How I Met Your Mother: "The Wedding Bride"
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How I Met Your Mother: "The Wedding Bride"

The cold open introduces the gag: People's emotional baggage appears as luggage they're carrying around printed with their issues (Works In Porn, Still Thinks The Ska Band Is Going To Make It, Elvis Is Alive, Cubs Fan).  It's probably not an original idea, but it's a clever and visually arresting.  The best thing about "The Wedding Bride," though, is that it's not the central gag of the half hour.  Such ideas should be used judiciously, dropped out for whole acts, brought back just when we've forgotten about them.  The baggage joke is played with just the right touch, I thought -- not too much, not too little, and a nice little message at the end about how baggage can't be a deal-breaker when we've all got it.

No, the central gag was quite a bit more heavy-handed.  And while "The Wedding Bride" (the episode of HIMYM) had a pleasing zippiness that kept the tone light and the signifiers from getting too sloppy, The Wedding Bride (the movie-within-the-episode-of-HIMYM) threatened to take us right to the bottom like an anvil in a rowboat.  First problem: The minor-star cast list is both distracting and overused.  If you cast Chris Kattan and Malin Ackerman, I guess you have to keep going back to them for more screen time, but it felt forced.  Second problem: The big climax with Ted echoing the movie's dialogue is actually difficult to follow.  We hear the movie-climax dialogue only once, and then we have to follow it while Ted substitutes "pancakes" for "marry."  HIMYM already taxes my multitasking muscles (delightfully); trying to listen to both strains of soundtrack and grasp the little changes felt too much like work.  Third problem: The gag's so big, there's no time for a B-story.  The gang is left in the position of Greek chorus, doing nothing but commenting on Ted's predicament.

But the boat stays afloat -- mostly -- and I credit that to the way the writers use this anvil of a movie gag.  It almost plays like a Very Special Guest Star that was thrown at them; most of the time you try to work around it, and if you're really good you can actually build a few comedic structures of your own devising on top of it.  The concept goes like this: Ted goes to see a new movie with his new girlfriend Royce (Judy Greer, suddenly a continent away from her appearance as a horny physicist on The Big Bang Theory last week), and discovers that Stella's ex Tony has written a movie about the whole leaving-Ted-at-the-altar fiasco.  Only he's recast himself as a karate-chopping hero -- "Your happiness is the only thing I care about, except for these underprivileged children I work with for free" -- and Ted has become Jed Mosly, super-jerk architect who spouts the catchphrase "No can doosville, baby" and ends up karate-kicked in the nuts.  Naturally Royce and the rest of America loooooooove this movie, and Ted can't reveal his connection to it without revealing all his baggage.

It's the speed of everything around The Wedding Bride -- everything that isn't actually The Wedding Bride -- that keeps the boat making progress toward safe harbor.  I chuckled every time there was a cut back to the movie audience reacting in unison: hysterical laughter at the Jed Mosly pratfalls, "awwwwwwww!" at Tony's romantic gestures, and delighted applause when the two leads finally get together (and Mosly gets his comeuppance).  And it's because those cuts and those reactions had that zip and pace that kept them from being predictable.  The conversations at MacLaren's were some of the best of the season, thanks to a combination of clever writing unafraid to throw in multiple insta-callbacks and rapid-fire performance and editing. And although Ted is required to do way too much slow-burn in the reaction shots to the movie, he gets in some outraged licks ("He said Ted that time, didn't he?!") and built on his embrace-the-douchiness tour-de-force from last week ("even though that is the correct pronunciation").

"The Wedding Bride" is clearly taking on water when it limps to the dock, though.  Witness the brief but painful flogging of a funny moment -- Barney's "go ahead, honey, fuck him!" except 2030 Ted substitutes "kiss" -- within an inch of its life; suddenly Barney is throwing the K-bomb all over the theater (is he drunk?).  Yet true to form, by the time the credits roll, that damage has been patched by an epilogue that undercuts the heaviness of the Big Gag by having Ted wake up to Royce's essential unsuitability and withdraw his offer of pancakes.  As we roll inexorably toward the end of the season and some big life-changing episodes, here's how I read the momentum.  The show has a lot of baggage, and it's trying to deal with it in the spirit of good humor and a light touch.  But it's getting harder to drag the mythology and the Very Special Guest Stars around without breaking stride.  I find the fleetness of the writing and production hopeful; I find the navel-gazing somewhat worrisome.  Next time up to the plate, the show will still be looking to break out of a mini-slump.

Stray observations:

  • "Emotional baggage is the bedrock of America's most important cultural export ... actually, it's porn."
  • The snowballing gag where Royce's apparent baggage vanishes when she gets a chance to explain reaches a truly transcendent moment when she starts a joke: "A priest, a rabbi, and a Jew ...", pauses for a drink, and the rollin suitcase reads: "Ted, Wait For Her To Finish Her Sip."  ("... lliard-trained violinist walk into a bar ...")
  • I take it back; there's a tiny gesture toward a B-story, in which Marshall is criticized for being too nice due to his Minnesota upbringing ("His high school mascot was a hug," Lily explains).  He objects to Robin's description of his hometown as "crime-free": "In 1994 the cashier at the feed store was held up at hoe-point."
  • Robin thinks both the arcade proposal and the two-minute date (transformed in the movie into callous abuse by Jed Mosly) were "a little cheesy."
  • "That's what passes for comedy these days?  Whoa, I'm fallin' back in ma chair!" 

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