When ‘How I Met Your Mother’ Got Ambitious with Form

‘Genie in a Bottle’ is a recurring feature where each week a different bottle episode (an episode set entirely in one location, often designed to save money) from a comedy series is examined

“Give it a rest, Ted.”

“Give what a rest?”

“Trying to turn this night into anything more than what it is, which is New Year’s Eve, which is the single biggest letdown of a night every single year.”

“Come on, come on, we can still turn this thing around. We’ve still got ten minutes.”

“Stop trying to chase down some magical, perfect New Years, Ted. It doesn’t exist.”

The public has largely turned their backs on three-camera sitcoms with laugh tracks. The former mainstay have becoming a dying breed, and as the format began to wind down, How I Met Your Mother was one of the few shows that still managed to triumph in the format and rise above it. Whether you were a fan of the CBS heavy hitter or not, there’s no denying that it challenged the medium more than the other content on the network.

Interestingly enough, How I Met Your Mother would experiment with format and structure endlessly (with a rhyming episode, dalliances with alternate timelines and chronology, and anthology installments being just some of what they attempted) and unconventional storytelling almost became a staple of the show. With the series taking such creative leaps, a bottle episode hardly seems like one of the wilder things that the show attempted. That being said, it was still a device that the series surprisingly didn’t resort to often, and with the show turning to this one in its first season, the series’ voice was hardly developed yet and the show was still figuring out what it was. While something like this might not have seemed like the hugest deal by the end of the show’s nine-year run (where their final season even operated as a “bottle season” so to speak), when it initially happened it was one of the show’s first inventive boons.

“The Limo” was one of the first distinctly creative installments that the show produced, and it’s used as a major stepping stone (“Major Stepping Stone”; salutes) in Ted and Robin’s relationship as they kiss in this episode. Their relationship becomes such a lynchpin to the show that it makes sense to choose this instance to start getting ambitious.

How I Met Your Mother is also a show that would make such a big deal out of events and holidays, so to do something like a bottle episode for the first New Years feels appropriate. Granted, Halloween and Thanksgiving are significant holidays that came earlier in the show’s first season, but New Year’s Eve is such an introspective time when you’re meant to reflect on what you’ve done and where you’re headed. So to be confined with your closest friends as you go through this experience seems pretty appropriate.

The exchange between Ted and Barney that is quoted at the top is also emblematic of Ted and the series as a whole, as they both continually display these grandiose gestures and moments as Ted searches for the perfect woman. You could even skew the entry’s bottle episode presentation style into more of Ted’s hyperbolized nature as he presents these stories in romanticized ways. If he’s flourishing up the story, then shouldn’t the medium itself be doing the same?

“The Limo” might not end up being an absolute triumph of a bottle episode and the best example of one, but that’s not to say that this episode does anything wrong. The episode just falls under the weight of How I Met Your Mother’s loftier efforts. If anything, the episode really excels at its humbling, honest look at New Year’s Eve and the proportions that it is blown up to. For a show that’s so focused on togetherness and coupling, for it to have this perspective on a holiday that largely can gravitate towards hooking up is significant. For an episode that’s all about having the greatest New Years ever and going to all of these amazing parties, we’re left with seeing this group of friends merely in the transportation the entire time. We don’t get to experience the glamor of New Years, but rather the minutiae and deleted scenes of it all, with the bottle episode being a clever way to highlight that.

The episode also functions well as a reasonably realistic depiction of how a New Year’s Eve, or really any night of partying can go. As the episode progresses and we hop from party to party, we see members of the limo come and go throughout, with the passengers and combinations ever changing. It’s like you’re the one burdened with paying for the limo so you can’t leave the thing and just get to watch as people enter and leave.

And while we’re talking about the roving guests that fill up this New Years limo, it’s worth getting into what a technical triumph this episode also happens to be. Director of photography, Chris La Fountaine, won an Emmy for multi-camera cinematography for this episode and it’s easy to see why. A real meal is made out of the manipulation of such a small space for twenty minutes. Looking at what La Fountaine does here with the camera versus what Seinfeld did with the pieces of their episode “The Limo” that were also set inside of one, you can see how inventive he gets. Not to mention other sequences in the episode are just glorious visuals to take in, like Marshall’s triumphant return in the nick of time as he charges through the fog set to Bon Jovi’s “You Give Love A Bad Name.” Every frame of this episode is doing something interesting and at no point does the fact that you’re contained to a limo through it all even feel restricting.

It’s also one of very few episodes that doesn’t have the gang in Ted’s apartment or McLaren’s pub. It feels significant that the bottle ep is used in a foreign location rather than one of their much more available mainstays, removing the gang from their familiar settings. But it’s ventures out of your comfort zone that force you to keep returning there, and after How I Met Your Mother pulled this one off so well there was no turning back from risk taking.

Cue the “Psych Up Mix.”

When ‘How I Met Your Mother’ Got Ambitious with Form