics into the discussion of not-serious sitcoms but it’s not me, it’s the shows. How I Met Your Mother did not need this joke. The disturbing implication was disturbing when the writers thought of it and would be disturbing even if there were not now young men at Penn State and Syracuse being called liars by the men who allegedly abused them.
Faked or real child porn just isn’t funny and shouldn’t be joked about on a sitcom. The writers of How I Met Your Mother should know better.
Returning to the main story; it was startling for the episode to begin with Robin talking to her kids instead of Ted with his kids. That startled feeling never went away as the episode kept rolling back to Robin’s unique way of talking to her kids about not wanting kids, hating kids, celebrating not being a mom. That made the final revelation about the kids being fake a bit of a cop out.
It was fun considering the comic possibilities of Robin and Barney as parents and it seemed like a solid route for the series to take; especially with the way such a change would likely have hit Ted (Josh Radnor). Imagine how Ted would have reacted to losing Marshall and Lily to a baby and the suburbs followed by Barney and Robin having a baby. It would have been a great motivation for him to get out and finally find the mother of his children.
But no, Robin’s conversation was with her fake kids and the whole thing was a lame ruse. Don’t misunderstand it was a very funny lame ruse but a lame ruse nevertheless. That said, I loved, LOVED, the final minutes when Ted determined he must cheer up Robin and made her the sweetest, most thoughtful AC/DC “Highway to Hell” themed Christmas ever.
I must also express one more point of disappointment about this episode. Why couldn’t Robin have been allowed to choose not to have a child? Having Robin be incapable of having kids was another cop out by the writers; a nod to the knee-jerk societal pressure that states all adults must want children.
As a childless by choice adult I would just once like to see a character on TV defy what society demands and make a choice. It seemed like Robin was going to be allowed that choice until the show forced the ‘she’s incapable of having a kid’ thing into the story to calm the fears of traditionalists.
Some people just don’t want to pole vault for the Canadian team at the Olympics.
- Who hasn’t witnessed that scene at the baby store; the soul crushed, exhausted mother and the dad in his sweats nowhere near a gym. It’s sad and it can put even the most committed wannabe breeder off of wanting children.
- Ted was mostly absent from this episode until the end when a bit of the old Ted re-emerged. Was the AC/DC Christmas thing a little too boyfriend-like? Maybe, but these characters are a family and as long as Ted and ‘Aunt Robin’ don’t fall into bed ever again, it’s forgivable.
- Why is Robin planning on spending Christmas alone when she told Barney that she’s still with Kevin (Kal Penn)? Then again, where the heck has Kevin been anyway?