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Tuesday, April 1, 2014

How I Met A Woman I Spent Some Time With While Waiting To Be With My True Love 9x23: Last Forever


Quick Note: this review is a bit more blue than my usual fare - anger brings out the cussing in me. So apologies if you're easily offended by such things. 

I honestly considered just titling this post, then typing "Fuck you, HIMYM. Fuck you" in the body and leaving it at that. But I figured I might owe everyone a bit more than that, and that writing about this colossal failure of a finale, and a series, might help me process the complex emotions (well, mostly rage, deep, abiding rage) that I'm feeling in its wake.

To be clear, there were things about this episode I liked, in a vacuum. The idea of moving forward in time, of showing us what happens to the characters after the "present day" storyline, is appreciated. It's the sort of thing I wish more shows did (yes, I know, it's more artistically sound to not reveal too much and let the audience pick our own endings for characters, but I hate that crap. I don't care what *I* think happened after the curtain went down, I care what *actually* happened, according to the people responsible for crafting the story). We've joked around here in previous weeks about the idea of Barney and Robin getting divorced in the future, and it certainly makes sense, given what a complete trainwreck their relationship is. The idea that it takes having a daughter to get Barney to settle down and grow up isn't a bad one (and holy crap, NPH sold the hell out of that scene. I almost teared up and I don't even have a kid, and that's on top of the idea being terribly cliche).

And that scene between Ted and Tracy on the train platform, the titular meeting to which we've been building, was fantastic. It was all I could have hoped for: charming, funny, sincere, wonderful chemistry between the two, the characters acknowledged the unknowing intersections their lives had made without hanging too bright a lantern on the whole destiny thing. If the show had ended there, with one last line from SagetTed saying "and that, kids, is how I met your mother" I'd have been (mostly) happy.

But that's not how it ended, and those things I liked didn't occur in a vacuum.

Instead of cramming all this future stuff into one episode, why not dole it over the course of this season? Instead of spending more time with Ted and Tracy, showing us that this is the love of Ted's life instead of just telling us, we got egg cookoffs and crazy Anna Camp. Revealing that Robin and Barney eventually got divorced makes logical sense, but only because they never should have been together in the first place. It's also a gigantic "fuck you" to anyone who happened to be invested in their relationship, and to everyone who watched final season, an entire season built around a wedding that was rendered moot within fifteen minutes of the final episode. Bays and Thomas spent literally years trying to get us to root for Robin and Barney as a couple, then they blew it up in the space of a few commercial breaks. Why bother in the first place?

Barney finally growing up when he meets his daughter is a great moment, except for the fact that it completely wipes out entire SEASONS worth of character development that showed us he was, in fact, supposed to be growing up already, and renders the final season even more pointless. Thought you'd been watching the gradual progression of Barney from man child to responsible adult, capped off by his marriage to the love of his life? Haha, fooled you sucker! 

And that final, wonderful scene between Ted and Tracy is completely undermined seconds later, when we learn that Tracy has been dead for six years and Ted has been telling this story to his kids in order to ease them into the idea of him getting together with their "Aunt Robin", because it turns out, yeah, this whole story has been about Robin, after all. Despite the title, despite all the talk of fate and destiny and having to suffer through the journey, it turns out Ted met his true love in that pilot episode after all.

I get that the idea is supposed to be that Ted met Tracy, fell in love, had some kids, got married, and lived a good but too short life with her before she died. Now, six years later, he's moving on. And, again, in a vacuum, that's fine. Not every story ends happily, not even this one. Marriages end all the time, either by death or divorce, and the end of that marriage doesn't mean there wasn't ever genuine love there. And there's nothing that says that when you lose one love, you can't find another.

But that's not the narrative we're presented with here. We're told that Tracy is the love of Ted's life, the woman to whom his meeting was the culmination of everything he went through in the eight years leading up to it, but, a few all-too-brief snippets aside, we're never shown that. We're told that Tracy has been dead six years before Ted starts creeping around Robin again, but for us, she'd been dead six fucking seconds when the kids started yucking it up about their dad wanting to bang their aunt. And then within minutes, there's Ted, standing outside Robin's apartment, holding up that goddamned blue french horn that he apparently stashed away in his basement whilst raising his children with his "true love", and we're supposed to be all, "oh, isn't that cute".

