Desire isn’t something we get to indulge as separate individuals. Being the social animals we are, desire has to be negotiated. I identify with Ted, alone in his new apartment, getting to indulge all his momentary whims and longtime fantasies with no one to gainsay him. As a confirmed homebody, what I most want, most of the time, is nobody bothering me with stuff they want me to come out and do with them. “Sitting around watching TV, drinking beer, and eating ribs is what every red-blooded American would rather be doing at all times,” Ted declares, and Marshall, all coupled up and programmed to think everything’s better with somebody to share it with, finds he can’t disagree.
So when Barney cooks up an endless series of legendary adventures for them to experience together, night after night, because Barney can’t stand being alone at night while obsessing over Quinn getting naked for other men, the dynamic is just right. Ted is intrigued by a few of the plans—The Night We Started A Mariachi Band, The Night We Ate Everything On The Menu, The Night We Brought A Horse Into The Bar—but he doesn’t have the drive to make every night amazing. It’s partly because, as he mentions, if every night is legendary, no night is legendary, but it’s also because he was enjoying his solo apartment. Accused of eating a box of Froot Loops in his tightey-whiteys, he corrects Lily, “No, I demolished a box of Froot Loops fully nude.”
Barney has an ace in the hole to prevent Ted from reverting to Stouffer’s lasagna for one and an episode of Sanford & Son: a scoring system for the game of life, in which Ted is (predictably) behind. Barney gets points for better wardrobe, apartment on higher floor, having a longer name, making up the point system, and (as he can’t stop mentioning) dating a stripper. Ted only gets 12 points for designing a skyscraper, so you know he’s not going to come off well, but he can’t help competing: “I don’t feel the need to keep score; that’s like a thousand points right there.”
Meanwhile, Marshall is worried about the kinds of desires Lily’s subconscious is expressing through her dreams. She’s always told him about her pregnancy-hormone-fueled sex dreams before, but when asked who starred in this one, she turns vermillion (Marshall has the paint chips to prove it: “Not the rose quartz of the slightly embarrassed, or the tomato red of the mildly abashed; vermillion—the color of carnal shame”) and won’t say. The truth comes out when she turns the same color upon seeing Ranjit arrive to drive them to a fancy dinner at Chez L’Argent, causing Marshall to accuse her of sleep-cheating.
This is a lame storyline, enlivened by the details of Lily’s prior sex dreams featuring Papa Smurf and Bill Cosby (who “smurfed off in the corner” during the Papa Smurf encounter). It reeks of HIMYM’s periodic efforts to define or popularize new terms for relationship complications (here, “sleep cheating”). But then something wonderful happens. The whole thing gets dropped, along with Barney’s desperation sensation-seeking, the life-points competition, Marshall’s worry that his crazy days are over, and Lily’s visit to Quinn for advice, when Robin’s new stint in the traffic copter becomes big news because the pilot has a stroke and she has to land the plane. The montage of crowds in MacLaren’s, the Lusty Leopard, and Chez L’Argent watching the TV to see if she can do it is a lovely way to undercut these relatively inconsequential plotlines by bringing all the friends and their city together rooting for Robin.
And Robin deserves it. Because while Barney is suffering from the downside of dating a stripper (the upside is you get to tell everyone you’re dating a stripper; “I saw your bus ad,” as Ted points out), and Ted is being dragged out of his man cave, and Marshall and Lily are pretending dreams mean a lot more than they do, Robin is having real problems. She can’t get respect even though she’s on the nightly news. The security guard demands her ID while letting Merle go through unmolested (“Everybody knows Merle!”), even though the latter’s only public appearance was in a skit at the Christmas party. A vending machine covers her face on the giant billboard wall. And Sandy relegates her to traffic copter duty. Finally getting some recognition for being awesome is a fate Robin richly deserves. Almost as good is Ted putting Barney’s needs above his own desires for one night by playing the life point game. For 500 points, Ted matches Barney’s accomplishment of getting a girl’s number while wearing a dress. Seeing both Robin and Barney genuinely happy for a moment because the world has given them what they wanted, even though their struggles are far from over, may not be groundbreaking comedy, but it’s highly satisfying nonetheless.
- I love a list, so naturally I adored the ever-lengthier title cards with accompanying epic soundtracks for Barney’s legendary nights. The best part was that the length of time they stayed on screen got shorter and shorter as the gag went along. My favorite (other than the run-on one about tracking down Phil Collins, becoming best friends with him, talking him into reuniting with Peter Gabriel, and singing backup on the new Genesis album—did we know Barney was a big Genesis fan?) was “The Night We Partied With The Mole People.”
- Sound effect humor! Barney zip-tangs back to the table when Marshall mentions Lily’s sex dream (“do tell!”), and then the zip-tang recurs as the camera cuts to the empty side of the booth where Lily and Marshall have just fled rather than listen to Barney’s “piphany.”
- Moment that made me get a little teary, I’ll admit: Robin taking the call from her dad and asking, “Are you proud of your little girl? … OK, I’ll keep trying.”
- I suppose if this is happening in 2012, then Barney’s reference to “20 years from now, when you’re all alone, and I’m president” could still happen. But Ted would have to go way downhill in the two years between 2030 and 2032.