On any long-running show about relationships, the changes are going to be rung on just about every possible aspect of dating, commitment, hooking up, and pining away. So I don't blame HIMYM for doing an episode about keeping people on the hook. "Hooked" does a good job making humor out of the phenomenon and fitting it into the Russian-nesting-doll structure that the show has made into its bread and butter. If there's nothing exceptional about the episode, well, maybe that's too much to ask. This season has been at such a high level so long that a merely ordinarily entertaining, not particularly insightful half-hour seems like a bit of a letdown.
Future Ted tells his kids that the story of him and Tiffany (guest star Carrie Underwood) isn't very flattering: "In this one, I'm just a jerk." As a matter of fact, he's more of a douche. But he's a douche in the way all of us are at some insecure time in our lives -- a time when we were willing to accept the uncritical adulation of some person in whom we had no interest, while paying the same undivided attention to someone who couldn't care less about us but tossed us the occasional bone to keep us coming back for more. Tiffany compliments his big brown eyes and talks about a sort-of-boyfriend anytime he gets too close. And as his friends try to convince Ted he's on Tiffany's hook, they give examples of times they've been the hookee and the hooker. (Robin: "I may be a little loose, but money never changed hands.")
Marshall was the "secret-boyfriend-who-does-my-homework" for a girl in high school, and only came to his senses after going to her house to tell her he loved her (everyone: "Awwww!") -- in song. (Everyone: "Ewwww.") Lily can't bear to disappoint an admirer who works as a lunch lady in her school cafeteria. Robin is using one of her cameramen to get her laundry done. And Ted has a hookee, too -- a girl he insists is just a friend, conveniently overlooking the sumptuous buffet with intertwining hearts ice sculpture she threw together for their hang-out time. He finally has to face the reality with Tiffany when she shows up for their out-of-town wedding date with the best man, hisses "He's in a band!" and starts rubbing his feet. He was on her hook, but she's on the best man's hook. Time for Ted to wriggle off, then extract the hook from the mouths of the poor girl he's been leading on. (The fact that he next encounters her on his knees, wearing a tuxedo, and holding a diamond ring makes that more than a little awkward.)
On the perimeter of all this hooking action is Barney's tissue-thin (yet, as always, fabulously entertaining) storyline built off of Tiffany's job as a pharmaceutical sales rep -- the profession, Barney insists, that is presently composed exclusively of hot women. Over the course of Ted's brief infatuation with Tiffany, however, time marches on and the hot-girl profession moves to some other industry unknown to us. Barney's other contribution to the episode is the teacup pig, "the perfect bait" to lure women up to one's apartment, he asserts, having tried slot machine (too fun) and trampoline (too dangerous). While the teacup pig (invariably wrapped in a baby blanket at each appearance) doesn't play any role in the momentary pharma girl surplus, it does help Lily man up and stop watering down her insistence to lunch lady Scooter, her hookee, that they'll never be together. Finally she looks that teacup pig in his adorable squinty eye and asserts that they will never have any kind of sexual relationship ever. (But when she actually says it to Scooter -- it's "we'll never be together ever again." Hmmmm.)
It's not surprising there's no mythology here, no hint of a larger movement toward responsibility. Sitcoms are much more adept at putting things back the way they were thirty minutes ago than moving things along to a new place. It's not even that the interlocking storylines fail to find a link with Barney's random awesomeness. None of that is a capital crime on CBS. But for all the laughs -- and I laughed frequently -- I didn't feel this episode. I had been looking forward to getting back to this stellar season for a month, and what I wanted was to relax into the sure hands of this corps of writers, director, and cast. Instead it felt a little bit like the second string getting a chance to come on and do their version of HIMYM; the beats were too obvious (especially Saget interposing with commentary over freeze frames), the structure familiar in outline but just the slightest bit shoddy in execution. Next week it's another big guest star -- J-Lo. Let's hope that's not a sign of continuing normalcy on a sitcom that thrives on busting out of business as usual.
- Ted's bait is his antique camera collection. Typical douchey Ted.
- "Who's buying chili in a can and not eating it immediately?"
- Marshall thought that when Lily referred to lunch lady Scooter, she was talking about "some long overdue device that carries around those poor overworked lunch ladies." And in this episode's most delightful non-sequitur, this leads to a scene in which Marshall says he would "ride that thing all day long until I broke it in half."
- Second most delightful trope of the night: Barney twice upsetting a bowl of bar snacks in consternation.
- "Shall I walk you through the history?" "I'm going to explicitly say no."
- Barney enjoys his time with the pharma girls: "Side effects include loss of clothing, rug burns, shortness of breath, and sore abdominals the next morning." "Plus my cholesterol is down, my restless leg syndrome is cured, I've never felt more alive!" But then Gladys the non-hot rep is introduced, and "before you know it, pharma girls look like the crew on a Southwest Flight from Albuquerque to Little Rock."
- Robin defending her hookee: "Our girl parts are like a spider web: Sometimes you're going to catch stuff you don't want."
- Hot girls have been gatherers, meter maids, and now pharma girls -- "looking sexy enough to render the very erection pills they peddled ironically redundant." What will the next hot girl profession be? "Maybe they'll be intergalactic communications officers on rocket ships traveling throughout the galaxy. Maybe they'll be meter maids -- we just don't know."
- "Did you make that chocolate cake?" "It was a mix."