It's not cute, Bays and Thomas. It's wrong. It's bad writing, plain and simple, an ending to a different story than the one you were telling. It's a complete and utter betrayal of your show. This is a story, we were told, implicitly and explicitly, that was about the trials and tribulations Ted experienced, the journey he had to go on, in order to find his true love. I will allow that the story didn't need to have a happy ending (that too would have felt like a betrayal, but more a tonal betrayal than a complete one), but it needed to end with the completion of that journey, with a rain-splattered meeting on a Farhampton train station, with the assertion that the woman he met there was, indeed, his true love.

Instead, it ended by going full circle, back to where it started. Someone, I'm sure, thinks that's cute and clever, but it's not. Because that's not how the story they were supposed to be telling, the story we were told they were telling, needs to end.

They may as well have just dropped the "Aunt Robin" line from the first episode and ended it there, saving us all a lot of fucking time.

Other Thoughts
If you had told me a few weeks ago that in the finale, the Mother dies but that wouldn't be the thing that made me the most angry about it, I'd have called you a liar. 

Even moreso than the complete betrayal of the series, I think the thing that angers me the most about this episode was the complete marginalization of Tracy, a character who, in her brief time, was utterly delightful and had wonderful chemistry with the entire cast. As I watched it, I quibbled with the idea that her and Ted's wedding, as impromptu as it may have been, didn't involve any of her own friends and family. In hindsight, I realize that's because she was never an actual character, she was little more than an elaborate bit of well-cast and well-acted misdirection, no better or different than Victoria, Stella, Zoey or the countless other women who weren't Robin that Ted met between the start of the series and the Farhampton train station. She didn't even get a death scene. She deserved better.

To be clear, this ending isn't a surprise. I'm not mad because I'm surprised, and the only shocking thing about it is that two professional writers thought it was a good idea. The notion that this was all a story intended to ease the kids into the idea of Ted being with Aunt Robin had been bandied about for years prior to this episode. I'm just shocked and angry they actually went through with it, because it's a dumb idea on multiple levels. It's basically the equivalent of if Lost ended by saying "yeah, they were dead all along, since the plane crash in episode 1, just like everyone thought back in the day."

It's been known for some time that the final scene involving the kids was filmed years ago, around the end of the show's first season. Of course, that doesn't mean they had to use the ending, and it certainly doesn't mean they needed to cut in a laugh track over it, like it's a big fucking joke that their mother is dead and their dad wants to bang another woman. Again, I get it that to them, Mom has been dead for years, but to us, she's been dead six goddamned seconds.

Basically, Bays and Thomas came up with an ending for the series at the end of season one (when Ted and Robin had only ridden their merry-go-round a few times), and then were faced with two choices: either make sure their story moving forward would continue to fit with the ending they'd devised, or let the narrative go where it may, and then adjust the ending accordingly when it came time to reveal it. They chose to do neither. Which, again, is just bad writing.

I really can't fathom how a series that was so good in terms of attention to detail in crafting a long running narrative could go out like this. I mean, in this episode there was a moment at the bar on the day of Ted and Tracy's wedding that went completely unremarked upon: Marshall sliding cash over to Lily, payment for losing the long ago bet that Ted would end up with Robin (the idea being that with Ted and Tracy about to get married, Marshall was willing to finally concede his loss). How the hell can a show that keeps track of that kind of stuff so well and makes a point to pay it off (the Lost guys never, ever, would have bothered with something like that) be so wrongheaded when it comes to the ending of their story? 

So what was the goddamn point of the "letting go of Robin" episode this season and that terribly cheesy effect of her floating away, since Ted ended up with her anyway? After all, he didn't let her go, he just, I dunno, shoved her in a closet for awhile until he got the kids he wanted and his schedule cleared up.

This episode also continues the show's somewhat problematic outlook on the importance of having kids. After all, it takes having a child for Barney to finally settle down. Maybe if Robin wanted/could have had kids, she and Barney never would have split up. Also, if she had wanted kids, she and Ted never would have split up at the end of season two, which just further marginalizes Tracy as a character. They should have called this show How I Met My Brood Mare.

