I know some of you have had your heart set on the slutty pumpkin for years now. But believe me when I tell you that this is probably the best that could have come of it. She was always going to be some guest star, and when Katie Holmes was announced, all of our expectations plummeted. Which makes it kinda nice that she rapped out “One Week” with such aplomb and said, “It’s like he’s trying to win a thumb war” in a voiceover and (especially) that she wasn’t nearly what Ted wanted her to be. Katie Holmes being a screwup is a comedy conceit I can get behind.
The surprising thing about “The Slutty Pumpkin Returns” is that the subplot featuring soulless automaton Katie Holmes works out better than the one featuring Robin needling Barney for being one-quarter Canadian. I hope some of you Canuckophiles out there transcribed all of Robin’s increasingly insular northern analogies, and Cobie Smulders sure was having a good time rattling them off. But oneupsmanship isn’t my favorite Robin-Barney dynamic, and I never felt the sting that Barney was supposed to be cracking under: that Canadian heritage is a source of shame. Yes, I know he’s ridiculed Robin’s Canadianity in the past, and that rooftop party entrance to “Livin’ in America” was pretty sweet. But this show in better days would have found more angles to the one joke. There would have been movement in this plot, layers and tangents and cul-de-sacs. Instead, there was, “Ha ha, you’re Canadian too! And … scene.”
Contrast the two other plots, wherein Ted tried to let go of his longtime obsession with the slutty pumpkin in the face of their complete mismatch, and wherein Lily in the grip of pregnancy brain suddenly decided that she too wanted to move out to the suburbs. In both, people let the seeming fated perfection of a situation overwhelm the fact that they actually hate the situation. This is a real thing, in both instances. When someone hands you the key to a house, you try to talk yourself into wanting that house, listing all its wonderful advantages that moments ago would have meant nothing to you. When you meet the fantasy object that you’ve built up into the answer to all your prayers based on one moment of connection, it’s difficult to admit that the rest of the moments of disconnection are the truth, and not the thing you’ve clung to all these years.
And in both cases, two people are involved, two people who may feel the same way or not, and who are trying to figure out how to do the right thing and not let their own selfish desires get in the way. Ted ends up sleeping with the slutty pumpkin because 15-year-old Ted reminded him of his vow never to turn down a girl who volunteered to sleep with him. (Fifteen-year-old Ted makes his point by listing the things he had sex with that were not willing female partners: a catcher’s mitt, an oven mitt, a glass of warm water, a half-open hideabed sofa, a toploading VCR.) Marshall wants to ignore Lily’s poor judgment, caused by pregnancy hormones, because it’s suddenly in line with what he wants. “We can get that pinball machine you’ve always wanted, and you can put it anywhere you want,” Lily purrs, breaking down his resolve to counter her, and his, wishes.
The two plots resolve with nimble turns in which both parties confess that the situation sucks. We find out that Naomi was just as uncomfortable as Ted with their attempts at snuggling and just as alarmed when he blurts out “I … love …” (“Say basset hounds!” she urges him wordlessly.) And after Lily gives away a stapler to a trick or treater, has an emotional breakdown over its loss, and after she gets egged for the rotten treat, she faces up to her irrationality and her hatred of the suburbs. What does Barney learn? Only to continue denying his immigrant roots with exaggerated patriotism. And shirtlessness.
- Everybody’s Facebook friends with Barney’s dad Lester Jerome Whittaker; Marshall is impressed with his Bejeweled Blitz prowess.
- Best throwaway gag of the night: Lily’s grandparents always foist white elephants off on them when they visit, “like the world’s worst Showcase Showdown”: “It’s a perfectly usable lawnmower! … And you also get…nthis skinny microphone!” (And the show’s obsession with Bob Barker continues.)
- Best warm human moment of the night: Cobie cracking up as NPH demands “American Scotch! From Scotland!”
- Best line reading of the night: Alyson Hannigan asking Ted about his date. “How was your date with the snuffy tumkin? The snicky napkin. The … sludgy foreskin.”
- Best out-of-left-field cultural reference: “She sounds like those cows in Temple Grandin’s hug machine.”
- “Just because my body is growing a fungus doesn’t mean that my metal factories are in any way funicular.”