Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

How I Met Your Mother: The Best Burger In New York

Illustration for article titled How I Met Your Mother: The Best Burger In New York
Illustration for article titled How I Met Your Mother: The Best Burger In New York

Since Donna's already slacking–and only one week into the new season!–I'll be hosting this week's How I Met Your Mother coverage. But first, let me put on my big underpants….

Ah, that's better. Also better? This week's episode, which felt a lot more like prime HIMYM to me than the just-okay season premiere. At the least, "The Best Burger In New York" had a lot more to offer than "Do I Know You?" in terms of structural play and richer meaning–although in terms of comedy and emotion, I think Bays and Thomas are still in the usual season-opening process of building momentum. And it didn't help that they were trying to awkwardly work a celebrity guest into the mix.

That guest is Regis Philbin, who initially appears as a signed photo on the wall in every restaurant Marshall dines at in a big burger-eating montage. Marshall's trying to track down the titular "Best Burger In New York," which he swears he found by accident eight years earlier, when he first moved to the city. In an act of desperation, Marshall and Barney track down Regis, who says that he too can't remember where that restaurant was, but that he wants Barney to call him if they ever find it. Which means that throughout the episode, whenever the gang thinks they've zeroed in on the location of the BB, Barney contacts Regis, and we get a jarring jolt of zany. One throwaway gag with Regis would've been fine; four or five is way too much.

My main complaint about the Philbin overload is that takes time away from our heroes doing what they do best: reminiscing, and playing "Can you top this?" The reminiscing comes as Marshall and Lily recall the details of his eight-year search for the BB, and how the sudden urgency of his quest relates to his inability to find a job. And the "Can you top this?" comes in the gang's ecstatic reactions to every BB candidate they taste. (What was your favorite burger rhapsody? Initially, I was torn between Barney saying, "I love this burger so much I want to sew my ass shut," and Marshall describing the original BB's bun as being like "the sesame-freckled breast of an angel." But in the end I'll go with Mashall's reaction to Barney's declaration that he wants to impregnate the actual BB: "If he does get that burger pregnant, I've got dibs on the delicious burger babies.")

By and large, the laugh-out-loud jokes were scarce tonight, but that didn't bother me so much, because I was involved in the metaphorical resonance of Marshall's quest. When he discovers the street where the burger joint used to be, his obvious excitement reminded me of all the times I've returned to places I used to live after years away. I dream about those places sometimes, and yet when I come back, nothing's ever quite as I expect. In Marshall's case, he discovers that the place called "Burger" has moved, and has been replaced by an ATM for the bank that Barney's company just bought–the bank where Marshall has reluctantly taken a job. So just as the episode begins with Ted reminiscing about all the exciting old New York City places that have been transformed into something safe and corporate, so it ends with Marshall again giving up his dreams of becoming an environmental lawyer so that he can make money and start a family.

I've gone on record before as saying that I thought Marshall's sell-out last season was one of the best things ever to happen to HIMYM. It was sad to see such a nice guy lose his soul, but also brave for a sitcom to imply that not everybody in the cast was going to get the happy ending they deserved. I thought Bays and Thomas let Marshall–and by extension the audience–off the hook a little last year by letting him quit his job and back away from his lousy apartment deal with no real repercussions. But I've read that the apartment will return this season, and apparently Marshall's unhappy maturity will return with it. So good for HIMYM for making that tough choice again; I hope they stick with it this time.

And I think they will, because it seems like they've found a way to cushion the blow of Marshall becoming a corporate hack: by showing how much Barney loves it. Leave it to Barney to be the one guy in the group who thinks it's great that New York is turning into The Mall Of America. Even though his constant shilling for Marshall's new employer was intended to put Lily's mind at ease, it's also entirely in Barney's character to prefer convenience and international branding to funky regionalism. Barney may not be the best role model for anything else, but maybe he can show Marshall how to enjoy being a tool for our financial overlords.

(Member FDIC.)

Grade: B+

Stray observations:

-How big is your underpants radius?

-Good to hear NPH's pipes again, singing the GNB jingle so sweetly.

- I liked the way Marshall's pep talks into the mirror became ever-more realistic: "You are flexible on salary!"

-Chinese, Indian, Mexican are all the same to Barney: "Weird meats, funny music, side of rice."

-Barney doing his Karnak impression: "A taxidermist and a Triple X bookstore … What are two places where things get stuffed?"

-I also like Marshall's irritated reaction to the guy who's certain that the burger he's looking for can be found at The Corner Bistro, the highest-rated burger joint in the Zagat guide. There's nothing more frustrating to an in-the-know type than having their conversation interrupted by someone far less in-the-know.

-Robin finished her seven-day cleanse six days early. She's efficient!

-Hey, I also want to be a Harlem Globetrotter and get paid in candy.

So… are you ready to play … Million Dollar Heads Or Tails?!