The CBS promotion machine has been all over the special guest star on this episode, and you regulars are probably primed to mock her. But I don't care what anybody says -- I think Sarah Chalke is funny and talented, and I'm glad she's on the show.
The Big Britney Episode, as it will henceforth be known, wasn't really much to get all huffy over. You can say this for the HIMYM team: They tend to minimize the annoyance factor of their special guest stars. Britney was a sideshow, and she got her couple of laughs, but she didn't hog the screen time. (Nor was the audience allowed to hoot and holler when she made her entrance, as per sitcom tradition. In fact, she didn't really make an entrance, per se. Nice touch, team.)
So let's talk about the real story: Stella the dermatologist. We've known since the season premiere (ahem, "tramp stamp, ahem) that Ted was going to get his ill-advised butterfly tat removed via laser surgery. Now we know that his hot doctor was at the St. Paddy's day party last week and left early ... perhaps forgetting her yellow umbrella? (When I heard the faint rumbles of thunder at the end of the "two minute date" in tonight's episode, I was sure we were about to see more of that umbrella. Although Ted has it now, and where would he have stashed it -- maybe outside the door of the gyro place? Ah, maybe the thunder was just a subtle allusion.)
Nothing was really clicking for me until midway through the second act, when all of a sudden "Ten Sessions" dropped into a sequence of perfect HIMYM-style timing. See, Ted has ten painful sessions of laser tattoo removal with beautiful, funny Stella, and she's already promised to say no when he asks her out at the end. So he's trying to "turn that no into a yes," as he tells the gang at the bar. Barney visits to check out the doctor and reports back that she has folliculophilia -- the inability to be attracted to men without mustaches. So Ted grows a raggedy-ass 'stache and shows up for his next session, causing Stella to fall over laughing at the sight of him. Cut immediately to Barney falling over laughing at the bar, with Ted looking annoyed, still with the mustache, sitting beside him.
Ted with a mustache -- very funny. Nice match-cut -- extra funny points. But wait! We have one more level of flashback for you. Cut to the bar one year ago. Barney bets he can't make Ted grow a mustache, and Ted, looking bemused, takes that bet. Classic.
Two smaller examples: We find out that Barney was the rude patient on the phone when we first were introduced to Abby/Britney the receptionist, and the self-help book that Ted spots in Stella's examining room was actually left there by Marshall when he goes on his own dermatologist fact-finding mission. Both excellent HIMYM moments, and at least the latter executed with impeccable timing.
But the timing wasn't spot-on all the way through "Ten Sessions." The episode was slow starting, and as with many of the series' "Ted is a master of romance" attempts, the two-minute date seemed as likely to be annoying-quirky as endearing-quirky, if you were the one being wooed. I wanted to like it more than I did. Maybe it almost works because Elliot on Scrubs would have really liked it, ditzy romantic that she is. But no -- it's just an ounce heavy on the trying-too-hard scale.
Let's end on a high note, though, shall we? Rather than dwell on what's wrong with this slight, uneven episode, let's talk about how good the costume and hair folks were to the girls this week. Leaving aside the one scene in the bar when Cobie was dressed to sing in a Holiday Inn lounge and Alyson was ready to go on stage as an extra in Amahl and the Night Visitors, everybody looked smashing tonight. Dig that black cocktail blouse Cobie was wearing in the very next bar scene (classy!) and especially the high-waisted pencil-skirted suit Sarah wears on the two-minute date. If they're auctioning that one off for charity, instead of the potato sacks Britney sported, I'm taking out a second mortgage.
- One of the best cold opens of the season: "We all got it -- Ted's a schmuck."
- Does Barney walk around New York prepared to manifest a magic fireball at any moment? I'd think that being ready to juggle at the drop of a hat would be easier on the coat sleeves.
- Yet another thing I have in common with Lily: I, too, love biting my nails. It's like they made a sitcom about my life, right down to my constantly changing haircolor and -style! (And of course my collection of op-art rayon tops.)