Next week I'm going to do an experiment. I'm going to give the episode a grade based on the cold open before the titles. Because sixty seconds into "How I Met Everyone Else," after the open that featured freeze-frames, a flashback to one hour earlier, and Barney drawing a chart in the air backwards for our benefit, I knew this was going to be a quality episode.
And the cold open did not lie, my friends. Unlike all the characters, who were lying or engaging in willful self-deception from the get-go. The theme of "How I Met Everyone Else" was the series in miniature: what should have happened (to make a good story that makes sense of the present moment) versus what really did happen. And its two recurring gags -- sandwiches standing in for joints, and Blah Blah standing in for Ted's short-term squeeze's forgotten name -- both reinforce the point that no story is going to contain the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.
Although almost everyone got a funny moment -- I was worried that Robin would be left out until she stammered that she was the problem in her and Ted's sex life: "I'd just lie there" -- the flashbacks to 1996 and 2001 create frameworks in which Ted gets the friendliest spotlight. We've seen Ted in college before, but I don't remember him looking quite this much like John Cusack, or being so goofily social. His 2007 creation of a 1996 tearful answering machine message to long-distance-girlfriend Karen after making out with a girl at the freshman mixer ("I'm going down to the computer lab now to send you an electronic mail!") is full-on funny, not just character work. And Young Professional Ted, the one with the goatee (aka Ted's Evil Twin), takes grumpy chubbiness (grubbiness?) to a deeper level of not-giving-a-shit. Barney never changes -- that's his shtick -- but the rapid-fire reversals of the dueling versions of their meeting, with Ted whipping out sign language to pose as Barney's deaf brother and then advising the hot chick via sign to give Barney a fake number, were a giddy implementation of the show's best can-you-top-this attitude, and it wouldn't work if Ted, the show's increasingly solid center, weren't more than holding his own.
But back to my proposed experiment. I suppose it's possible that a given HIMYM cold open that prominently features the series' single-camera virtues might be deceptive. One might mistake its zippy timeshifts and juxtaposed contradictions for artful construction and comic innovation. And I'm a bit flummoxed by the failure of my initial hypothesis -- that writer Kourtney Kang or director Pamela Fryman might be the leaven that makes the loaf rise. (The team was responsible for some of the best episodes of the first and second seasons, but also for last week's limp, tin-eared "Little Boys".) All any of us can do is cross our fingers and hope for all the cylinders to fire, like they did tonight.
- Last week I thought that the Marshall-is-tempted-by-the-corporate-dark-side episode was this week. But it's next week. Maybe I shouldn't be trusted with this judge-the-ep-by-its-cover plan.
- 1996 is signaled by Guided By Voices. I was not living in a dormitory in 1996, so perhaps you, faithful readers, can advise. I do believe that GBV was often playing in my apartment in 1996, so that's one datapoint.
- Barney finding multiple ways to work "crazy" into the conversation with Blah Blah worked every time, but I think my favorite was seeing him silently forming the phoneme "cr" before Ted stops him in his tracks.
- Now I don't play WoW so, again, I'll have to rely on my hipper readers to comment on the verisimilitude of that bit. And maybe I should have seen it coming. But damn if that wasn't a well set-up, perfectly paced, not overplayed throwaway gag. Bravo.
- Even though Ted's online girlfriend-of-the-moment is just a catalyst for the multiple stories, in the final analysis, I appreciate how her sliver of comic potential paid off, from "I design handbags! I'm writing a memoir!" to the repeated assertions that she'll make a name for herself (and that name is Blah Blah).
- One more good line in an episode packed with them, this one from Barney: "You've slept with one woman. Those stats are only okay if you're eleven."