Some people probably feel the same way about Katy Perry’s guest shot on this episode and the multiple overlapping phone conversations and flashbacks through which the story of Ted and Zoey’s first kiss gets told. They’re both gimmicks. One is a gimmick to allow CBS to get a few more eyeballs on the show for its advertisers, and the other is a way to take a simple boy-loses-girl-then-boy-gets-girl plot and make it more interesting.
Me, I don’t mind Katy Perry. She’s a definite personality (unlike our last pop diva guest star, Britney Spears) with an infectious pop sense. A bit overexposed these days, but hey, without this appearance, would we ever have realized that she and Neil Patrick Harris share the same freakishly oversized forehead? (Seriously, CBS could solve its advertising issues by selling product placement on those things.) And while she overplays the nameless hot Zoey cousin Ted and his friends only remember as Honey—because her blindness to the many ways people take advantage of her causes the inevitable reaction: “Oh, honey …”—it’s a fine pitch to hit in her few minutes of screen time and downright charming when it pays off during her phone conversation with Marshall.
And I really like the way HIMYM slathers on the phone-and-flashback structure to lead us through this little transition in the Zoey arc. In fact, a commitment of this magnitude to what is essentially a storytelling gimmick—elevated, one must allow, by this point in the series to a full-fledged trope—is laudable in itself. Nothing feels anxious or desperate about it. Nobody’s trying to cover up for any deficiencies in plotting or character. It’s just a dexterous way of revealing information, turned in the final act into a rather lovely way of instigating a change. After all, the sitcom form is almost never about what happened, and almost always about how we find out what happened—about how the events are presented to us.
Look at all the little detailed pieces of comic business made possible by Marshall being on the phone for the whole episode. There’s his old room in his mom’s Minnesota house, with its giant poster of Nessie and recurring games of Clue. And I never failed to get a laugh out of his mom hanging on the line (“He’s gay!” she interjects when the question of why Ted ceded Honey to Barney arises), escalated and compounded by his brother Marcus, complete with poetic explanations of why Zoey hugs Barney and “Do you want a Hertz Donut?” practical jokes. Top it all off with Marshall’s adorable Midwestern inability not to answer the call-waiting beep, and you’ve squeezed a lot of entertainment out of seperating the gang in space and reconnecting them over the phone lines.
But I know that some people really don’t care about how the story is told or who the guest star is. They’re worried about where HIMYM is heading, and some subset of them are convinced that Zoey is the wrong direction. Me, I’ve never minded Zoey as a concept—and since she comes with the utterly delightful Captain (or at least used to), I’ve actively enjoyed her time on the show. If I were terribly annoyed by Jennifer Morrison, I’d feel differently. What Zoey is, of course, is a big detour away from the Mother just when we were catching some pretty close glimpses of same. I accept that the show has to go this way. Ted is not going to pass the time with the dating scene until the series finale. He’s a romantic. He’s got feelings that he’s going to act on, given the chance. He’s got to work through another doomed love connection—or two, or three—before finding his soulmate. Those are the mechanics of a show like this.
I’m not defending the Zoey arc on the grounds of “eh, whaddya expect, it’s a sitcom with open-ended series renewal potential!” I’m saying that we should want Ted (whose story of romantic maturation the show is) to follow his heart down some blind alleys, and we should appreciate how deftly HIMYM is taking us to those places. Presented with these stories, told this way, I am more than willing to go where the creators are leading. There is something at stake, but the touch is nearly perfect—not too heavy, not cloying, a leavening pinch of sincerity without sacrificing the laughs. I sense a steady hand at the wheel, I am moved by Ted acting on his feelings even though I know this is a complication rather than a solution, and I’m very glad that HIMYM is back and moving forward toward what I expect to be quite a momentous season six endgame.
- Barney pushes the limits of what can be said under cover of a cough: “Cute means fat … not fat means ugly … I take back everything I said that girl is extremely attractive.”
- Reasons Honey’s life is going so well: her landlord cares so much about security that he installed cameras in her bathroom; Nigerians want her social security number; she got an audition behind the KFC where the casting director works a day job; she’s landed a part on Lost.
- Reasons Ted might call his own intervention: coffee breath, shoulder hair, wearing a ladies’ watch (“it’s my grandmother’s”).
- Reasons Ted pretend-hates Zoey: is trying to ruin his dream, has a stupid name, talks during movies, doesn’t speak Portuguese, is a show-off.
- What Barney hears while Ted’s chatting up Honey: “Blah blah, I’m an architect, I don’t wear suits, rambling architecture anecdote, something about a bridge …”
- I was rather shocked, I must admit, by the crudeness of Barney’s description of his time with Honey to Zoey the next day: “We had a great time last night… and then just hand stuff in the morning.”
- I plan to steal Marcus’s description of Zoey “pricked by love’s fickle thorn.” What a silver-tongued galoot.
- Biggest laughs: Barney breaking down when Honey turns his “Who’s your daddy?” come-on line back at him (“I … don’t … know!”); Marshall in sudden inspiration mode while talking to Honey: “I am her therapist”; and Barney’s vindictive glee at his father for not measuring up to his standards Nobel-prize-wise (“only three!”).
- Fashion note: Zoey has forsaken the slouchy knit berets and moved on to frothy cowls and a stunning bobble-and-cable sweater jacket in that closing scene.
- Lily: “We hate Ted now! Get on board or the sexting stops!” Marshall, enthusiastically: “Ted, that son of a bitch!”