After the sudden death of Marshall’s (Jason Segel) father on the most recent “How I Met Your Mother,” the series picks things back up at his Minnesota funeral, with the gang struggling to help their friend cope.
“It started form a place of real sadness,” series co-creator Carter Bays tells Zap2it. “It’s especially hard because Bill Fagerbakke (Marvin Eriksen Sr.) was there at the table read. You just killed off his character and here he is sitting with you. We address it in the episode with laughter.”
“HIMYM” does end up compensating for tragedy with a surprising amount of humor. Lily’s (Alyson Hannigan) attempts at comforting her resentful mother-in-law, Robin’s (Cobie Smulders) Mary Poppins bag of grief accessories (cigarettes, booze, DVDs, phone chargers…) and the series’ hilarious presentation of Midwestern ritual all successfully lighten the mood.
But they never forget why they took the story here. “Shows like ‘Family Ties’ and ‘Cheers,’ the shows we loved, were shows that were funny 90 percent of time time,” Bays says of himself and co-creator Craig Thomas, who wrote the episode together. “But their humor came from characters and your love of the characters as an audience member. So that 10 percent when they weren’t funny, it meant that much more to you.”
The success of the somber portion of the episode owes a lot of credit to Jason Segel, who gives about as heartfelt of a performance as we can recall from his largely comedic career.
Marshall’s grief is compounded by the fact that the funeral service — given by his high-school bully-turned-minster (Danny Strong) — demands each member of his immediate family share their final exchange with the deceased patriarch.
He runs through his the last words he remembers hearing from his father, but they’re limited to a plea for leftovers, an ethnic slur and an endorsement of “Crocodile Dundee 3.” He receives glimmer of hope in the form of an unchecked voicemail, but after spending most of the episode agonizing over what it might include, he finds a static-filled recording pocket dial.
In that epic moment of rage at his loss, Marshall yells at god — which would be cliche if it weren’t so realistic — before three minutes of shuffling pants sound effects on the voicemail stop and his father’s voice starts to speak. He tells Marshall how much he enjoyed his visit to New York and that he loves him… and that he has foot fungus.
Choosing to save that revelation for himself and his best friends, Marshall concludes his father’s eulogy by making his father’s recommendation of “Crocodile Dundee 3” public.
“I think we struck a good balance of finding humor,” says Bays, who made a special point of noting that the series’ fondness of Fagerbakke means that Marshall’s father will live on in flashbacks. “We’ll be able to bring Bill back. This won’t be the last time we see him on the show.”
But for now, it looks like they can turn their attention on another father. After a montage of the gang calling their own dads, we end it on Barney (Neil Patrick Harris) ringing up his mother, saying he’s ready to know the father he’s never met.