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How I Met Your Mother Recap: Separation Anxiety

"46 Minutes"-- The gang, Robin, (Cobie Smulders), Barney (Neil Patrick Harris), Marshall (Jason Segel) and Ted (josh Radnor), still holding court in their usual booth at Maclaren\'s on the 150th episode of HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER, Monday, Jan. 16 (8:00-8:30 PM, ET/PT) on the CBS Television Network.  Photo: Monty Brinton/CBS √?¬©2011 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved.

It’s probably fair to say that those of you who love HIMYM do so because, even at its worst, it accurately captures the experience of being in your twenties and thirties. In the end, that’s what it’s all about. Whether it’s friends getting married or fathers passing away, the story lines reflect and occasionally dovetail with our actual lives in a very real way. And so, too, does Marshall and Lily’s move. Leaving friends (and family) is the most devastating part of that decision and though everyone will joke about choosing a city and populating it with their entire social group so that nobody ever has to say good-bye, it never quite pans out.

So we’re inclined to forgive last night’s harebrained excursions and boring B-plot on the grounds that the writers’ hearts were in the right place. Even though Marshall and Lily’s new house is only 46 minutes away by train, a genuine sadness crept over us at the sight of the vacated booth — and no, Ted, it was not at all like when they canceled Party of Five for a second time. In their absence, Barney declares himself the new leader of the gang and cues new opening credits that replace pictures of Marshall and Lily with images of Barney mugging and making out with women. The switcheroo comes a little too soon on the heels of last season’s sublime fake-band gimmick and isn’t nearly as creative, but a surprise nonetheless.

As the new alpha-friend, Barney wants to do something Marshall and Lily would disapprove of. It’s part of a strategy he calls, “Pretend everyone who leaves you never existed in the first place” and, naturally, it involves going to a strip club: “Celebrate our independence with an on-the-peen-dance.” Ted figures he “might as well see some cans,” and Robin and Kevin are playing a game that Future Ted dubs Early Relationship Chicken, where both parties are so afraid of seeming boring that they refuse to say no to anything. Despite being completely starved for chemistry, Robin and Kevin are kind of funny with each other here — or maybe it’s just the voice-overs. For instance, their internal monologues reveal that neither of them wants Kevin to get a lap dance, but Robin buys him one anyway just to play it cool. Then Kevin worries so much about staring at the strippers bosom that he can’t avert his eyes while Robin thinks, “Man, he’s really up in those jugs.”

Meanwhile, Barney tries to convince Ted that Lily’s doppelgänger (Jasmine) can be her replacement and that her “behemoth” of a mobster boyfriend can stand in for Marshall. Repeating the credits with these two hammered the joke a little hard — sometimes we want to ask the writers not to interpret our enthusiasm for the original joke as an invitation to a running gag. From there, the four of them follow their new friends to an underground poker game where a soused Ted keeps beating a bunch of thugs (“Too many things, Larry!”) and singing, “We built chip city on rock and roll.”

On Long Island, Marshall and Lily battle her dad (Chris Elliott) in one of the dullest subplots ever. First of all, this guy’s an asshole. His continued presence, and interference, in their lives comes across as more creepy than funny, especially given his negligence over the years. Two weeks ago, we noted that mothers get short shrift on this show and a few commenters disagreed. To clarify: Yes, the characters have mothers and those mothers have played a role in a couple of episodes. But fathers have dominated: Robin and Barney deal pretty regularly with their daddy issues, Marshall’s father claimed the bigger role in his life, and, strangely, Lily rarely interacts with her own mom. This isn’t so much a criticism as a curiosity.

Second, even if we had to endure this guest appearance, the plot could have involved more than a trek in the dark to find a fuse box (though, Marshall’s right, fuse boxes are intimidating and we don’t totally understand how they work). Was this just an elaborate Blair Witch joke? Mr. Aldrin irrationally annoyed us so much that it was hard to find the humor in any of this.

But maybe we’re willing to revise our negative reactions because of the episode’s bittersweet end. When the trio realizes that they need their friends, Robin sadly prophesizes that they’ll go from seeing Marshall and Lily a couple of times a week to a couple of times a month and, from there, it’s holiday parties. That doesn’t sound off base. And Barney adds: “Then the years pass and you find out Marshall’s dead. You’re there for Lily emotionally at first, but then it becomes sexual.” Right, Ted won’t let that happen. They decide to haul ass out to Long Island, allowing Kevin to volunteer his first no before admitting the truth that so many of us confront: “I hate doing things and going anywhere.”

Future Ted concludes on this note: “Would the five of us always live within a few minutes of that booth? No. But that’s life, kids.” Aww. We’re not going to quote for the third time our favorite line from “Robots vs. Wrestlers” that says just about the same thing, but please know that we want to. He continues: “Here’s what I discovered: Our booth was wherever the five of us were together.” Great, but how will this work for the series logistically?

During last week’s Television Critics Association press tour, creators Bays and Thomas indicated that Marshall and Lily would find Long Island “isolating,” which will lead to its own story arc. Also, jokingly or not, they expressed regret for not making Robin the mom (!) and maintained that there was an end in sight, but no definite plans to conclude the series after next season. (Shockingly, Jason Segel even hinted at a willingness to remain with the show for a ninth.) As much as I love HIMYM, episodes like last night’s are exactly why this should not happen. Five people can only learn the same lesson so many times. Maybe it’s time to close in on meeting that mother already. And word is February will be a big month for Ted.

Photo: Monty Brinton/CBS