On an overseas flight last week, I watched a couple of season one episodes of HIMYM, just to check my memory in light of commenters on this season’s premiere episodes complaining that the latest episodes don’t match up to the earliest ones. Confirmed: HIMYM didn’t really become the snappy, inventive show that’s its best self until well after its debut, sometime in season two. Compared to the wildly enjoyable, deeply felt, and boldly constructed “The Ducky Tie” last week, those season one episodes I watched on the plane were nothing more than promising pastimes, too aware of the style they were reaching for, too anxious about waiting for laughter, too hung up (dare I say it) on the show’s premise. The only dissent I have from Todd’s excellent write-up, in fact, is that the show still has the ability to hit those highest notes, well, that and the grade (I’d have given “The Ducky Tie” an A and defended it against all comers).
I wish I could say that “The Stinson Missile Crisis” heralds an extended return to form, but its efforts at gentle self-ribbing (everything turns into a story about the whole group, partially as a defense against needed introspection) are a bit clunky in execution… a bit slow on the downbeat. Consider the two act fade-outs on Robin under a table swilling booze and weeping: They’re “ba-dum-ba-dump!” jokes, complete with a little humorous musical sting to take us to commercial. Yet within that slightly draggy framework, there’s so much to like. I enjoy this show just as much as Todd week to week, maybe more, and I was never angry about Zoe (or any other supposed Ted relationship dead-end), despite serving as a regular recapper. And it’s because I don’t only love what these performers and this show’s framework can do when everything clicks. I love what they’re capable of, even when some part of the machine is limping, even when some path they’ve turned down winds up a dead end.
Kal Penn makes the first of two known appearances this season (possibly A Very Harold And Kumar 3D Christmas related) as the therapist Robin is ordered by the court to see after assaulting another woman. And to find out whom she assaulted and why, we hear the whole story unwind from the point at which Robin schemes to have Nora sent to cover the G8 summit in London, sick of the daily tokens of love from Barney that keep coming to the office (flowers, chocolates, balloons, Barney himself crooning “When A Man Loves A Woman”). While Nora’s out of the country, Barney realizes he has to disarm all his leftover BDSes: Bimbo Delivery Systems. These schemes have been running automatically to bring potential conquests into Barney’s orbit, from ads touting Barney Stinson’s free breast reduction consultations to ads urging victims to join a class action lawsuit against fake breast reduction consultations (“Call me, Arnie Linson!”). Robin sees a chance to get close to Barney and possibly head Nora off at the pass by helping with the BDS dismantling.
But to understand the whole picture, we have to bring Marshall and Lily into the mix and Lily’s OB-GYN, Dr. Sonya (Vicki Lewis!), who lets Lily have “just a leetle beet!” of stuff that’s bad for her in pregnancy (wine, sushi, Cheetos). As the third member of Team Baby (“what’s next, matching cheesy T-shirts?” Marshall sneers, causing Ted to rebutton in shame), Ted disapproves of Dr. Sonya’s laxity, and after Lily throws Ted out of the examination room for interfering in her pregnancy, Marshall confesses that he is on Ted’s side. The two men end up at a birthing class where the instructor has them perform sensual massage on each other and affirm Ted’s body’s wisdom.
“The Stinson Missile Crisis” is the first salvo in the season of Robin the show’s creators have promised in various interviews. I yield to no one in my love for Cobie Smulders and Robin, and I’m eager for Robin and Barney to reconnect. But it’s not easy to go from the rat-a-tat-tat storytelling strategy of “The Ducky Tie,” with its hilariously telegraphed transitions between subplots and surfeit of comic riches, to an episode narrated by Robin alone. Every time we go back to Kal Penn’s office, a bit of the momentum dies. Luckily, what’s in between those framing bits has plenty of gusto. Robin yells “Nobody asked you, Patrice!” when her big-eyed coworker sighs over Barney (“He’s so dreamy!”). Alexis Denisof, in his occasional role as Robin’s boss Sandy, grins widely when he reveals why he prefers Nora to Robin (“I want to have sex with her!”). And of course, Barney never fails with his stumble over references to breasts (“I can handle them! It!”) in his various ads and the recording on the Cold Call 5000, which dials body-glitter and high-end pastie clients (“between the ages of 22 and 23,” Barney carefully delineates in his explanation) and asks them to meet him at MacLaren’s.
Best of all, there’s Ted. Ted, who gets such a raw deal in the marketing and promotion of this show, and from its fans as well, has been on fire during this short season, and even in this second-tier episode, Josh Radnor gives a remarkable performance. I love Ted’s overweening enthusiasm, his touching belief that friendship gives him a free pass to interfere in Marshall and Lily’s relationship, his little looks of cautious determination while trying to fill in for Lily at the birthing class. That last situation is pure cheese, a staple of almost any sitcom with a baby on the way in the last 20 years, but Radnor and Segel don’t let anything get in the way of making the scene pop. His list of trios that normal people would consider duos (Batman and Robin and Albert, Romeo and Juliet and the Apothecary, salt and pepper and cumin) pays off with wonderful Tedesque delight when he shows Marshall and Lily how he cropped the Halloween picture of them dressed as salt and pepper and cumin to make it just salt and pepper, “ridiculous!”, then when invited back into the group unfolds the picture with delight: “I didn’t really crop it!”
So what do we learn from Robin’s acceptance that she needs to let Barney and Nora have their relationship unimpeded, a lesson that leads her to assault a cold-called girl who slipped past the dismantled system? Nothing much; we already knew that Robin pines for Barney, and we certainly should know that she’s not going to stop being his friend while the two do this season’s dance. We do get a flashforward to Dr. Sonya’s less relaxed bedside manner while Lily gives birth and discover that Marshall isn’t present for some reason. But even without plot movement and without the snap, crackle, and pop of last week, there’s still so much to enjoy.
- Big ups to Todd VanDerWerff for stepping up to the plate last week. He did justice to one of my favorite shows and one of my favorite recent episodes.
- “It’s fascinating how little I know about vaginas,” Marshall muses while staring at a model on Dr. Sonya’s wall. Then later, he and Ted decide to leave the birthing class just as the instructor invites, “Dads, this is the time when I’ll answer any question you ever had about vaginas” (and all the male hands in the room immediately go up).
- Barney’s apartment is full of seduction props: “For some women, it was the ashes of my parents; for others, the trophy from Wimbleon; and for one amazing dullard, it was both.”
- Robin’s assistance in the BDS matter backfires in the romance department. Barney proclaims her a bro, and when she protests that she’s female, reiterates: “You’re more of a bro. You’re a dude. You’re a man.” As a last-ditch effort before Nora returns, Robin proposes that the two put on their best duds and hit the town: “When is the last time we got rip-roaring drunk in clothing that highlights our genders?”
- In order to explain why she keyed the judge’s car, Robin starts another story: “Marshall and Lily were supposed to go to the zoo…”
- Marshall-Lily-Ted Halloween costumes: Salt and Pepper and Cumin, Lady and the Tramp and their bowl of spaghetti, Lewis and Clark and their canoe, Dr. Frankenstein and his monster and a scared villager, and R2D2 and C3PO and the robot Luke’s uncle almost bought from the Jawas
- “Sometimes it’s better to interfere and sabotage stuff, right?”