Sunday, February 05, 2017

Enjoying the Ride on Super Monday

The late great George Carlin observed that a good joke needs at least one element that is way out of proportion. That is what makes it funny — even if the topic itself is not necessarily funny.

Let me back up just a bit.

The premise of the episode of How I Met Your Mother that first aired on this night 10 years ago was pretty basic.

The biggest sports event of the year — the Super Bowl — was about to be played (coincidentally, this year's Super Bowl is being played on the same date — in 2007, when this episode was first shown, this was the day after the Super Bowl). It was Ted's favorite day of the year, and he had everything planned for a memorable Super Bowl party for the gang. But fate intervened. A worker at the bar where the show's regulars frequently gathered had died. No one could remember who the now deceased worker was, but they were more or less coerced into attending his funeral.

The funeral happened to take place at precisely the time when the Super Bowl was to begin. This is where I ran into a conflict.

I am a lifelong football fan and a veteran of newspaper sports copy desks so I know a few things about the history of the Super Bowl.

There was a time when the Super Bowl was played during the afternoon, as most regular–season games are, but for more than 30 years it has been played in prime time with a kickoff around 5:30 p.m. (Central — that is the time zone in which I live).

And, while some NFL playoff games are held on Saturdays, the Super Bowl is always played on a Sunday. There have been 50 other Super Bowls, and they have all been played on Sundays.

There are no other football games being played; in fact, there is rarely much of anything else going on that day. The game has the stage all to itself.

So, putting those facts together, we can deduce that the funeral was taking place at 6:30 p.m. (Eastern — that is the time zone in which How I Met Your Mother was set) on a Sunday.

When I first saw this episode, that was the part that was the wild exaggeration — for me (even though I knew — and should have remembered that I knew — better).

I grew up in the South, as I have observed here before, and I cannot remember a single time when a funeral in my small hometown was scheduled to take place on a Sunday. I guess I always assumed that Sunday was reserved for regular church services — and special services for religious days like Christmas and Easter — and funeral organizers, being aware of this, work around it.

But when you grow up in the American South, you tend to see things from more of a Christian–centric perspective than folks do in any other region of the country. I knew when I was growing up that there are other faiths beside my own or, at least, the one that guides my life.

My father was a religion professor, and he made it a point to expose my brother and me to other faiths, other denominations, other ways of worship — most, if not all, were in the state's capitol city about 30 miles from us, and my father knew all the congregational leaders through his work. And I learned early on — when I had to put on my suit to attend a service while my friends were playing pickup football or baseball games — that Sunday is not the day of rest and worship for everyone.

But I suppose I just always thought that, even if a faith observed a different sabbath day than mine did, it would acquiesce when it came to scheduling events like funerals.

I have also learned that there are some places where funerals of all kinds do take place on Sundays. Even Christian funeral services. Funerals in those churches are held on Sunday afternoons or evenings. Mornings are still reserved for worship services but when necessary those church staffs can convert a sanctuary from the joy of the morning worship service to the usually somber atmosphere of a funeral.

For that matter, Catholic parishes often hold wakes for the deceased on Sundays, but they usually do not, as I understand it, hold funeral masses on Sundays.

Anyway, I can kind of imagine how the conversation went when the writers for How I Met Your Mother were working out the details on this one. Take a big event, one that you would typically share with the people to whom you are closest and throw a wrench into your plans. The wrench that was chosen was a funeral.

As a child, I would have found the idea of a Sunday funeral totally implausible. (I would have been more likely to believe a plot based on the story of the Pied Piper. Speaking of which, I had heard "Music has charms to soothe the savage beast" all my life, and I had seen film clips of Indian snake charmers, but Sunday funerals were new to me.) But as an adult I learned that some funerals are held on Sundays in some places and in some faiths.

So that element of the plot wasn't as off the wall as I certainly would have thought if I had seen it as a teenager. Even so, I felt a certain resistance to the concept of funerals on Sundays when I did see the episode, and I had to remind myself then — and have had to do every time I have seen it since — that funerals sometimes are held on Sundays.

Things at the funeral seemed to be moving right along, and the gang estimated that they could be home in time to catch the end of the game, but the post–funeral gathering went on for hours. Ted (Josh Radnor) insisted that they make a pact that they would avoid hearing the score all day Monday, then gather to watch a recording of the game together 24 hours after the fact.

He acknowledged that it wouldn't be easy to avoid hearing who won, but it was a sacrifice they had to make. They all reluctantly agreed.

It turned out to be extremely challenging to live up to Ted's "media blackout." For his part, Ted tried to work from home to avoid any unwanted input.

"The media blackout was particularly hard on Robin (Cobie Smulders)," the older Ted reminisced, "because, well, she was the media." She kept trying to keep the sports anchor from doing his report on the air.

Marshall (Jason Segel) was at Lily's kindergarten class for show and tell. Marshall had promised Lily (Alyson Hannigan) he would do it several weeks earlier; now he was hanging out at the school in his attempt to avoid finding out who won — but one of the students blackmailed him, threatening to spill the beans unless paid off.

Meanwhile, Ted had to go out to pick up some hot wings at a sports bar. The wings were a tradition for the gang's Super Bowl parties, but Ted had to construct a device that would enable him to avoid seeing any coverage of the Super Bowl on the TVs that were everywhere in the sports bar. He called his device the Sensory Deprivator 5000.

Ted had handcuffed gambling addict Barney (Neil Patrick Harris) to the radiator while he went to get the wings, but Barney escaped — and went looking for someone who could tell him who won the game so he would know if he won his bet. But Barney couldn't find anyone who had watched the game or kept up with sports. Then he bumped into Emmitt Smith (yes, that Emmitt Smith). Surely he would learn who won the game from Emmitt.

But Emmitt didn't know. He claimed he had forgotten the game was being played.

"You know, when you've won two or three of those things, it's kind of like, 'eh,'" he said.

When they all gathered that evening, it turned out that they had all learned the outcome earlier in the day. At first Ted didn't want to watch the recording. But they had beer and wings, and they decided to go ahead and have their Super Bowl party a day late anyway.

"As unforgettable as that Super Bowl was," the older Ted said, "here it is 23 years later, and I don't remember who won. Hell, I don't even remember who played. What I do remember is that we drank beer, we ate wings, and we watched the Super Bowl together.

"Because sometimes, even if you know how something's gonna end, that doesn't mean you can't enjoy the ride."