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How I Met Your Mother Recap: Cover Boy

So here we are after six-going-on-seven seasons of HIMYM, and as Future Ted tells his kids, “[We’re] not really all that close to the end.” Good news for us fans … right?

First things first: Is it a conflict of interest for us to write about these episodes? Can we objectively praise a show that features New York Magazine so prominently in its premiere? Turns out, we don’t have to worry, because last night’s double header was not as promising as hoped. It’d be impossible to accuse Sunday’s Emmy ceremony of overlooking this beloved show, since it hasn’t been particularly impressive in its elder years. But for the sake of argument: While not always original, nor sometimes even funny, How I Met Your Mother has a genuine emotional draw. If you’re within range of a certain age, these five friends are shadows of you and the people you know, which makes the show worth watching until it’s gone.

The trouble is that getting older means making progress, and HIMYM is, like the New Yorkers it depicts, torn between moving forward and looking back. Last night was no different, with a backstory (Barney’s wedding) wrapped in another, earlier one (Punchy’s big day). The latter takes place only a week after the season-six finale, in Cleveland, where a back-on-the-prowl Barney announces, “The last man to screw you this hard and then disappear was LeBron James,” and the whole gang is suffering the effects of never-before-seen foibles: Ted apparently bombs best man speeches with his morbid narcissism while Robin’s phony-seeming “truth voice” betrays her deepest desires (“I wish the Spice Girls would get back together”). This on top of an interest in Lenny Kravitz — when did Robin develop such bad taste?

In a bid for semi-relevance, creators-writers Bays and Thomas embellish Ted with a YouTube-able history of embarrassing toasts (and one remix!) that feature him crying during his deliveries, setting in motion a theme of Internet gotchas (more on that later). But this time will be different, his friends insist, because Ted is on the cover of New York Magazine! He’s the hottest architect around! Honestly, it’s hard to say whether this plot point was over- or underplayed. On one hand, they brought the magazine with them to the wedding. Then again, Ted Mosby is on the cover of New York Magazine — as one of the hottest architects around. Given that the city’s skyline remains a dominant topic, especially in September of 2011, that’s nothing to shrug at. And it’s working out a lot better than it did for Carrie Bradshaw.

So, basically, Punchy’s wedding is remembered as a disaster because Marshall’s announcement of Lily’s pregnancy ended up outing Punchy’s wife’s same news. For a monumental event to be handled so hammily was disappointing. The happy couple’s cooing — over what were far too many babies at a wedding reception — recalled season four’s “Sock!” episode, though Lily’s “The son of a bitch has knee dimples” remark was appropriately adorable. Ted, meanwhile, whines to Robin that he’s lost his faith in the power of destiny: “I used to go to the bagel place, see a pretty girl in line, reading my favorite novel, whistling the song that was stuck in my head all week and think, Wow, hey, maybe she’s the one.” Checked Facebook lately, Ted? Everyone’s read the same books and listened to the same bands. “Now I think, I know that bitch is going to take the last whole wheat everything bagel.” Exactly.

In a recent Vulture interview with the creators, they revealed that this would be a big season for Cobie Smulders, which is legitimately exciting because, as we’ve said before, she’s the unsung heroine of HIMYM and she’s long been saddled with crappy story lines. But her renewed feelings for Barney weren’t exactly a bonus. Their dirty dancing was cute, mostly because Smulders and Neil Patrick Harris are so charismatic together, even if Sparkles looked a little stiff. The lobby for their characters getting back together, possibly for good, is a powerful one, but that’s not necessarily the outcome we root for. While Aunt Robin can’t feasibly be Ted’s wife, and while Ted himself, especially in this premiere, can be overbearingly smarmy, theirs was the original romance. If anything, now that we know Barney’s getting hitched, it might be refreshing to leave one character happily single, Samantha-style. Though “the bride wants to see you” doesn’t leave much room for ambiguity. Which tie — err, woman did Barney pick? Supposedly, we’ll find out by the end of the season.

Onwards to the second episode, which can be summed up thusly: Jason Segel has a big dick. Perhaps that’s a little too pithy, but ever since his full-frontal in Forgetting Sarah Marshall, the actor has frequently found reason to call attention to his ample manhood. So Marshall is nursing a hangover from all the drinks he consumed while protecting Lily’s pregnancy secret and is making a “sweeping declaration” that we’re all familiar with: “I am never getting drunk again.” And a job interview with Garrison Cootes, who’s also featured in the same issue of New York Magazine as Ted and is played by Martin Short, means Marshall’s going to be Googled. His "Beercules" streaking video has got to go. (But hands off "Straight Outta Connecticut.")

The B-plot is too boring to properly pick over: Barney is once again trying to convince Nora that he’s no longer the type of guy who would pretend to be Barnell so he could sleep with a black woman. Until she agrees to a second date, he stages a sit-in at the diner/new set piece, where the whole group joins him after Marshall tries and fails to convince Edward Fortyhands (It’s Always Sunny’s Jimmi Simpson) to remove the offending footage. He makes another sweeping declaration, but fast-forward to a casino, where he’s pounding a few shots while wearing a "Marshall & Steph 4 Eva" shirt. Why speculate? Let’s just be surprised.

Okay, let’s speculate a little bit: Even though in “Last Cigarette Ever” we learn that Marshall quit smoking the day his son was born, should we assume he has a girl named Steph first, whom he smokes in front of?

Finally, Ted can’t decide whom to ask to the Architect’s Ball now that he has so many hotties after him thanks to the NEW YORK MAGAZINE COVER, but he ends up taking a smokin’ Smulders, who just wants to meet Lenny Kravitz, who of course turns out to be a totally different Leonard Kravitz. But there, gilding the cupcake, is Victoria!

Commenters and recappers have wondered about Ashley Williams’s return. In some ways, Ted’s baker girlfriend from season one got the short shrift. No one cared about her when Robin was waiting in the wings, but in the years following their split, it was sort of surprising that Bays and Thomas didn’t trot her out again. (Spoiler alert: The slutty pumpkin is also due for a comeback.) Probably not everybody’s excited about this, but it could be an immediate misdirect and she can’t possibly be the mother (right?), and she isn’t nearly as intolerable as Zoey, so ... Overall, this was not a stellar beginning, but patience is a virtue. Let’s wait until next week to see what gives.

Photo: Cliff Lipson/CBS