Carter Bays and Craig Thomas wrote this episode, which is disappointing, because it has to be the worst of the season so far. Though maybe that explains the dependence on callbacks — the creators are probably as nostalgic for the good old days as the rest of us, and you always know they’re desperate for material when a former plot point is not just resurrected, but subsequently beaten to death.
Case in point: It was funny when Marshall and Ted had to listen to “I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles)” for the duration of their college road trip because it was stuck in the Fiero’s stereo, and it was appropriately referenced two episodes ago during Marshall and Daphne’s otherwise dead-end drive. I was happy to see the thread picked up here as the song grew on Daphne, as promised. But that should have been the end of it. Marshall enthusiastically waving the CD in his hand and wondering if the Scottish brothers are singing to the same girl or each other was like saying, “Hey, if you somehow missed it, this is still that same Proclaimers joke!”
Then there’s the pineapple incident. After a night of heavy drinking in season one, Ted woke up next to Trudy (the awesome Danica McKellar) and a pineapple. The latter has never been explained, but in the middle of his investigation into the spilled calligraphy ink, there was a flashback to last week, in which a scruffy Detective Mosby said, “I’m callin’ it,” and knocked down a Wire-style bulletin board of the night’s evidence (which mysteriously included a map of Dubai). I’d love it if Ted were still trying to solve the pineapple incident years later, but it was so hastily introduced last night. Are we really supposed to believe that between packing for a secret move to Chicago and possibly flying to Los Angeles to retrieve Robin’s locket from Stella, Ted found time for the pineapple mystery? That’s awfully nitpicky, I realize, but what I’m really saying is that this was a wasted callback.
Even Billy Zabka, whose presence this season has been so random yet delightful, was overused. The punch line here has always been that Barney mistook the actor for the good guy in Karate Kid when Zabka is known for playing the quintessential eighties bully. Yes, I laughed at Zabka, strutting around in preppy ensembles that recalled his oeuvre and getting booed by everyone, including his family, but once again, it was as if the joke were being explained to us when we all got it to begin with. (Still, a point for “twenty-five years of getting crane-kicked in the nuts.”) And as for how any of it fit into any sort of dramatic arc — obviously, it didn’t. Zabka was working so well in the background, it’s not like we were going to become invested in his brief stint as best man or what it meant to him and why he would want to take revenge on Ted and why Ted would in turn pity him. On that note, Ted’s “job” of hiding the signed Gretsky photo came off like a contrivance, too. Couldn’t Barney just as easily hide it for a few hours?
Even so, I cared more about Zabka than I ever did about Daphne (Sherri Shepherd). The road trip came to an abrupt end last night, or at least I think it did, with Marshall ferrying his travel companion to her daughter’s model U.N. speech. The writers made the odd decision to establish some stakes for this character in her (presumably) last episode. I can’t say Daphne’s relationship with her daughter mattered to me at all, although, for consistency’s sake, I didn’t mind, “People say the children are the future. I say: Oil is the future. Don’t listen to these gutless environmental hippies.” Daphne’s exit seemed a little sudden, but at least there wasn’t a whole lot of backstory from her this season — the writers had the good sense to know we don’t want to be learning more about anybody new unless she’s marrying Ted someday.
The intended main plot was the worst of them all. Whenever the show tries to make Barney the least bit vulnerable, he ends up goofy and petulant. Mistaking a passing pleasantry between his mom (Frances Conroy) and dad (John Lithgow) for suppressed chemistry, Barney launches a lame plan to try to get them back together so he can have a nuclear family for once. Lithgow hasn’t been on the show since season six — it was actually impressive that he, Conroy, Wayne Brady, and Ben Vereen (as James’s dad, Reverend Gibbs) were together in the same episode, though the actress who formerly played Cheryl somehow couldn’t return, but nobody had anything interesting to do, so instead we got Barney and James’s hokey sing-along fantasies, which were obviously just a vehicle for all the actors involved to display their theatrical chops.
So then what’s left? Let’s see, there was a needless homage to the Beastie Boys’ “Sabotage,” which seemed prompted only by a pun (Zabka-tage). There was a shout-out to Harry and the Hendersons, or at least that’s how I interpreted Lithgow’s windshield jump onto Ranjit’s car. (Given the show’s fondness for decades-old pop culture references, I always assumed they’d get to this movie, but I also thought the Sasquatch-loving Marshall would somehow be involved.) And Lily once again went on tackling duty, which Future Ted implies that we haven’t seen the last of, though nobody’s biting their nails wondering who she’s going to bring down next. This was an unfortunately lazy episode, and there was bound to be a few, but I’m hoping the story picks up as we near the mid-season mark.