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How I Met Your Mother Recap: Trapped in the Closet

"The Over-Correction" -- Robin becomes increasingly suspicious of Barney'™s (Neil Patrick Harris, center) relationship with Patrice (Ellen D. Williams, left), on HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER, Monday, Dec. 10 (8:00-8:30 PM, ET/PT) on the CBS Television Network.

If this episode was timed to the next installment of the R. Kelly masterpiece (is masterpiece too strong?), then congratulations to the writers for their impressive foresight. Even if it was simply inspired by the original, we salute them. Yeah, the episode was heavy on the high jinks, but there was also a spirited sense of togetherness, and we really liked how resistant Robin remained to the idea of Barney and Patrice, when a more predictable ending would have had her softening to his apparent change of heart. The screaming-at-Patrice gag might be wearing thin, but at least Robin commits.

From the title alone, the gist of last night’s episode was pretty obvious: Barney’s sudden interest in Robin’s cloyingly earnest, sweet-tempered co-worker is his way of “overcorrecting” for his interest in stripper Quinn. We suspected this would be the theory, but the logic doesn’t really stand up to reasoning — Barney and Quinn broke up because he had a 1,000-page prenup full of sexist demands, not because Quinn was a stripper whom he “never trusted.” (Or really, who knows, that relationship already seems like it never happened.) But anyway, he’s trying something new, and Robin’s not buying it. And nor should she! Robin’s self-centeredness was a little irritating last week, but this week we fully support her attempts to sabotage Barney and Patrice. Who can even count the number of horrible fat jokes he’s made over the years? He’s treated women like dirt, and we accept it for the sake of his character and because Neil Patrick Harris does such a phenomenal job, but we’ll be damned if we’re going to suddenly feel sorry for Barney. Robin’s reasoning may have been poor, but Patrice deserves to know who Barney is. But even writing this is probably putting too much stock in this relationship, which we still suspect is part of a long con to win Robin back, one that Patrice might very well be in on (since the fight between her and Barney took place out of earshot).

Anyway, the rest of the gang disagreed, but Ted and Lily got sucked into helping Robin steal the playbook anyway, or at least Ted did, and Lily just happened to be hiding out in Barney’s apartment anyway, breast-feeding and using Ted’s cooler for storage. The entire subplot concerning all of the things people borrowed from Ted and never returned worked incredibly well as a running joke here, and felt so spot-on in terms of Ted’s character. He would be the friend with the power drill, the cooler, the pocketknife, the air mattress, the label-maker, the Christmas ornaments, and Weekend at Bernie’s on DVD. And people rarely if ever return shit. Anyway, from the beginning of last night’s episode — with the four-way phone conversation between Marshall, Ted, Robin, and Lily — to the intervention callback at the end, we thought this was a really strong episode, and discounting last week, that makes for a pretty consistent upswing.

What we liked:

- The callbacks didn’t seem forced. The intervention that Robin demanded the gang have for Barney, but that we all knew was going to be turned on her, seemed reasonable, and we loved her “Please tell me this is about my drinking” remark. Also, Ted’s red cowboy boots (approved by the G-CWOKs back in season three) made a believable return. Stuart’s wife had borrowed them for Halloween, and he returned them to Barney, who “accepted the challenge” to try to get laid while wearing them.

- The idea of the overcorrection. We didn’t love the past examples — Ted dating someone in prison in the wake of Victoria was ludicrous, and Marshall’s stand-up acts channeling Chris Rock and Andrew Dice Clay weren’t really funny except for Lily’s heckling — but the extreme shift in tactic/lifestyle/etc. made sense.

- The gang’s low tolerance for Robin’s aggravation over Barney and Patrice. They’re quick to point out that Barney rejected her after she rejected him, also making it clear that Lily spilled another secret, and no one supports the idea of stealing the Playbook (although, again, if Barney took the trouble to make a playbook, this seems fair!).

- The “two can play that game” move, wherein Barney tells a woman his wife is having an affair with her husband, and is there anything they can do to exact revenge? And mostly, this answer: “There is! We can kill them.”

- Ted luring Barney out of the apartment by saying he saw Hugh Hefner in the lobby, and this airtight defense when he turns out to be black: “I guess I just don’t notice that kind of stuff.” Barney is clearly on to Ted, which is why he doesn’t fall for the Bon Jovi gimmick, but he doesn’t say anything, which supports our idea that it all fits into his master plan. And actually, if you look at Barney’s face when he tells Patrice “there’s not one reason to leave this apartment for even a second tonight,” it’s a giveaway grin, and the statement suggests that he knows Robin’s overhearing it all.

- Lily being referred to as “the wolf,” the fixer from Pulp Fiction (a close second was the shout-out to Lethal Weapon 2 for dislocated-shoulder-fixing). And when Robin calls Lily, and it turns out she’s already in the apartment, a giddiness set in. It was just kind of fun to watch them sneak from room to room, Clue-style.

- The making-of documentary How Bernie Avoided the Gurney: A Cinematic Journey.

- Ted: “Or should I say Borrowney?” Marshall: “You should never say that.”

What we didn’t like:

- Marshall’s mom and Lily’s dad. We saw this happening as soon as she arrived for a visit, and we were revolted. On that level, though, it worked. We felt Marshall’s nausea with Mickey’s use of the phrases “bumping uglies” and “climb up on your mom.”

- How did the tree get decorated so fast? Wasn’t Patrice coming over to help with it? And the Storm Trooper didn’t always hold the key to the Playbook, because people have hidden in there before. Maybe it makes sense if it’s all a setup anyway.

Were you as pleased with last night’s episode as I was, or is my lowered expectations interfering with my judgment?

Photo: Ron P. Jaffe/CBS