08 March 2010

Profiles: The Different Faces of Jason Segel

I've been watching a lot of How I Met Your Mother recently, which is bizarre. It's by far CBS' best show, although the laugh track is still annoying as shit (I still contend it would be weird to watch Seinfeld without a laugh track, only because by now I've memorized the joke patterns and when people start laughing. Maybe in twenty years How I Met Your Mother will be the same way. No, this won't happen). I know I already talked about it a little bit here, but before I get into Jason Segel, let's talk about it some more - it really bothered me at first the fact that the show had no continuity at all. Hardly anything was ever consistent from one episode to the next. I realised since then however, that the framing device allows this to work. The show is presented as an older man telling his children the eponymous story. Thus, it isn't important that the story be told in order, moreover the episodes are actually quite literally episodic, with little need to connect them to each other. It's actually a pretty convenient narrative device.

Back on Topic:

Anyway, I'm watching this show and I'm watching Jason Segel, and maybe it's just because I was first introduced to Segel through Apatow films, but it's like he's a completely different person. I know all actors play different characters in different media, but for the most part an actor has a certain range or choice of similar roles (even if they're similarly quirky roles like Johnny Depp does). Segel in television is very different from Segel in film. Let me bring you on my journey here, to better elucidate my point I'll present his major roles in the past five years in the order I saw them:

The Rogue:

In Knocked Up (2007) and I Love You, Man (2009), Jason Segel is this crude yet fun-loving character. He is extremely socially liberal, and in doing so also seeks to socially liberate the other characters in I Love You, Man. In both films he's also pretty much a bum, leeching off society and putting forth the most minimal effort possible to skeeze by, both with women, friends and employment. He's also very naturally funny, no stranger to nudity, pranks or clowning around. He's the consummate wingman and confident sidekick. He's the Chuckie Sullivan of the Apatow crew.

His Opus:

Forgetting Sarah Marshall (2008) provided Segel's transition from Construction worker sidekick to genius janitor. It's notable as Segel's most prominent writing effort (so far) as well as his struttery as a leading man. It's also a very good film, absolutely hilarious. Anyway, his character here presents a bit of a transition from the loafer in Knocked Up to the domesticated dude in How I Met Your Mother. His character, Peter Bretter is an ideal boyfriend who is also generally stuck up (oh yeah). Through his character arc, Segel transitions from a tame relationship-focused individual to a fun party guy. He's got a good amount of goof in him, but in general he's much more timid and responsible than "Rogue" characters. It's important to note here that this is a character Segel wrote for himself and probably the most akin to the genuine image of himself he wishes to project onto the culture.

The Resident:

In How I Met Your Mother, Segel's character Marshall is married to Lily (Alyson Hannigan). When I first started watching the show it was jarring to see the promiscuous, sex-obsessed and smut-riddled dude from Knocked Up residing as the settled-down male, solidly committed to a single woman. He lacks all of the crass from Apatow joints and instead relies on the kind of ho-hum humour that typifies a lot of CBS shows. While How I Met Your Mother rises above some other shows on the network in terms of his hilarity, it's definitely like watching Segel with a muzzle on. He's limited. Whereas Forgetting Sarah Marshall is a full display of his formidable writing and acting skills, How I Met Your Mother just feels like a day job. It's not like he puts any less effort into the character, but it's so distinct from his movie persona it's almost like not watching Segel at all.

There's always a lot of joy in his performances. Peter, Jason and Marshall are all embodied by an immense amount of hope and big smiles, filtered through different lenses. There's continuous hilarity, but when he's with Apatow it always feels like he's very natural, acting out his innate crudity. You can tell he's limiting himself on How I Met Your Mother, acting almost like someone with much more talent than the rest of the cast hanging out with them for some reason. Again, not to say that any of this is necessarily poor entertainment, but it's interesting to watch. Considering his upcoming Muppets project, it will be interesting to see how Segel's talents are focused towards a thoroughly family-friendly atmosphere as well as a method of entertainment he obviously truly relishes.

How I Met Your Mother comes on tonight at 8:00 pm EST / 4:37 am CST.


  1. Dude nice piece about Segel. My girlfriend loves that guy, she was a huge fan of that show "Freaks & Geeks" when she was younger (she has the whole series on DVD) and I was just so fortunate to see Forgetting Sarah Marshall a few weeks ago and I thought it was great. Maybe Wednesday we'll grab some beers and chill at your place and watch "SLC Punk" - one of Segel's first movies which I happen to own....thing is...do you have a VCR?


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