How I Met Your Mother: "Home Wrecker"
B+

How I Met Your Mother: "Home Wrecker"

B+

How I Met Your Mother

"Home Wrecker"

Season 5, Episode 20

I'm a big softy.  Let me just say at the outset that I really like the ending of "Home Wreckers."  It's not that anybody couldn't have seen it coming.  But like Barney overcome by the happiness in Clint's crazy song, I'm deeply affected by evocations of fate.  None of us knows what decisions -- or mistakes -- we're making at any particular moment that will become the foundation for the future.  And it was beautiful, actually, that the show gave us another way of looking at its premise.  The mother has been the linchpin of Ted's future life for the last five seasons.  But there's more pieces to that puzzle.  The last time-lapse montage showed that a life is built not just on relationships, but on places where those relationships happen.  We all have attachments to the houses where we grew up; when you're a parent, you watch your kids inhabiting the house where they happen to be living and realize that someday they'll have that same attachment in memory, no matter what the circumstances are that brought them there. 

But before I get too weepy and philosophical, let's talk about the smoothly-executed piece of comedy that got us to that point.  "Home Wreckers" started off problematically broad (albeit still funny) with Ted's mother marrying her hippie boyfriend Clint, a "painter slash songwriter slash volunteer fear-fighter" who can't stop talking about how erotic Ted's mother is.  Naturally -- because that's what happens on TV shows when a protagonist's parent gets married -- Ted gets all angsty about not being afar enough along in his life.  So he impulsively buys a house online and starts planning his weekend grillouts and the rules for dad's study ("the kids are welcome in here if they're reading a book, but no toys").  But unsurprisingly, the house is a lemon, a money pit, a decrepit heap ... which Ted might have been more prepared for had he arranged for an inspection before buying instead of after.

To help Ted deal with the feelings of inadequacy that led him to this disastrous decision, we have two running jokes.  In the first -- and funniest -- Barney buttonholes everyone he can find at Ted's mom's wedding and chortles about Robin getting all weepy during Ted's new dad's blackout-inducing reception tribute song: "When I squeeze your trembling bosoms/The blood flows to my loins/When I penetrate your--" (mercifully censored).  To be fair, Robin didn't start with the waterworks until the touching sing-along ending: "Mahatma Gandhi! And the pancakes!  And the dragon ... and you, Virginia." But after Barney lords it over her one too many times, Robin breaks their $500 pact and reveals that it was Barney who was crying during the song.  Then Barney has to confess that he wasn't crying because of the song at all, but because Virginia, with whom he shared a moment while dropping her off at the airport in 2006 with Bob Seger's "Night Moves" playing on the car radio, was lost to him forever.

And in the second, which ended with a not-very-successful attempt at turning a comic trope into a thematic statement, Marshall begs the gang to go easy on Ted because they've all done stupid things in their lives.  Well, actually Marshall has done a lot of stupid things, and invites his friends to lock in their votes on whether he did them because he was drunk or because he was a kid: dropping bottle rockets in the toilet then trying to dry them out in the microwave (drunk), riding a bike down an extension ladder from the roof of a two-story house (kid), driving his brother's car the wrong way down I-94 (kid).  Wait, actually there was a third running gag: the inspector's endless list of things that are wrong with the house, which I hope some one will post in the comments, but which featured "the fire damage, the water damage, the sun damage ... the raccoons, the hobo ...", and mitigating his recital with the news that the pool of water in the basement from the broken pipe "is drowning some of the larger, slower rats."

Why does this collection of big hand-waving gags (epitomized by Barney's always-amusing attempt to generate outbursts of disbelief at his attempted reversal of Robin's reversal: "It was Robin!  Whaaaaa?") work at all?  It's the comic equivalent of tee-ball.  Somebody buys condemned real estate, somebody creates an impromptu party game, parents act like children, inappropriate emotional reactions happen and are mocked.  It's not a risky endeavor, sitcom-wise.  But as we know, we devotees of this dinosaur of a televised genre, it's not about breaking new ground; it's about how you execute the required figures.  And this group was light on their feet and gave it their all.  Watching the ending, where the present moment becomes the map of the future (and a few hints are dropped about how Ted will deal with his attempt to fast-forward), it's possible to get a little hint of that feeling we have looking at our kids.  They're playing tee-ball and forgetting which way to run to first base and running into each other while tracking down fly balls, and even as we laugh we're thinking that these are the memories they'll tell their kids about when they drive by this field someday.

Stray observations:

  • Ted goes to real-estate auction websites when he can't sleep.  Other sites, too, but "that's not the part of the night we're talking about."
  • "By the time the old wifey and I are ready to move in ..." Ted explains.  "Is she in the room with us right now, Ted?" Barney worries.
  • "It'll be a real sausage fest!  Sausage party?  We'll do burgers."
  • "I'm referencing the time she cried at Clint's song, and even though I'm whispering, I'm actually hoping she hears me."
  • Why Ted feels left behind: "You guys [Marshall and Lily] got a place years ago, Robin's getting serious with Don, Barney -- maybe that's a new tie ..."
  • "Gesture to DJ." 

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