Episode Title: "Bass Player Wanted"
Episode Grade: B+
It's easy when talking about How I Met Your Mother to focus on love and romance. The show has long had a strong, confident voice on those topics, and those are obviously the show's driving themes.
But How I Met Your Mother is also, to a very real extent, about friendship. The platonic relationships between these five people have carried the show when its broader romance arc lurched and started started straining under the weight of eight seasons. Put simply, it's been fun to watch these guys hang out, and that was always enough to see the show throw the darkness.
"Bass Player Wanted" is essentially a celebration of these friendships, a chance for How I Met Your Mother to toast its characters and their relationships with each other. So, yeah, it's a little easy and self-congratulatory at points, but the show has earned that at this point in its life.
Plus, we get a nifty little storyline for The Mother!
"Bass Player" revolves around the antics of guest star Andrew Rannells, who I've never heard of before in my life but who apparently does quite a lot of voice work for cartoons. Rannells plays Darren, who The Mother labels a "fire-starter" for his ability to ingratiate himself with a couple friends, find out their deepest secrets, then immediately spill them and ruin the friendships. He's also the lead singer of The Mother's band, which comes up later.
We know all of this because The Mother, in one of those bullshit plot devices we're willing to forgive a beloved show in its ninth and final season, drives by Marshall trying to walk the five miles to the Farhampton Inn and picks him up.
The early scenes where Darren manages to utterly charm Robin and Lilly and then Ted and Barney are charming for the contemptuous ease of his approach; Robin is immediately won over when Darren recognizes how "hilarious and adorable" she and Lily are. Barney and Ted, meanwhile, lose their objectivity when Darren breaks out a story about losing his mother in a hunting trip that was inspired by Bambi (he later tells the bartender that his mother was eaten by a barracuda, which The Mother angrily points out is just from Finding Nemo).
There's an element of the 80's sitcom to the resulting conflicts: the friends all have their little spats over relatively minor issues (Robin sort of sides with Marshall in the whole "Judge vs. Italy" debate, but mainly because she's afraid of losing her best friend, while Barney is outraged to learn that Ted is moving to Chicago and hasn't told anyone besides Lily), there's a commercial break, a couple friends make big gestures and all is forgiven and everything is fine.
But again, this is the kind of thing you can get away with when you have nine seasons of character equity build up. We understand the depth of the connection these friends have with each other, and at this late point in the show's run we're willing to accept a certain amount of short-hand from characters we've grown to know so well.
And besides, the big gestures are pretty cute and character appropriate. Robin holds the arms of Lily's "Marsh-pillow" so Lily can beat it up, and Ted steals an extraordinarily expensive bottle of scotch for Barney, who notes approvingly that it could have gotten Ted thrown in jail (Barney thinks going to jail for your best friend is "living the dream").
And hey, The Mother! Cristin Milioti has integrated into the show really well, and "Bass Player Wanted" actually gives her a little plot of her own. It doesn't really add up to much; she used to be the lead singer of her band "Super Freakonomics" (she started it with a bunch of her business school friends), only to be gradually pushed out by Darren. She's trying to work up the courage to confront him, but simply can't.
This is all pretty feather-light stuff, though it gets a reasonably funny conclusion when Darren accidentally breaks the $600 bottle of scotch Ted stole for Barney (the third such bottle to get broken over the weekend) and gets punched out as a result. But Milioti does a really good, really funny job of selling the character's righteous, utterly impotent rage, and, not to overshare, I can certainly appreciate a character struggling with confrontation.
As I've written before, I'm acutely vulnerable to the "awwww...." moments, and How I Met Your Mother has always specialized in them. But it has worked for them over nine years of excellent character work and solid writing that establishes the gang as a group of people worth watching and rooting for. I'm OK with a little bit of reflection in this final season.
- I am a little worried about Ted's eventual breakdown, which we've been lead to think occurs as a result of a final, failed attempt to win Robin back. Ted and Barney share a nice moment where Barney recognizes that Ted has trouble hanging around Robin and doesn't say anything, and this season has done such a nice job exploring the bond between Robin and Barney. It would be a shame to lose some of that for the sake of cheap drama.
- Marshall realizes he's hallucinating on the walk to the inn because he saw Bigfoot smoking by the side of the road, and everyone realizes Bigfoot quit smoking years ago.
- The Mother is wearing driving gloves, which is a wonderful little callback to the first episode of the season.
- Barney just wants Marshall to be a judge so he can get all of his public urination citations dismissed. Robin seems really, really proud of all those citations.
- Milioti does a nice job selling a bit where she pretends to be a psychic who knows all of Marshall's history before revealing that she met Lily on the train.
- Barney doesn't think Chicago is a real place. It's just a style of pizza. "You can't live in a pizza, Ted!"