First, allow me to congratulate myself for catching on to the numbers gimmick immediately. This is no small accomplishment, considering my tendency toward distraction and the puny dimensions of my TV. But I caught the number on the doctor’s pamphlet changing from 50 to 49 and paid strict attention the rest of the way. (I still missed a large string, because I didn’t notice the winning lotto numbers.)
For the first, say, twenty-nine minutes and thirty seconds, the numbers added a fun little dimension to a pretty good episode. I really enjoyed NPH as a bearded doctor, especially as it brought back the Sensory-Deprivator 5000, to allow Lily to see Barney and the gyno at the same time without Barney seeing anything.
Robin’s new job is building slowly as a comedic arc, but I couldn’t help but laugh at the highlight reel of all her pratfalls and missteps. I don’t know how much time we’ll spend with Robin’s co-workers, but it was funny to have them learn everything about her so quickly when it took Barney and the gang years.
But of course, how you feel about this episode ultimately comes down to what you think about the last second revelation of the death of Marshall’s dad, and what that revelation made you think of the numbered countdown that led up to it. I must confess that after my initial reaction of being impressed by the acting of both Segel and Hannigan (when she stepped out of the cab she looked so distraught I thought one of her parents had died) was anger at the manner in which the gimmick was used. It felt discordant and misplaced, especially as they were clearly having fun with working the numbers into the sets (such as the 9 being an upside-down 6, or the high-five counting as the 5.)
I can’t, obviously, state for certain what the show was trying to do with the numbers. Upon reflection, I think they were trying to heighten the blow of the last minute revelation. It’s kind of like in a snowball fight when someone throws a snowball high up in the air and then hits you in the face with another one. The blow hurts all the more because you were distracted.
The numbers, then, become the show’s attempt to recreate Marshall’s shock in the audience. Here Marshall is, he’s still young and having fun, even if he is worried about having a kid. This news comes up out of nowhere for him, just like it does for us, and just like it very often does in real life. Marshall, especially after receiving great news about his and Lily’s fertility, expects the good times to continue. The audience has expectations based on the fact that the show is a comedy, in addition to the buildup of the countdown. Both are sucker punched by reality, which is often just as unwelcome on television as it is in real life.
Still, though, the episode gets a grade of incomplete for now. The true test is in how it handles this development going forward. Marshall can’t just move on from this in a week, and the audience wouldn’t respect it if he did. Allowing the characters to deal with this blow, while also wringing some appropriate humor out of these next few episodes, seems a daunting task to me. I hope the show is up to it.