If there was ever a concrete example of how careless How I Met Your Mother has become over time, this week’s “Nannies” is it. Admittedly, it is definitely a step up from last week’s “Pre-Nup,” which turned Barney, Ted, and Marshall into selfish chauvinists all for the sake of three acts of I Love Lucian hijinks concluding in what could have been an otherwise heartbreaking and legitimately earned conclusion: Barney’s breakup with Quinn. None of the major characters are sacrificed to quite this degree during “Nannies,” but a secondary character is: Lily’s dad Mickey (Chris Elliott), who effectively moves into Lily’s and Marshall’s apartment after inadvertently burning down his suburban home with fireworks.
The meat of the episode focuses on Lily and Marshall seeking a nanny to watch little Marvin for Lily’s imminent return to work. Mickey offers his services, but is initially shot down due to his inattentive, self-involved nature. What follows is a Mrs. Doubtfire-reminiscent foray into the world of babysitter interviews: There are the creeps, followed by the unaffordable British superstar Mrs. Buckminster, and finally the perfect compromise: a sweet young woman from Marshall’s hometown with reasonable salary requirements. And the Barney screws it all up.
Inspired by Lily’s and Marshall’s hunt for a nanny on a specialized website, Barney poses as a single dad in order to meet and sleep with every young woman in the field, including Lily’s and Marshall’s prospective employee. Once she finds out the truth, the young woman refuses to have anything to do with any of them, leaving Lily and Marshall furious at Barney and ultimately out of luck. Barney comes to admit that his especially aggressive search for sexual partners of late is a result of his difficulty in getting over Quinn, but that it is only backfiring in making him feel even less fulfilled (and in getting him beaten and bruised by a bunch of angry young nannies).
Barney attempts to make it up to Lily and Marshall by hiring Mrs. Buckminster for them, but Lily inevitably realizes that she cannot trust her baby with any stranger. Enter the great Mickey Aldrin, who proves himself a suitable father figure by caring for Marvin — walking, feeding, and changing him, all to impressive degrees of knowhow and dedication — while Lily naps, revealing afterward that he was always a doting dad right up until she headed off to kindergarten (the same time that he consequently developed a gambling addiction).
And that’s where the carelessness of the episode comes in. Every one of How I Met Your Mother's main characters has been shown to have a complicated relationship with his or her family members. Ted and his parents barely speak, even when together. Marshall is contentious with his two brothers, in constant competition for the favor of their mother and deceased father. Barney’s affection for his mother borders on Oedipal, and Robin both hates her callous, insensitive father and strives desperately to win him over. Lily’s relationship with Mickey was always interesting, and explanatory of her character, in how sad and hopeless it was. Unlike Robin Scherbatsky Sr., Mickey was never malicious or overbearing — unlike the Mosbys, his emotional unavailability was not benign or remotely innocent. Mickey has always been shown to be an insensitive, self-absorbed jerk who neglected his daughter all throughout childhood. At least, that was until this week’s retcon.
To explain Mickey’s capabilities with young Marvin, the show reveals that he was actually a terrific father up until Lily started school and he became addicted to the racetracks in an effort to fill the void of her absence. But Mickey hasn’t earned this redemption. If he really wants to become a good father and grandfather, he should have to become a good father and grandfather, not win the privilege of a new back story that already grants him these abilities automatically. The How I Met Your Mother of yore was comfortable giving its characters fractured family lives — they all have parental issues. If the show is trying to take Lily’s away, it should work towards that end, not simply cast them off with a revelation that “Mickey was a good dad all along.”
And this is the show’s chief problem today, which separates it from its glory days — the characters suffer, and for minimal payoff. Sure, the episode ends with a sweet montage of Mickey spending time with Marvin as he grows up. But what would have been better is if we saw Mickey grow with Marvin. If he reintroduced himself into his daughter’s life as a man willing to change, and then worked toward that change. Yes, I enjoy the complicated parent/child dynamics this show has always boasted, and wouldn’t necessarily advocate the “mending” of all or any of them — as they stand, they make for honest, interesting character building. But I can appreciate the desire to redeem Mickey and to finally give Lily a healthier, happier relationship with her dad. However, this warrants its own construction overtime; Mickey is a jerk at the beginning of this episode, he can’t be a saint at the end of it. If this show is so patient when it comes to meeting the freakin’ mother, why can’t it be a little bit more patient with turning a jackass dad into a golden-hearted grandpa? And then, after this lengthy, well-written journey, we can have duly moving Mickey/Marvin montages. Maybe? Meh.
Meanwhile, Ted and Robin fight over who has the better relationship. It’s pretty uninteresting.
[Photo Credit: CBS]