This whole "haha you want to bang Aunt Robin" thing is supposed to explain why Ted spent so much time on a story ostensibly about meeting the Mother on Robin, yet at the same time, it doesn't really explain why, if Tracy has been dead for six years, he's using the story of their meeting as the method to broach the subject of getting back together with Robin. I mean, in all that time, even while she was dying, the kids never asked/they never told them how they met?   

I've often compared this show to Lost (and I'm certainly not alone in that regard), as it is setup a bit like a sitcom version of that show. To be clear, I liked the Lost finale way, way more than this. My ongoing problem with Lost is the way it left several narratives dangling, unresolved, in clear violation of the implicit promise of any mystery and the explicit insistence from Cuse and Lindelof that there was a plan in place to resolve them, but it was clear that was going to be the case well before the finale (which was a perfectly fine episode in and of itself) aired. In other words, it was clear Lost wasn't going to end well before the finale aired, as opposed to HIMYM, where a decent finale could have salvaged an uneven final season but instead it completely betrayed the entire series.

After fridging the Mother, the thing that bothers me the most about this episode: it's completely obliterated any desire I have to ever watch an episode of this show again (because all the character development it contains is wiped out by the finale). And I'm sure as hell not watching these hacks' spinoff series. 

15 comments:

  1. Here's what I wrote pretty much directly after the I saw the finale. (I was hot.) Admittedly, this will cover some ground you already have:

    You know, this episode had some good moments but most of it was clouded by an ominous, dark cloud that appeared as soon as I realized Barney and Robin were getting divorced. (I’d also be curious to listen again to what future Ted said about their marriage at the end of the wedding episode.) As much as I wanted to enjoy any particular scene I was too preoccupied with idea that the show might actually do the unthinkable. And they did.

    At the end of episode I thought to myself, “Well, they pulled off this idea about as well as could be expected.” Which is pretty much like saying, “At least the bullet didn’t any vital organs. I have another kidney anyway.” Because no matter how well you pull it off it was based on the foundation of a terrible, terrible idea. You can’t make lemonade out of crap…or something.

    Also, as touching as the scene with Barney and his daughter was the end result was mixed for me. I couldn’t get over the fact Barney’s love for Robin couldn’t make him change his ways but a baby, the one thing Robin couldn’t give him, did. I’m not in favor of getting offended for other people but I do wonder how people who actually can’t have their own biological children think of that. (Not to mention the original reason Robin and Ted aren’t together is because Robin didn’t want kids so Ted basically knocks up some other women and then gets back together with Robin.)

    There have been some bad finales before some people blame this on a lack of planning by the writers. This is actually the opposite for How I Met Your Mother because the kids’ reactions were filmed a long time ago. So, in theory, they had planned this out very early on and were hamstrung after Season 2 because the kids would soon be too old to film any changes.

    I’m in favor of having a plan more than the next person (especially when you have a finite number of episodes) but How I Met Your Mother was an ongoing series so they needed to have a variety of different plans. I understand that at the time the writers probably decided that Josh Radnor and Cobie Smulders had chemistry that couldn’t be matched. So they tried to find a way for them to end up together (despite Cobie being “Aunt” Robin).

    First, people will point to this to say having everything set in stone may not be a good idea. And while I’ll agree that giving yourself no breathing room when it comes to an ongoing series may not be the best idea I’d also state that if you’re going to have your plan set in stone years ahead of time MAKE SURE IT’S A GOOD PLAN! At no point should anyone have considered that killing off the mother was a good idea.

    Listen, there is the potential for a good story to be told about a man who falls for a woman but it just doesn’t work. The man moves on, finds someone else to love, she passes and then he ends up back with the original woman. I actually believe it could work.

    But the conceit of the show is that we’re ramping up to the titular meeting of the mother. If that was the only part of the story they wanted to tell then we were only going to get the first act. There would never be enough time to do the second act (the man meets someone new and falls in love only to have her die) nor the third act (the man deals with the loss of the new love and eventually goes back to the old love) any justice at all. And the writers knew this even back in Season 2! (And don’t even get me started on giving zero time at all to divorcing a couple they spent two seasons convincing us needed to be together!)

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  2. Sorry, I got on a tangent.

