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How I Met Your Mother Recap: Three’s Company

First off, did everyone notice that Crazy Eyes from season two’s monumental “Swarley” episode is starring in Showtime’s excellent series Homeland? The best part: She shows her boobs! Just kidding (though factually accurate). But if that sounded sexist, it’s mild in comparison to last night’s HIMYM, which was disappointingly callow coming from writer Kourtney Kang, who, in the past, has proved to be both hilarious (“Slap Bet”) and clever (“Return of the Shirt”). Perhaps she is having trouble keeping the gang’s dynamic fresh as the series progresses toward its inevitable conclusion.

If, as Bays and Thomas said, this is finally Cobie Smulders’s season, our beloved Robin is not off to a promising start. Dressed in a fetching green shirt (signifying envy?), she opened by telling her therapist, “I guess this is what growing up feels like.” To which Kal Penn responded, “Robin, this is court-mandated therapy.” Cue Robin’s recap of recent events, a painstakingly detailed one that stemmed from an assault charge and included a B-plot involving Marshall, Ted, and Lily. In a funny nod to HIMYM’s complex narrative structure, Penn’s character drolly noted, “I’ve had serial killers lead me to shallow graves faster than you’re telling this story.”

Sure, Future Ted has to cede the storytelling reigns to someone else once in a while, but this sometimes signals a hiccup in the series, a one-off half-hour that doesn’t quite gel. Last week, we sung the praises of HIMYM’s classic devices. Here, we have to mention some its faults: confusing chronology, alarming mischaracterizations, and a lame reliance on Barney’s womanizing ways for laughs.

When we last left off, it looked as if the show was on the precipice of revisiting Ted and Robin’s relationship, the original grist of the series. But first, Robin must grapple with her continued agony over Barney. To some, theirs was a perfect romance. Personally, we feel it lacked genuine depth. Either way, last night he brought out the worst in her. After Barney aggressively wooed Nora, Robin found herself voluntarily passing up a chance to go to France, drunkenly toasting her femininity, and actively undermining her supposed friend by suggesting that Barney was cheating (a rumor she blames on the “bitch” Patrice). Then, in a hardly redeeming move, Robin ended up attacking a random bimbo/victim of one of Barney’s many schemes to prevent her from ruining his date with Nora. Robin’s allowed to be vulnerable — this was beneath her.

Remember on Friends, when Monica started out being the most mature character, but ended up shrill and neurotic? That’s Ted. In what was the better of the two subplots, he negotiated his role in Marshall and Lily’s pregnancy, which, given their shared history, was a plausible gimmick. But he got off on the wrong foot by taking a glass of wine away from a sipping Lily, for which he deserved her Evil Willow death stare. Trust Mosby to know that Dr. Sonia (NewsRadio’s Vicki Lewis) was wrong about sushi — Lily can’t have “just a little bit.” When the series began, Ted was a lovable, dopey romantic in search of The One, but he’s evolved into something of a pedant. At best, he remains an earnest, sentimental narrator. At worst, he’s a eunuch. You expect us to believe College Ted didn’t know what a sock on the door knob signified? Really?

What’s really at stake is Ted’s third (or, technically, fourth) wheel status. He’s the apothecary to Marshall and Lily’s Romeo and Juliet, the cumin to their salt and pepper. And suddenly Lily, no stranger to meddling herself, expected him to know his place — which turned out to be a birthing class where Ted confided to Marshall, “I’m still one night and nine months away from having a family of my own, and that’s assuming the mother of my children is a huge slut.” For the umpteenth time, Marshall reassured him: “That slut is out there.” (Nice one, Kourtney. Have you been cribbing notes from Whitney Cummings?) In another un-redemptive turn, both guys realized they needed to keep their laws off Lily’s body! Or, at least, they realized they were acting like total shmoes.

So in the end, Robin learned a valuable if totally obvious lesson from Ted, which was to “not sabotage stuff” and come to terms with feeling left out sometimes. Actually, this was a very valid emotion/lesson between friends. It’s a shame the story lines that led to it were kind of ridiculous.

One final criticism: Part of what makes this series worth recapping is its many narrative mysteries and Easter eggs. HIMYM is like the Lost of sitcoms. But we hope it doesn’t suffer a similar fate as that series, entering a late period filled with callbacks and head-spinning clues that keep the audience so distracted with hypotheses that they fail to recognize a weak episode. Clearly, we’re supposed to wonder where Marshall is during the baby’s birth (at that casino wearing a Steph 4 Eva shirt, maybe?) and when Ted will wear the green dress. But, for the moment, who really cares? Plot excavation needs to lead to fertile territory. Last night was just a scavenger hunt.

Photo: Cliff Lipson/CBS