Professor Bowman’s in the midst of a two-week stretch of evening classes and out-of-town conferences, so I’ll be serving as her graduate assistant for the next two weeks, leading our seminar on How I Met Your Mother.
Tonight’s episode, “Bagpipes,” continues what’s been something of an up-and-down season for HIMYM. The show’s been in a groove in terms of performances, pace and pithiness—the three Ps of successful sitcoms—but it’s been a little strained when it comes to the emotional underpinnings that make this more than just an agreeable half-hour of comedy. The best episode of the season in terms of originality and poignancy (in my opinion, anyway) has been “Double Date,” which was also the least funny. Tonight’s episode, on the other hand, was plenty funny, but largely devoid of fresh ideas.
Once again, we’re stranded in relationship-world, dealing with the differences between the improbable pairing of Robin/Barney and the so-right-it’s-almost-wrong Lily/Marshall. Barney’s feeling cocky—a “New Relationship Smugness,” according to Ted—because he thinks he and Robin are, clearly, “the best at relationships.” Since getting together, they’ve slept in 83½ beds (counting a 19th-century ottoman in an antique shop). Also, they never fight. If Robin gets mad because, say, she finds a bag of panties under Barney’s bed labeled April 2008, he just gets up and leaves the apartment. If Barney gets mad because, say, Robin ruined one of his expensive silk ties in the washing machine, she just takes off her clothes. In both cases: problem solved.
Still, when Barney tries to give relationship advice to Marshall, the latter balks, boasting, “Son, I’ve been in a relationship since you had a ponytail and were playing Dave Matthews on your mama’s Casio… I’ve forgotten more about microwaving fat-free popcorn and watching Sandra Bullock movies than you’ll ever know.” Turns out that Marshall’s method of avoiding fights with Lily is just to do whatever she wants, even if he doesn’t want to. If she wants him to wash a dish right after he uses it, he does it, even though he doesn’t really mind a sink full of dirty dishes, and even though if Lily really cares about such things then she should maybe, y’know, wash the dish herself. Barney tells a skeptical Ted and a receptive Marshall that the latter’s handling his woman all wrong, and after Barney leaves the table, Ted scoffs while Marshall mutters, “Barney, huh? With his crazy, well-thought-out theories that would probably work.”
So Marshall and Ted make a bet—a slap-bet!—about whether Barney’s “Why don’t you do it, sweetie?” plan will or won’t prove effective on Lily, and Ted wins because even though Marshall’s a lawyer, he sucks at making arguments in front of his wife. His version of Barney’s case boils down to, “I make more money than you. Dance for me.” This, understandably, sets Lily off, and a fight ensues, which mutates into a multiple-day, multiple-front affair. “A quagmire,” claims Ted. “In need of a surge,” counters Barney.
In the end, T-Mose plays the catalyst in resolving the Lily/Marshall spat when he reveals—thanks to Barney’s downstairs neighbor—that Ro-Ro and The Barnstormer do actually have fights. In fact they began fighting on a weekend ski vacation, when a disagreement over Barney’s handling of the Marshall situation unavoidably blew up, because the two were trapped together on a ski lift at the time. (He couldn’t leave, and it was too cold for her to strip.) The two come to Lily and Marshall for advice, which makes the spouses realize that they’re arguing over nothing, and need to set their egos aside for the good of the relationship.
Cute, huh? And maybe—just maybe—a little too familiar. As with the couples-date episode a few weeks back, “Bagpipes” felt like pretty standard sitcom stuff—a new couple has their first fight—and I don’t know that the HIMYM writers really put much of a spin on it, no matter how many potential catchphrases they threw into the script. I hesitate even to broach the subject of the episode’s title, which comes from another one of Ted’s stupid (again, in my opinion) “eating a sandwich”-style euphemisms. In this case, “playing the bagpipes” refers to the loud racket made by the upstairs neighbors when they have sex. (Because heaven knows the older Ted wouldn’t want to actually tell his kids about sex… even though it’s only been the main subject of about a quarter the show’s episodes to date.)
But you know what I like about this show, despite the way it sometimes lets me down? Even when there’s very little substance to an episode, it can still make me laugh out loud. Like when Ted learns that the “bagpipers” upstairs are an old couple, and he can’t bring himself to complain after he knocks angrily on their door. “I just welcomed them to the building, had a hard candy, nodded politely at some racist comments and then left,” he says. This episode wasn’t so clever, but lines like that definitely are.
-Call me crazy (“Crazy.”), but it seems that Alyson Hanigan’s taking more opportunities to get sexy this year than in past years. Must be feeling her oats, post-natal.
-It’s like Gandhi said: “A smile don’t cost nothin’, sugar.”
-I thought the mutating fight effect between Marshall and Lily was cool, but even more I liked some of the stray barbs they threw at each other (Marshall on Lily’s hard day teaching kindergarten: “You eat cookies and glue stuff.”), and the repercussions of Marshall’s principled stand on dish-washing. (On Sunday morning, Lily makes pancake and bacon strip.)
-Barney Stinson’s Circus Tent Of Funhouse Mirrors And Flawed Logic is what led to Marshall getting an earring back in ’03.
-When I switched off my DVR recording of HIMYM, the TV was still on CBS and I noticed that tonight’s episode of Accidentally On Purpose is also about a couple’s first fight. It’s argument night on The Tiffany Network.
-You can’t fight if you’re not there. That’s what Gandhi taught us.
-I checked Wikipedia prior to this episode so I could get the episode number and title, and here’s what someone wrote as the “Bagpipes” plot description: “Marshall's obsession with his new set of bagpipes drives Lily to lie about a National Bagpiping Convention to gain some peace and quiet. Meanwhile, Ted loves tutoring eager future architects until he realizes they've been placing weekly bets on his behavior. Barney and Robin have their first fight, and despite their reluctance, ask Lily and Marshall for advice.” Well, one out of three. That’s a batting average that’ll get you called up to the majors.
-How could Robin possibly agree with Lily? She’s shorter than him.
-“If I want to leave my manhood dirty in the sink, caked with ketchup and pasta….”