It's been awhile since we put the gang into a crucible and watched the fireworks. This week feels like a watershed of sorts, as Ted has to choose under pressure between New York and Stella, and Robin tries to deal with career uncertainties. It was less funny than it was tense; the relaxed feel wasn't there; we only saw flashes of the effortless timing that characterizes the best episodes. But I don't always want to just hang out with these characters. I want them to figure out who they are. And "I Heart NJ" gave me plenty of that.
Worn out from constantly riding the train across the river to Stella's house in New Jersey and back to be with his friends in Manhattan -- and seemingly doomed to missing the best parts of both scenes -- Ted convinces the gang to cross over with him so he can combine the two. Except Stella doesn't have a babysitter, so they have to stay at her house. Luckily it features the coolest bar in the state: an unfinished basement with six-year-old beer, half a pool table, and a goldfish bowl. (Barney makes a joke about not being interested in any fish except those named "sucker" and "blow," and then spends the rest of the episode waiting in vain for a fist bump.) As Ted comes to terms with the fact that Stella expects him to move to New Jersey, Robin finds out that she quit her Metro News 1 gig prematurely; that national anchor job wasn't a sure thing, just an audition. Will she go back and grovel for her old job, or will the puns ("join us at 11 for the shocking derails") steel her resolve to spread her wings and fly?
I started to realize that I loved this episode when Ted and Marshall were walking around PriceCo on a beer run. Ted's carrying a bag of lemons big enough to stock a lemonade stand all summer long; Marshall is balancing a bowl of meatball samples complete with cocktail toothpicks. Trying to figure out whether New Jersey will destroy his identity as an authentic New Yorker, Ted queries a couple of former citydwellers looking at five-pound boxes of taco chips. "I guess we're New Jersians now!" the husband declares jovially, upon realizing they haven't been back across the river in years. "Oh look -- dog shirts!"
The Big Apple chauvinism of the show has bothered me in the past. But whaddya know -- it wasn't really the show at all. It was Ted. I took Ted's absurd nativism the wrong way. When he contemplates breaking up with Stella over her desire to stay where she has a house, friends for her daughter, and a job as the deputy mayor-elect come June 1, he has to face the reality that his love for New York and hatred of New Jersey are nothing compared with the home he could build with Stella and her child.
Even though Stella's not the mother (right? we're all clear on that?), it's important that Ted grow up just a little bit and stop with the frat-boy-style "we're number one! Empire Staaate!" posturing. On the other hand, you'd think Robin might put relationships ahead of career a smidge more than she does in the last scene. Off to Japan as a foreign correspondent? Although it's good to know that we aren't all crazy and the television rulebook has not been rewritten; when a character takes a new job, it must involve relocation, thus setting up a crisis for the ensemble we've come to know and love.
In this case, the crisis is for Barney, who finally lowers the hand he's held aloft for an "up high" since the previous scene in Stella's basement. I was touched by the caring advice he gave to Robin as she panicked over her lost job, all without tipping his hand to being anything more than a friend. But the thought of losing her across the Pacific Ocean broke down his defenses.
Are there big changes coming, or is it the sitcom version of big changes -- i.e., everything stays the same? Stay tuned. The mother is still out there waiting.
- To date, Barney still has not succeeded in picking up a lesbian.
- Maybe I just love "I Heart NJ" because it's got so much Robin goodness. From the letters falling off the news desk ("Etro News at 11 ... and again at 1") to the out-of-focus victory dance she does in flashback while her cell phone squawks "just to be clear, it's only an audition," Cobie is in total command tonight. She even wears a new tie-front version of that argyle vest thing I love so much in the last scene. I Heart Cobie.
- And Barney is so off-kilter that it's actually pretty wonderful. As he staggers around the basement hoping someone will give him either a mercy- or a reflex-bump, he's hoist on his own petard through two-thirds of the running time.
- Lily speaks with lustful approval of Robin's long legs. That's the second time in three episodes that she's been hot for Robin, isn't it? Is this HIMYM or HIMYM fanfic?
- Things Marshall hates about New York: Too small doorways. Things Marshall loves about New Jersey: Gallon jars of olives.
- "I am not walking into McClaren's smelling like New Jersey!"