    Back to my main thread, even though the writers had an apparent plan they ran into another surprise. Cristin Milioti and Josh Radnor turned out to have fantastic chemistry themselves. People would’ve been happy to see them together. People were actually upset that they weren’t seeing more of Cristin Milioti.

    I’m sure the writers would say they couldn’t have predicted that Tracy and Ted’s chemistry would match Robin and Ted’s. And they’d be right. So, even after finding that out, if they wanted to change the plan they now couldn’t because they filmed the kids’ reactions already. Which brings me to my ultimate point: WHY THE HELL DIDN’T THEY FILM MULTIPLE REACTIONS?

    Frankly, even if you were sure at the time that the Mother was going to die and Ted was going to end up with Robin I still would have filmed multiple ending scenarios for the kids just so the actors wouldn’t go blabbing about the finale to anyone because they wouldn’t know which scenes would be the true ending. This would’ve also given the writers a chance to call an audible if the time called for it…which it did.

    Of course, maybe they did film multiple ending scenarios from the kids but still decided to go with this one. But, well, I think we all know what I’d think about that.

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  3. I told someone who was more a regular viewer than me that whoever the Mother would turn out to be, unless she WAS Robin, she would be such a nonentity that the series should be retitled "How I Met Your Brood Mare". Turns out I wasn't too far off.

    I never got as attached to this show as some people, since I found Ted too much of a schmuck to be engaging even if the rest of the cast was solid. But whenever they'd stay "on plot" with the series' hook, it felt like it was going down that Chosen Couple path that so many sitcoms fall into; at the expense of all humor & greater audience enjoyment, the writers decide to focus on interactions between the Chosen Couple more & more. Between Ted & various red herrings and Ted & Robin, this show was pretty bad about that (the all-time champ will always be Friends, however, where I'm sure the twin siblings were engaged to each other at some point).

    So while my allergy to badly written romances in sitcoms kept me from getting too involved in the series, my heart goes out to the viewers who wanted more than mindless shipfic & got, well, this.

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  4. @Dr. Bitz: but most of it was clouded by an ominous, dark cloud that appeared as soon as I realized Barney and Robin were getting divorced.

    Similarly, every time Ted showed up without Tracy (like at the Halloween party), I was like "oh, no she's sick/dead already!" until she'd appear in the scene.

    At no point should anyone have considered that killing off the mother was a good idea.

    Exactly.

    And don’t even get me started on giving zero time at all to divorcing a couple they spent two seasons convincing us needed to be together!

    That really speaks to one of the biggest issues of the finale - timing. It's like they condensed three seasons of the show into an hour.

    I mean, Barney and Robin breaking up, on the surface, is no big deal, whether it's the end of a marriage or not. They've done it before, after all, and that doesn't mean their initial relationship was pointless. But that's because we spent time dealing with the ramifications of it ending, watching them deal with life post-relationship, etc. Here, we're just told they split up again and zoom! off to the next thing with no time to show us how they're dealing with it, even though we previously spent years and years getting them together, breaking them up, then getting them back together again.

    Ditto Ted and Tracy. If Ted had met her at, say, the end of season three, been with her for three seasons before she died, then spent a couple seasons mourning her and moving on, before ultimately getting back together with Robin by the end of the series, fine. That's a perfectly acceptable story to tell and arc for the character. Over the course of a series, not one episode, and certainly not the last episode.

    Which brings me to my ultimate point: WHY THE HELL DIDN’T THEY FILM MULTIPLE REACTIONS?

    Or, conversely, ditch the reaction altogether. Would we really care if we never got a cut back to the kids when the story ended? Maybe, a little, but certainly not on the level of what we have now.

    And FWIW I just read an interview with Josh Radnor and he talked about knowing about the death of the Mother back in season 2 and then asking Bays and Thomas if they were sticking to it after all the positive reactions (including Radnor's) to Cristin Milioti.

    So, at least we know somebody a least floated the idea of "you know, you don't HAVE to use the ending you shot" in front of them at some point.

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  5. @Mela: she would be such a nonentity that the series should be retitled "How I Met Your Brood Mare". Turns out I wasn't too far off.

    And what's really sad is that it didn't have to turn out that way, at all. It could have very easily been avoided.

