Saturday, October 24, 2015

In Pursuit of the Slutty Pumpkin

Robin (Cobie Smulders): How do you do this, Ted? How do you sit out here all night, in the cold, and still have faith that your pumpkin's going to show up?

Ted (Josh Radnor): Well, I'm pretty drunk. Look I know the odds are, the love of my life isn't going to magically walk through that door in a pumpkin costume at 2:43 in the morning. But it just seems as nice a spot as any to just ... you know, sit and wait.

When I was a boy, I loved the seasonal TV specials that were based on the "Peanuts" comic strip. I didn't see any of them until my parents bought our first TV when I was in first grade, but they were shown every year so, by the time I was in third or fourth grade, I was pretty familiar with each one and was starting to form opinions about my favorite parts.

My mother told me that the first time I saw "It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown," I cried because I felt so sorry for Linus having to spend a cold late fall night waiting in the pumpkin patch for a Great Pumpkin who never came.

I couldn't help thinking about that when I saw the episode of How I Met Your Mother that aired for the first time a decade ago tonight. It was called "The Slutty Pumpkin," and ever since I first saw it in reruns, I have regarded it as an "It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown" for adults.

As if the title of the episode didn't kinda give that one away.

Like Linus, Ted (Josh Radnor) spent every Halloween waiting for someone who never came. In Ted's case, it was the Slutty Pumpkin. That was the name he had given to a girl wearing a pumpkin costume at a party he once attended. She wrote her number on a candy wrapper, but it was misplaced and Ted never got in touch with her again.

So every year he went to the same rooftop party, hoping she would show up. Alas, she never did.

Well, at one point, he thought he had found her again. She was dressed as a penguin — the audience learned earlier that the Slutty Pumpkin had studied penguins for a year — and was mixing her trademark cocktail, Kahlúa and root beer. But it turned out to be Barney (Neil Patrick Harris), who made it a habit to bring at least one spare costume to Halloween parties so he could get a second chance to make a first impression if he struck out in his initial attempt to bed the hottest girl at the party.

Anyway, Ted went to the same rooftop party and waited after everyone else had gone, hoping to see the Slutty Pumpkin.

Robin (Cobie Smulders), who had just been dumped by the guy she had been seeing for a couple of weeks, came up to the roof and found him there. And they empathized with each other's struggles to find love.

It was probably one of the first times that the audience got a glimpse into what made Ted tick — and it helped the audience understand why Ted was so resilient, why he never gave up.

His expectations often seemed hopelessly unrealistic, and his remedies for the unpleasant circumstances his own choices frequently spawned often seemed futile.

At heart, he was a romantic. I guess Linus was, too, for that matter.

It also gave the audience an insight into Robin's character. Her "boyfriend" kept trying to do boyfriend–girlfriend stuff with her, but she resisted. At one point, Lily (Alyson Hannigan) encouraged her to "put on the girlfriend costume for one night," but it just wasn't her style — and the guy figured it out.

After he broke up with her, Robin summed it up neatly for Lily and Marshall (Jason Segel): "He wanted to be a 'we,' and I wanted to be an 'I.'"

As the series evolved, the audience understood that Robin put her career ahead of anything else, including personal relationships.

She told Ted she wanted to be in love, but she wondered if maybe she was wired wrong. He assured her that there was nothing wrong with her.

And that isn't a bad message to send to people — that there is no one–size–fits–all approach to finding one's soulmate (and some folks never do), no single path to take. It's a trail each person must blaze for himself/herself.

For Ted, it was about spending every Halloween at a rooftop party hoping to see a girl he met briefly years before.

And faith.