How I Met Your Mother: "The Perfect Week"
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How I Met Your Mother: "The Perfect Week"

Guest stars -- art, science, or crass marketing gimmick?  HIMYM has had its share of CMGs; most of us will never forget -- and some of us will never forgive -- the Britney Spears episode.  Excuse me: episodes.  By contrast, tonight's cameos by CBS sportscaster Jim Nantz and New York Yankees outfielder Nick Swisher haven't been hyped to death by the promotions machine.  (Or maybe they have, and I either don't watch CBS enough of just TiVo past all the promos.)  And Jim Nantz, at least, is in the running for a Most Valuable Guest Star award for this nimble, hilarious episode that puts the show's trademark flashback structure to perfect use.

As Barney waits for his Friday appointment with his Goliath National Bank bosses, nervous about getting fired for blowing a merger deal earlier in the week, he engages in his favorite nerve-calming activity: imagining being interviewed by Jim Nantz.  Tonight's topic: The sport of sleeping with random hotties.  Specifically, the extraordinary athletic feat of the previous week.  It all started with Barney calling his shot by pointing at a random girl at the bar to determine whom he would be sleeping with that night (then opening his eyes and changing the angle of his pointing finger a little).  And sure enough, the week got going with a bang.  A supremely confident Barney took home three girls in three nights, barely breaking a sweat.

But like all such sporting achievements, this one didn't just have meaning for the participants.  No, the spectators had their own emotions, fears, and hopes that they invested in Barney's quest for what we might euphemistically term a "yes-yes."  Robin had a horrible date with "a dork with a lazy eye and a love-hate relationship with Gargamel," but the dork doesn't even call her back to give her the satisfaction of rejecting him.  On the first day of the new semester, Ted humiliates an Asian student with the unfortunate moniker of Cook Pu (Kuk Pu? we'd have to go to the credits to see how the writers spelled it, I suppose) when he assumes that the other students put a joke name on the syllabus.  And Marshall and Lily muck up the latest candidates for their couple friends when they accidentally let slip that they share a toothbruth.  (Ewwwwwww.)

So they all watch Barney's attempt at the rare permfmff mfmff (don't say it!) on the edges of their seats.  The tension is made even greater on night four, when Marshall reveals that Barney is in danger of getting canned at work -- the kind of setback that surely could get under the skin of a highly trained athlete and throw him off his game.  But in the single funniest sequence of a very funny night, Ted goes to the mound to have a talk with his boy.  "How about the heater?" he offers, pointing out a girl by the radiator.  Barney assumes a sideways stance and shakes off the suggestion.  "High and outside?" Ted asks, indicating a girl who can barely be seen through the bar window toking up.  Finally they settle on the slider (girl eating a miniature burger), and Ted retires to the dugout, his work done.  ("He's going to take a swat at the Hamburglar over there," he explains when Lily asks how his intervention went.)

Barney stumbles through the next couple of innings, but his quest for sexual immortality appears to be stymied on the final night when Nick Swisher walks into the bar, instantly shifting the focus of every single female in range.  Robin finally understands what Barney's up against when Lily asks what she would do if a Vancouver Canuck walked into the bar: "My panties would hit the floor so hard they'd end up halfway to China.")  And despite multiple disasters -- twice one of the gang suggests that there's no such thing as a jinx!  Twice!  Causing Jim Nantz to stand up, throw up his hands, and kick over his chair in disbelief -- it's teamwork that deflects the Nick Swisher threat and sends Barney off the mound with an unblemished record.

I don't know how you could imagine a better-constructed HIMYM episode in a non-mythology mode.  "The Perfect Week" had a natural arc derived from the drama of the game it references.  Everyone in the ensemble got a good character moment and a chance at some well-written comic dialogue.  There might not have been much suspense, but there was real emotion in the hopes and dreams everyone invested in Barney as their own fortunes sank.  And more than balancing out the ridiculous faux-hawk of Swisher, there was Jim Nantz playing off Barney like a perfect fantasy sidekick.  Respect.

Stray observations:

- Barney goes in for his might-be-fired meeting on Friday, which at first threw me in terms of the timing.  But then I realized that the sexual week obviously starts on Friday night, meaning his seven-in-a-row string was completed the following Thursday.

- "See that girl having a White Russian?  She's about to chase that with a white American!  Up top!"

- "He couldn't keep his good eye off me.

- The only man to achieve both a perfect game and a perfect week: Mustache Pete Drexel back in 1896.

- "Eight o'clock?" -- counts on fingers -- "I need to go to the hospital."

- One, you don't open an e-mail from Phil Simms in front of your kids.

- Proving that you can't refer to sportscaster Jim Nantz except by his full name: "You can test me if you want Jim Nantz!" and "You're a keen observer of human nature, Jim Nantz."

- "I'm totally gonna sit my kids down someday and tell 'em about the time Uncle Barney nailed seven chicks in a row!" 

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