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  6. I'm stunned at how fuckin' awful this thing was. I mean, I thought after Dexter, I'd be ready for anything, but this was...you covered a lot of it and so has EVERY ONE ELSE on the internet, but what a complete shitshow.

    This will be the rudest comment I ever leave on this website.

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  7. Now I'm glad I barely watched this show, because my Spider-Sense warned me that I was going to get LOSTed/BSGed. Hell, I even suspected that the mom was dead the whole time, and I was right (much like a lot of us were right about everyone being dead/in the afterlife on Lost). I feel even worse for you guys, because you wasted 3 more years of your life than us Lost fans did.

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  8. I didn't watch this last night, then today I stopped by here and saw your first paragraph. I didn't read any further to avoid spoilers, though I was pretty sure how things would turn out.

    Just finished the episode. I agree that there were certainly bits and pieces I liked. The callbacks to past stuff were nice, and I agree that seeing the time jumps was cool and something I wouldn't mind seeing more of from other shows (I've long thought that every TV series should end with those 80s college movie text pieces that tell you what happened to all the characters).

    But overall I'm disappointed and let down. You guys have covered pretty much everything I would've thought to say. I have to note, though, that I really don't mind Barney and Robin's divorce at all. Their whole pairing never felt right to me. Sure, it's odd we spent a whole season on their wedding day, plus a few previous seasons on their relationship, but -- that doesn't bug me all that much.

    I don't like that Tracy died, but her death isn't my real issue with the finale. It is, as you've noted, the fact that she was just another stop on the way for Ted before he got with Robin. Which in itself is something I don't get. Was anyone clamoring for more Ted and Robin as a couple? Maybe it's because I didn't come into the series till around season four and so I missed their earlier drama, but to me they were never a destined item. They were just two friends who dated for a while.

    Anyway, the episode doesn't sour me on the rest of the series. In fact, Teebore, I think I have an opposite situation with this show vs. Lost than you do. The final season, and especially the finale, of Lost left me at the point where I could not care less if I never see an episode again, and I will certainly never seek one out. But there's some great stuff in the history of HIMYM, and I'll always watch a repeat if I happen to catch one. I'll just pretend the finale never happened.

    Lastly -- Bob Sagat used to refer to the premise of Full House as "Mom's dead; let's party!" It seems Carter and Bays took that concept to heart.

    (Also, where was Sagat in this episode? You'd think they would've at least got his voice at the very beginning, but I don't believe I heard him at all.)

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  9. Alright, I suppose I should comment on what you actually wrote.

    "I honestly considered just titling this post, then typing "Fuck you, HIMYM. Fuck you" in the body and leaving it at that"

    You should have, for like a day or two.

    "The idea of moving forward in time, of showing us what happens to the characters after the "present day" storyline, is appreciated."

    It is a good idea as long as you don't introduce new plot points you don't have time to properly address...

    "Barney finally growing up when he meets his daughter is a great moment"

    I did like it but it was also gross that he still called the mother of his child #31. I'm also confused about the custody situation.

    "And that final, wonderful scene between Ted and Tracy is completely undermined seconds later"

    It was a wonderful scene and it was undermined. But it's the kind of scene that makes you wonder what would have happened if Ted and Tracy were allowed to have more scenes together.

    "We're told that Tracy is the love of Ted's life, the woman to whom his meeting was the culmination of everything he went through in the eight years leading up to it"

    You're right, we were told this but not shown. But even worse, were told ad nauseum. And then the show tells us that Robin is his true love after all. It's just...a cluster fuck.

    "no better or different than Victoria, Stella, Zoey"

    What's funny is even though we like Tracy so much in the end the other girls weren't so bad either to start. But once the writers made it clear they weren't the mother they immediately tried to make them toxic. In other words, maybe the reason Tracy was so liked is because the writers didn't try to get us to hate her in the end? Well...except Zoey. She was terrible from the start.

    "like it's a big fucking joke that their mother is dead and their dad wants to bang another woman."

    I especially appreciated the laugh track to punctuate the humor of it all.

    "Marshall sliding cash over to Lily, payment for losing the long ago bet that Ted would end up with Robin"

    I liked that too...but will Lily have to pay Marshall back now?

    "So what was the goddamn point of the "letting go of Robin" episode this season and that terribly cheesy effect of her floating away,"

    What was the point of ANY of the letting go episodes?

