How I Met Your Father Season 2 Episode 4 Review: “Pathetic Deirdre” Brings the Energy
Perspective is such a powerful tool in a sitcom writer’s belt – and it was a particular strength of How I Met Your Mother, who found incredibly creative ways to integrate this into throwaway stories, elevating slapstick, punchline-driven comedy into something a bit more formal, and inquisitive. It seems simple – people obviously view similar events differently, that’s not a mind blowing idea – but its a rather difficult thing to execute, especially for a series still establishing character traits in its main cast. In that regard, “Pathetic Deirdre” hardly ranks among the best sitcom episodes of the 21st century exploring its characters and the dichotomies in how they view the world – however, for a young comedy finding its footing heading into the grind of its sophomore season, is an extremely encouraging one.
Written by former AV Club and The Office writer Amelie Gillette, the most striking aspect of “Pathetic Deirdre” is its consistent energy across its four running plots, which range from Ellen’s Buster Keaton-esque first day at work to the more somber rift forming between Jesse and Sid over the former’s relationship with Meredith. It’s a lot for one episode to handle – but to its credit, “Pathetic Deirdre” stays rather focused on its core idea, even when it comes to seemingly tossed off plots like Charlie’s lame attempts to imitate Derek Jeter.
The A plot is the clearest dissolution of this, of course: depressed about their current state of affairs, Sophie and Valerie decide its time to invite a friend to brunch… the kind that, you know, make you feel better about your own failures. Deirdre (of Hoboken) was that person for HIMYF‘s central besties – but as the episode begins to lay out, those dynamics change over time, especially after you turn 30. After 30, every failure of the self becomes magnified in concert with the achievements of others – and when your life feels like shit, the sheen everyone else puts on their lives in social/professional settings can be overwhelming.
How it sets the table for the rest of the episode’s stories is entertaining enough – the ‘revealing’ second cutaway to their Pathetic Deirdre brunches was a particular highlight, with Sophie and Val incredibly hungover at each one, which of course they did not remember – but what I really like about this story, and this second season so far, is how it is building interesting flaws into our protagonist. Sophie as a slightly unreliable narrator is already a treat for the series to deliver on; Sophie as someone who is slightly older, a little less self aware, and a little mean, makes for a really interested, complicated character for future episodes to continue unpacking. There are more shades to Sophie than season one let on, and how season two’s developed that – through both the performances of Duff and Cattrall, tethering them across generations in a way HIMYM never had to – has made for a more interesting core to the series.
I also really like how these ideas of perspective are filtered through “Pathetic Deirdre” in Jesse’s plot. Look – HIMYF is not doing itself any favors trying to make Meredith/Jesse a convincing couple, especially as we’ve watched Jesse eat shit over and over to make her happy. More than a conflict of friendship for Sid and Jesse, their interactions this episode draw out the contrast of what people feel in a relationship, and how different that can look from the outside. Couples can be happy, miserable, or some strange combination of both – there is a performative nature to all relationships in that way, even if it doesn’t manifest in Meredith’s narcissistic attempts at making a video about their reconciliation to propel her new tour (which Jesse embarks on at the end of the episode, after telling off Sid for his comments about Meredith’s “main character” complex).
The rest of “Pathetic Deirdre” funnels these ideas into much lighter, comedic scenarios: though I’m sure audiences will vary on how much they enjoy Ellen and Charlie’s misadventures in this episode – but I think they are both funny, which is all they really need to be here. I lamented last week we hadn’t spent any time digging into Ellen’s time at Goliath – turns out she hadn’t started yet, and has a hell of a commute trying to get to her first meeting.
It can’t be understated how well-calibrated this story is; Ellen’s been a bit of a cypher when included with the other members of the group, her stories clearly less of a priority for the writer’s room. Her high-energy behavior is perhaps the most unique of the group – and for the first time, “Pathetic Deirdre” really leans into Tien Tran’s performance, offering plenty of runaway to display her physical comedic skills, and finally find a worthy vector for her performance. Sure, I would like HIMYF to spend some time digging into Ellen as a divorcee and a farmer – but for an episode with plenty on its mind elsewhere, the room it affords Ellen to provide some high-octane comedic relief is welcome.
(Let’s be honest – Charlie’s plot is mostly just an extended riff on decades-old rumors about Derek Jeter… while it is thoroughly pointless for his character, it is important to HIMYF in further establishing its NYC setting, something that’s been a bit hit or miss in this sequel series).
As Future Sophie cackles, Ellen falls through the Goliath air vents, and Jesse angrily storms out of the iconic sword-laden apartment, one can almost feel How I Met Your Father finding its rhythm, setting a pace and tone more suited for a standard sitcom season episode order. It’s still a little rough around the edges, of course – but the growing sense of specificity with characters, as well as the show’s willingness to highlight them in life situations outside of the core friend group, are important signifiers for a series starting to Figure It Out. With future plot teases and cameos still to come, laying this groundwork now is important; time will tell whether HIMYF will sticking the landing, but it’s certainly taking big strides in the right direction with episodes like “Pathetic Deirdre”.