How I Met Your Father Season 2 Episode 6 Review: “Universal Therapy” Is On the Right Track
After stumbling a bit out of the gate, How I Met Your Father‘s sophomore effort has recovered quite gracefully in recent weeks, as it begins to embrace the idiosyncrasies of its main characters and integrates them a little more into the show’s formal structure. That trend thankfully continues with “Universal Therapy”, arguably the single funniest episode of the series so far – though, considering it is an episode about magic sex necklaces and Judge Judy-themed wine, may not be a huge surprise.
The real highlight of “Universal Therapy” – outside of finally finding a way to integrate Ellen’s story into an A plot – is the obvious chemistry developing among the cast. Though we’re a quarter of the way through season two, the traditional sitcom trajectory means we’re really just heading into the final stretch of season one; and one can feel that development amongst the cast in this episode: the comedic timing is sharper, and the energy between actors in scenes feels shared and developed, which is something all young comedies struggle to find.
A simple conceit really helps; “Universal Therapy” takes its name from Ellen’s therapy sessions, which have quickly turned her into a proxy for the problems of her friends. Those problems run the gamut from understandable (Valentina again dealing with her abusive workplace) to utterly ridiculous (Sophie’s short relationship with Oscar), all threaded together by Ellen’s empathy, willing to sacrifice her personal development to help her friends, and brother, when they’re in need.
With a script credited to Christopher Encell (bouncing back, after writing season one’s dreadful “The Good Mom”), “Universal Therapy” strikes a difficult balance between being either too dense or too weightless; at first glance, putting Jesse’s depressing temp career next to Sid and Charlie’s attempts to market and sell 10 cases of mint rosé seems antithetical to making How I Met Your Father work. And yet – they are both stories about dudes scrambling for a solution, able to rely on established characteristics of its main characters (Sid’s optimism, Charlie’s gullibility, Jesse’s evaporated self-esteem) as the episode puts them through varying degrees of the emotional pressure cooker.
As the episode continues to layer other stories around Ellen, one can feel “Universal Therapy” find its rhythm – which allows a ridiculous story like Sophie’s sex necklace to really find its groove as the kind of weird, hilarious one-off stories (the kind I think people forgot was really what made How I Met Your Mother such a reliable series). These stories are not always going to work; Oscar wearing an enormous necklace of his mother’s ashes that may or may not have sexual powers falls neatly into the W column, however, a bit of Freudian mysticism that only adds to the HIMYF‘s attempts to build out a world of abundant, strange possibilities for its main characters.
Now, this doesn’t make “Universal Therapy” a particularly satisfying episode narratively; but a lighter touch of overarching narrative is turning out to be a good thing for HIMYF, allowing itself to exist outside the pressures of satisfying expectations, or being appropriately dramatic (or romantic) enough to intrigue audiences with its big ‘mystery’. Focusing instead on details like Charlie wishing he was in a “triumvirate” with Judge Judy and Sid, or bits like Sophie’s four hot dog dinner and Jesse’s (somewhat selfish) appreciation for teaching only enrich HIMYF as a series about characters finding their place in the world (again, one of the real reasons why HIMYM remains such an iconic sitcom about identity).
One could argue the episode never really justifies why future Sophie is telling her son about the dead mom sex necklace, especially as a reflection on how people in 2023 are dealing with the cost of healthcare (which is where the episode begins, with the only real groan-worthy punchline of the episode, in the form of “President Ariana Grande”). But as an episode exploring how important a little bit of emotional dependence between friends can be (until it becomes overwhelming, of course), “Universal Therapy” is a lot more rewarding, an important piece of the puzzle for a young comedy stepping into its true voice.
- “Universal Therapy” is the first episode this season not directed by Pamela Fryman; at the helm is Michael Shea, who has served as an assistant director on a number of notable series (How I Met Your Mother, Abby’s, That 90’s Show, One Day at a Time, the new Night Court – the man stays busy!).
- Stanley Tucci’s Two-Cheese Ravioli > Judy Juice, any day.
- If Drew is just going to be part of the recurring cast, I will be very happy. Always enjoyed his character in season one, as a more calming counterpart to some of the core cast’s chaotic delivery.
- Ellen’s therapist is played by Rose Abdoo, most recently seen on the recently-cancelled Reboot (which I’m still mad about!).
- Jesse, trying to get into the world of fashion: “Apparently they’re too haight and barely couture… are those words?”
- “I got a job with vacation day!” is such a great line, the kind of subtle reflection on 2023 I wish HIYMF (and more sitcoms in general) offered.
- Jesse’s “helpful” story about his girlfriend’s earrings
- Sophie’s confusion between health insurance and a TV warranty is my favorite throwaway joke of the entire season. Drew’s inability to solve a Rubik’s Cube is also high on the list.
- “You wonder why you don’t have any regulars?” Hey, look at Pemberton’s getting a little bit of personality. You love to see it.