News flash, everybody! When your friends have a baby, they don’t hang out with you anymore. You might even feel like they don’t care about you as much as they used to! This wholly original insight, which I’m sure you’ve never seen portrayed on television before, let alone experienced yourself or discussed with loved ones, constitutes the limping, almost apologetic plotline of tonight’s episode. Around here, though, we know that it’s not always about what’s shiny and new, but about how well you execute the classics. And except for a failure to bring home the goods in the far-too-sincere third act—seriously, you don’t cut Barney loose from this guardianship obligation after admitting just last week that you weren’t sure why you’re still friends?—the crew delivers a passable version. Passable, but not what we should be expecting from a show that’s set itself much higher standards of creativity.
The reason the gang doubts Lily and Marshall’s commitment to their friendship is that they dictate an “eight or higher” rule for telling them about various personal problems. So when Lily and Marshall do come down to MacLaren’s for a drink and ask how everybody’s doing, Ted doesn’t mention that Victoria’s dad is dunning him for the $70,000 wedding bill (“He said ‘or else’!” Victoria chuckles; “He’s not usually funny like that”); Robin keeps quiet about Nick’s not-so-awesome motorbike (“Eco-friendly! She runs on corn!”); and Barney stays mum about the six-and-a-half he banged the night before. But Lily and Marshall also realize during their jaunt out of the house that New York could kill them in a half-dozen fatal ways (“Faulty elevators, exploding manhole covers, jealous husbands…” Barney agrees), so they need a will, and making a will means they need to name a guardian for Marvin.
Naturally (because sitcom!), the three friends compete for the honor of being named godparent and therefore proving themselves Lily and Marshall’s bestie. Robin and Ted bring ever-more-ginormous teddy bears over (you’d think Ted would have the edge in that one, but he doesn’t appear to have realized the bear-related possibilities of his own damn name), and Barney shows up at the apartment door singing promiscuity-themed versions of various kids’ songs in appropriate costume. The best moment from this sequence—Marshall pausing, then reopening the door to hear the end of Barney’s rendition of “The Boobs On The Bus” (an anti-climactic “allll through the tooown …”) is so good that we get a welcome insta-flashback to it. But it gives Marshall an idea: Slap together a wheel of destiny, “buy your wife an expensive dress so she’ll participate,” and have the friends play a game show for the guardianship.
I know I’m spoiled for sitcom homemade game show storylines by my recent viewing of “The One With The Embryos,” but you don’t have to have impossibly high standards to find “Who Wants To Be A Godparent?” mediocre. Parenting situations like explaining Lily and Marshall’s death, the birds-and-bees talk, and discipline for toy theft get answered by each character in turn, in imaginary flash-forward with an appropriately-aged (and garbed) future Marvin. The direct juxtaposition of Barney’s predictably hedonistic strategies with Ted’s repeated use of his dinosaur puppet Professor Infosaurus and Robin’s channeling of her tough-love dad has a certain completist logic, but it’s far from fleet. After one time through, we get the joke, and I would have loved to have seen a different method of gameplay than “everyone answers every question.”
Yes, the answers are often funny. Barney is as upset about making little Marvin wear a cheap reversible belt as the boy. Ted melts before Marvin’s puppy eyes and goes from taking away his TV time to “I’ll do the dishes, you watch TV, and let’s go get ice cream!” When Robin sends Marvin away to the British Columbia Military School For Boys with the consoling thought that “At least you won’t have to shave all your hair off and burn all your girly clothing in an oil drum while your dad watches through the flames,” Marshall gives her the point because we all love Robin and want her to know she’s in a safe place now. Best of all is Professor Infosaurus doing a hip-hop number about the scientific process of conception, which seems to be enjoyed equally by a pre-teen Marvin and the ‘Saur’s human operator in the fantasy sequence, but is mocked by Barney in the present day (“Professor Infosaurus also has a rap about ignoring bullies,” Ted announces defensively).
But the plodding, stepwise structure means that few questions get asked or answered, and most of the tantalizing spaces on the wheel remain unexplored (e.g., “Santa/Bigfoot/Tooth Fairy”). And then the three contestants leave in a huff after rejecting Lily and Marshall’s argument that they have no extra compassion left over for endless relationship problems, and no precious hours of sleep to sacrifice for shutting down MacLaren’s. The episode forces them to apologize for having new priorities, although at least it has Robin and Ted respond by stepping up to take an early-morning feeding. It’s the kind of feel-good simplicity that I expect this show to subvert or elevate. Alas, this is just some reasonably funny television, not a final season highlight for a show known for inventive explorations of structure’s comic potential.
- “Who Wants To Be A Godparent?” does get bonus points for featuring Robin in full-on awesome modality throughout. She’s especially lovable when she’s correcting Barney’s list of New York deathtraps by pointing out Lily and Marshall are far more likely to eat it in a mugging gone wrong.
- No, I take it back. Here’s Robin’s best line: “As the only one here packing a vag, I’ve got a natural instinct for nurturing and crap like that!”
- I like that in the fast-forward through Marshall’s argument with Lily about making her mom the guardian, he makes the universal “drinky” motion.
- Professor Infosaurus: “Death is a difficult yet unfortunate certainty.”