    "I'm sure as hell not watching these hacks' spinoff series."

    I'm undecided...I do have morbid curiosity.

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  10. @Mela: "I never got as attached to this show as some people"

    I'm probably more attached than you but not as attached as some. My biggest problem is it's just stupid writing. And nothing annoys me more than stupid writing that is easily avoidable.

    @Teebore: "Would we really care if we never got a cut back to the kids when the story ended?"

    Or, and I think Blam brought this up once, they could have just brought the actors back and filmed their reaction. The joke being they grew very old hearing this long, winding tale.

    @Jeremy "what a complete shitshow."

    Immediately after watching the finale I was mad because I knew it was a bad idea. Then, as time has passed, I got even more angry because I remembered all the reasons WHY it was a bad idea.

    @FuryOfFirestorm: "I feel even worse for you guys, because you wasted 3 more years of your life than us Lost fans did."

    What about us who were fans of this show AND Lost?

    @Matt: "that I really don't mind Barney and Robin's divorce at all. Their whole pairing never felt right to me."

    I'll admit that it never felt right to me either. But the show did spend one plus seasons trying to convince me it was right. So obviously the writers wanted us to believe it was right. So for them to then nix it 10 minutes into the finale seems a bit dirty.

    "but her death isn't my real issue with the finale."

    You know, the show has dealt with some serious issue and things didn't always work out as some characters expected them too. With that in mind, I thought about it and the idea that the mother died young and that was the impetus for Ted to tell his children about how he met her could have worked on some level...but not if Ted immediately (to the viewer, anyway) runs to Robin.

    "(Also, where was Sagat in this episode? You'd think they would've at least got his voice at the very beginning, but I don't believe I heard him at all.)"

    I think the final scene should have featured Josh Radnor with Bob Saget's voice dubbed in.

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  11. Dr. Bitz -- "I think the final scene should have featured Josh Radnor with Bob Saget's voice dubbed in."

    Since they were going for the all-out yuks there, I wouldn't have been surprised. But they could've done it more seriously, too. There was a VO by future Ted just before they showed him, but they had Radnor perform the lines. Why not use Sagat there, then pick up with Radnor for the actual shots of him?

    Also, I was thinking. I read a few more reviews last night, at The AV Club and HitFix. A lot of people defending the finale seem to point to the creators being hamstringed by that scene they shot years ago and not wanting to discard it. Fine. I think they could've changed the ending and still used some of it. The bits where the kids talk about how long the story was would still have been fine. And an editor performing some creative cuts from the kids to Ted mid-sentence, along with some overdubbing, could have easily changed the entire content of the scene. There was no reason it had to end this way.

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  12. "They should have called this show How I Met My Brood Mare."

    That title was already taken by Scott Summers' memoir about meeting Madelyne Pryor.

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  13. @ Matt Also, where was Sagat in this episode?

    I heard he'd wanted to be involved in filming, but the shooting schedule clashed with him trying to take the Street Fighter Championship back from Ryu, and also a kegger M. Bison was holding outside Pak Kret.

    (That joke brought to you courtesy of the late '90s. Though I do now have an image in my head of Raul Julia walking towards Teebore saying "For you, the day I conceived of How I Met Your Mother was the greatest day in the history of contemporary sitcom. But for me, it was Tuesday. A Tuesday when I was drunk, and figured I'd be a dick to millions of people."

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  14. SpaceSquid -- "Though I do now have an image in my head of Raul Julia walking towards Teebore..."

    Well now I'm picturing Bob Sagat with a shaved head and eyepatch. So good work!

    Also, since you brought it up -- I recently read an article on the nineties Street Fighter movie and how it turned into such a disaster. It was a pretty interesting story. A combination of a first-time director, creative interference from Capcom, Thai massage parlors, and a drug addled Jean-Claude Van Damme combined to seal the film's fate.

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  15. Also, since you brought it up -- I recently read an article on the nineties Street Fighter movie and how it turned into such a disaster. It was a pretty interesting story. A combination of a first-time director, creative interference from Capcom, Thai massage parlors, and a drug addled Jean-Claude Van Damme combined to seal the film's fate.

    I also read that article and it was indeed awesome

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