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How I Met Your Mother Recap: Standing on Ceremony

"Weekend at Barney'™s" -- When Ted (Josh Radnor, center) and Jeanette break up, Barney (Neil Patrick Harris, right) tries to help him land a new girl by using the infamous playbook Robin thought he had destroyed, on HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER, Monday, Feb. 25 (8:00-8:30 PM, ET/PT)

How I Met Your Mother is in a tough spot. If they invent new gimmicks, it often feels like they’re reaching. If they rely on old ones, it feels tired. Barney’s Playbook made what we at first thought would be an unwelcome return last night. Sure, this is the gimmick that keeps on giving, because as long as the book is in play, so to speak, there’s no end to the possible scenarios.

Why, just last week, we saw a flashback of Barney pulling the … actually, we already forgot what it was called because it was that forgettable, but if we take the time to fact-check ourselves: the Archduke of Grand Fenwick. Which brings us to our next point: Each time the writers go back to the well here, it’s less and less amusing. This week, we learned that only the ceremonial playbook was burned for Robin’s benefit. The real playbook still exists. As if it wasn’t already patently obvious that the series was on the brink of ending just a few months ago — you just know that thing was gone for good if the show wrapped up in a few more episodes, right? Or maybe not. Maybe its final, final destruction was always part of the plan, in which case: mediocre plan

But the scenes of Ted trying to pull off Barney’s moves were a little funnier than we expected. Jeanette was back for her ridiculous exit, still crazy as ever and destroying Ted’s apartment because of a subject line in a spam e-mail. Nobody wants her to come to the wedding, and Ted shouldn’t want that either — it’s one thing if he didn’t have the guts to break up with her because he’s crazy right now (that explanation from a few weeks ago is still not sitting right). Would he really even think of bringing her to one of his best friend’s wedding? Not likely, but for the sake of the plot: Yes. And then she dumps him, which is great. But then he wants her back for the sex, which is not great. This is where Barney comes in and convinces him that there are other ways, like approaching random women in a bar with the punch line involving “my penis.” In the course of 21 minutes, it grew (ahem) on us. The UPS Ted who is going to deliver a “package” to the prettiest girl in the bar was fine, and when he returned in a hospital gown saying he planned to donate “an organ” to his best friend, well, we saw where it was going, and Ted’s inability to nail the line kind of nailed it.  

Elsewhere, Marshall and Lily were off in support of Lily’s new job as an art consultant. It was kind of a nothing plot point. Marshall’s discomfort in the gallery at the art opening allowed for the old faithful philistine routine (is this an ugly bench or a work of art, etc.) and more of Marshall’s corny jokes: “For a gay guy, Andy Warhol sure liked cans.” The Skittles dropping during the artist’s moment of silence for his grandmother was cringe-worthy; the shout-out to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles felt obligatory.

What we liked:

  • The concerts Barney and Robin are not going to. Genesis and Steely Dan sound completely implausible as a phony excuse for missing the opening, which is why it worked, as did “We don’t want to miss [Steely Dan’s] big song, whatever it was.”
  • Ted’s gripe about the price of stamps. When he delivers his save-the-date card in person, he begins: “Has social media so eroded our interpersonal relationships — ” but Robin cuts him off, knowing that at 46 cents, Ted thinks it’s getting out of hand (which it is, although somehow the fact that mail can still be hand-delivered seems more magical than e-mail once did).
  • Barney’s ever-evolving one rule, and Ted’s patient attempts to guess it: “Always have a pair of fake tickets in your pocket in case Lily invites you to something stupid,” “You can tell how old a girl is by her elbows,” “Flax seeds relieve an upset stomach.” In this case, it was the old standby: New is always better.
  • “The ‘I Have a Pet Loch Ness Monster’” play unfolding onscreen as Robin yells at Barney.
  • Lily’s repeated nip slips at Marshall’s work functions. Marshall: “I don’t know why you keep wearing that top.”
  • The fidelity to Weekend at Bernie’s. Jason Segel and Josh Radnor really look the part as Andrew McCarthy and Jonathan Silverman, and come to think of it, Ted Mosby as a character seems very informed by Richard Parker.

What we didn’t like:

  • Robin getting so irate about Jeanette wearing a white (technically eggshell) dress. Yes, it’s a total faux pas, especially when you factor in the veil, but of all the things Robin would care about, this didn’t seem like one of them. Or a better way of phrasing this objection is that it represents to us a much more domesticated and boring Robin. The Robin we were first introduced to would have eloped with some cigars and whiskey, or not gotten married at all.
  • Barney’s defense of his lying. Did this sit well with anybody else? “Lying is what I’ve always done” is not what you want to hear from your husband to be.
  • The destruction of the red boots. Of all running jokes to put an end to.
  • Strickland Stevens. He is no Booth Jonathan.
Photo: Ron P. Jaffe/CBS