How I Met Your Mother Recap: Sweeping Barney’s Leg

Photo: Sonja Flemming/CBS

It was presumably clear to everyone from pretty much the get-go that something was up with Barney’s bachelor party, because there’s no way Ted and Marshall could accidentally plan something that lame. I’m generally into the idea of an elaborately orchestrated fake-out (The Magus, The Game), but this one made for a pretty un-entertaining episode — for the most part.

The writers bet on our collective nostalgia, and the payoff depended on how much you liked the original Karate Kid and whether you were as tickled as Barney by the appearance of William “Sweep the Leg, Johnny” Zabka. If you’re close in age to the characters, chances are good that this bumped “Bro Mitzvah” up in your estimation, as it did in mine, though it’s impossible not to think that we haven’t been somewhat tricked ourselves: Since everything else was so obviously a misdirect, HIMYM needed to surprise us, too, somehow. Also, didn’t it seem like this episode was written or at least planned before the ninth-season renewal? Lily and Marshall’s move to Italy wasn’t even referenced.

Anyway, so Barney threw down a challenge by telling Marshall and Ted that they would definitely disappoint him in the manning of his farewell to singledom: “It’s gonna be ordin-why-wait-for-it-ary.” He wasn’t wrong: three weeks out, and all either of them had on the list was Purell. When the two kidnapped Barney, it looked like he was wrong: “The students have become the intermediate students.” Except, from there, it’s one cartoonish letdown after another: They booked a crappy hotel room outside of Atlantic City, the contortionist is a clown who makes penguin and bee hats out of balloons (which Marshall and Ted wear on their heads), the plan is to watch An Inconvenient Truth (to satisfy Barney’s wish that the boys fear for their lives), and the stripper is Quinn. I’ll admit, I wasn’t totally, 100 percent convinced this was a prank until Becki Newton showed up and whined about her life falling apart, and then proceeded to strip for everybody but Barney.

It’s never clear why Barney put his bachelor party in terms of a Jewish coming-of-age ritual, beyond the pun potential (which is “not at all bro-fensive,” in Ted’s words), but on his list of demands is a Karate Kid appearance. The twist here is that Barney does not think Daniel (Ralph Macchio) has a rightful claim to the title, and feels he defeated the real hero of the movie, the classic eighties jerk Johnny, “with a cheap, illegal head-kick in the most tragically haunting film ending of all time.” Not sure if Macchio and NPH ever crossed paths as kid actors, but Barney’s hatred for the real-life Ralph was pretty funny, mostly because it was the only unpredictable reaction he had. (His response to the balloons — “not the inflatable, round, squishy pouches I was hoping to see tonight” — was barely audible over the ba-bum-ching of metaphorical percussion.) Anyway, the whole night goes pear-shaped: Barney ends up losing the catering deposit on a game of Pinyin; he uses Marshall for collateral; Ted storms out of the car, saying “a bachelor party is about hanging out with your friends and having a good time, but you only care about the good time, not the friends”; and Robin breaks off their engagement. This was all so ridiculously far-fetched that Barney should have seen right through it.

Meanwhile, Robin had been hanging out with Barney’s mom (Frances Conroy) the whole night and going along with her assumptions that Robin was a virgin, which was one instance of chicanery that didn’t really fly: Barney’s mom already knew that Robin was “a dirty ho-bag,” because she was in on the joke, yet the way it was pitched to us, the conversation about napkin rings and breadsticks and inverted chimney sweeps appeared to actually be happening. Robin wouldn’t need to invent all of that backstory to justify calling Barney in anger — although perhaps that’s exactly how the writers would explain this — but it’s misleading to the audience. It’s one thing to discover that what we’ve seen was skewed by the perspective of the narrator, but another thing entirely to try to fool us in the process of fooling Barney.

What I liked:

  • Marshall and Ted’s argument over who would be the fictional collateral. Each threatened to be the more intimidating “unchained” one (is this acceptable, if Quentin Tarantino went there first?). Ted’s petulant “I think we agree that this is not something mobsters would do” was perfect, as was Marshall’s “not my Skee-Ball hand!”
  • Mrs. Stinson’s Stinson-like need for a fourth breadstick to finish her story about bedding Crosby, Stills, Nash … and Young.
  • Lily’s Tiger Beat–driven love for Ralph Macchio — even if the “waxed on, waxed off everywhere” joke was a little corny. And similarly, Lily’s face when Quinn offers to strip for everybody anyway (even though, again, this is a reaction she wouldn’t really have if this were premeditated).
  • The bachelor party being Robin’s master plan to give Barney a memorable “worst night of his life.” The talk in the comments lately has focused on how Robin has lost her personality, and I agree — it’s unnatural to see her as betrothed, to anyone, and especially when it involves putting up with Barney’s piggishness. But a move like this was (the albeit weaker) eight-season equivalent of being Barney’s wingman in the series’ first year. Though it was a stretch to believe Robin and Quinn would be so chummy.
  • William Zabka as the clown. It was a Where Are They Now? wrapped in an episode of HIMYM.

What I didn’t like:

  • The absence of Barney’s brother. That made no sense! He would have been more likely to be involved in Barney’s bachelor party than Barney’s mom. I’m sure Wayne Brady can only be so available, but come on.
  • The abandonment of the Ted-Barney tension from the last episode, which was a development of depth in a late-season series of ho-hum plot points.