We've had tantalizing hints of the future this season, but here's an episode that really moves the plot along. Why does Marshall have all that money? Well, because he sold his soul to work for an evil law firm, that's why! (At least temporarily.) Even though sitcoms haven't been change-free, everything-back-to-normal-in-30-minutes zones for many years, it's still bracing to see something really happen in one, isn't it?
Marshall, who really cleans up nice in that suit, gets the job offer he's been waiting for at the Natural Resource Defense Council. (A real organization, by the way, so raise your hand if you were expecting a cast member to plug it in a little PSA before the credits, like that anti-distracted driving thing Julie did on Friday Night Lights last week.) But Jeff Coatsworthy, aka the Asian Barney, seduces him with Kobe lobster (lobster fed with Kobe beef), scotch, limos, and glimpses of Patrick Swayze, trying to get him to sign on with an evil law firm that defends polluters and ... evil people and stuff. What Marshall doesn't know is that Lily has been accumulating massive credit card debt, and if he takes the low-paying non-profit gig, that's going to put a crimp in their plans to have four kids. (By the way, Marshall -- check into zero population growth, buddy, if you really want to save the planet.)
I liked the detail and timing of Jeff's wooing, but -- and I hope I'm not crossing the line here -- it felt a little bit like watching Mr. Sulu leering at Uhura in that one episode with the evil alternate universe Enterprise. Something about John Cho, the guest star, getting his moves on was a little too intimate for comfort. When he squeezed Marshall's shoulders from behind, I was cringing vicariously at the invasion of personal space.
Meanwhile back at the ranch, Barney has discovered the adult film work of somebody named, coincidentally it seems, Ted Mosby. After the resemblances get creepy (what's with the creep factor of this episode, by the way?), Barney and Ted go to an adult video convention to meet Porn Star Ted Mosby, star of the Sex Vehicle series ("Welcome to the Sex Plane," "Welcome to the Sex Truck").
Both plotlines deliver good value, and it's exciting to see the wheels turning, but this isn't a classic -- because it's concerned with getting some pieces in place for later use. It's a strategic episode, very well done, but not an end in itself. However, my prediction a couple of weeks ago that a Marshall-focused episode would be a Good Thing turned out to be accurate. His inability to remain cool in the presence of Patrick Swayze, by itself, is worth the price of admission. (Still free, by the way, although a donation to the NRDC would be appreciated.) Ted, on the short end of the plot seesaw, gets a terrific flashback to the phone interview he gave to Adult Video Weekly, under the mistaken impression that it was Architecture Vision Weekly.
But what elevates this into the top range of framework-building episodes is the Robin-Lily subplot to the Marshall strand. Has any other sitcom had the courage to ask how its characters afford their fabulous wardrobes on their service-industry wages? Robin, despite your sudden penchant for cowl neck sweaters in this episode, you may have made television history.
- Robin's Jude Law routine -- "not so much now, but like two years ago, he was in everything!" -- is an excellent addition to her clueless-attempts-to-be-clever repertoire. I also enjoyed her line reading on "Like all Ted Mosbies!" But mostly I had fun trying to decide how to spell the plural of Mosby.
- If you need confirmation that Alyson Hanigan is top-notch talent, just look at her range in the montage of reasons Lily shops (including "I just got a very large credit card bill!").
- In my house, we're always happy to hear the phrase "on the can" (referring to what the Europeans delicately term a WC), here employed in the strangely crass exclamation "you text him when he's on the can!"
- Best observed moment: Marshall leaving Jeff Coatsworthy's apartment in the same clothes as he was wearing the night before, doing the "walk of shame" with women in cocktail dresses carrying their pumps in one hand while trying to hail a cab.