Photo: Neil Jacobs/??? 2013 CBS Broadcasting, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
A couple of weeks ago, I was pretty enthusiastic about the episode “The Time Travelers,” in which Ted found himself alone at McLaren’s facing a hard truth, which is that his friends have gotten older. They’ve moved on. The gang doesn’t hang out as much as they used to. And amid Ted’s nostalgia for one night in particular, an imaginary Barney says, “Ted, this moment is already gone.” I admit, I got a little choked up, so I felt like a dupe last night when Future Ted says, “Kids, you can’t cling to the past, because no matter how tightly you hold on, it’s already gone.”
Wait a minute, writers: As much as I dig the sentiment, and have ever since Nate said something similar to Claire in the series finale of Six Feet Under, you trotted it out three episodes ago! I realize that it’s getting tough to find new expressions for Ted’s mawkishness, but at the very least, space it out, and don’t repeat the lesson practically verbatim. The first time, it was a flip of the script; here, it just drove home the patently obvious: Of course we know Ted’s attachment to the Cool Ranch Dorito–stained beanbag represents his reluctance to let Marshall and Lily move to Italy!
That criticism aside, the story line that worked best last night was Lily and Marshall’s packing. I mean, we’ve been here before — when Robin moved to Japan, when Lily and Marshall decamped to Long Island — so it’s getting harder to summon the proper emotion. Also, it’s not like Marshall and Lily are really going to Italy, or if they are, they’re not staying there long. (What do you suppose will be the reason it doesn’t come off? Marshall gets offered a judgeship or something?) With Robin and Barney almost paired off, Marshall, Lily, and Ted are the core of the gang, the original three, so I’m content to watch them reminisce over stuff and make fun of Ted’s hands-free belt satchel for half an hour, or at least I preferred it to the laser tag B-plot. Ted showing up at the door and accidentally swallowing his bubblegum while trying to deliver the They Live line — “I came here to chew bubblegum and pack boxes, and I’m all out of bubblegum” — was amusing, as was Marshall’s “Come again for Fudge Grande,” and though I really don’t know if El Ganso Con la Riñonera translates to “fannypack dork,” I’ll believe it. The return of the Bermuda Triangle — that aptly named New York phenomenon of putting what seems like pure garbage on the street, and yet having it disappear almost immediately — fit. At the same time, little was at stake.
Apparently, more was at stake with Robin’s search for a locket she’d buried as a little boy — or rather, when her father treated her like one — but it just seemed so out of character for Robin to be thinking of “something old” when she was a kid. It doesn’t even matter, the metaphor was again heavy-handed to the point that Robin actually says that, in the search for the locket in Central Park, she was digging up the doubts about her and Barney. “Where did you bury this tampon? Sorry, I get all these girly things confused,” her dad (Ray Wise) asks, just as Robin’s saying she doesn’t feel the need to hide her feminine side anymore, but maybe he can’t be blamed for thinking it’s all a little silly.
Truthfully, I didn’t anticipate that the locket would come to represent Robin’s need for the universe to cosign her decision to marry Barney. I’m not opposed to that Ted-like sort of desperation, but I think I am opposed to going back to the Ted and Robin well once again, for two reasons: (1) I just saw Liberal Arts last week, and Josh Radnor’s pretentiousness is definitely less charming than Ted’s, which has eroded some of my loyalty to his character and to the idea of these two being together; (2) it’s just plain lazy. I don’t know that I felt even a twinge of excitement. I was probably still smarting from the recycled sentimentality, but nothing seems to matter in this love triangle. HIMYM has cried wolf so many times, it’s almost as if the writers are the ones who can’t come to terms with the decision to marry Barney and Robin. If Ted can speak Robinese, if he shows up in the middle of Central Park to make sure she was okay, just like he came back to spend Christmas with her last season — well, what was the last wonderful thing Barney did for Robin?
What I liked:
- The Sasquatch binders. Lily wants to know why December 1999 is so thick: “Y2K was coming, a lot of people took to the woods.”
- Ted’s cockiness followed by a twelve-minute call to the doctor about the gum.
- Marshall and Lily’s King Kong role reversal in the bedroom.
- If the Full Metal Jacket–like motivational speeches to the laser tag kids was at one point meant to reference Starship Troopers, then maybe that was a shout-out to a Neil Patrick Harris project of yore. This, coupled with Barney’s inability to name a hockey player who is not Wayne Gretzky but guessing “Francois,” made these scenes … tolerable. “Like” is too strong.
What I didn’t like:
- The overall unsteadiness of the show as it heads toward the season finale. It feels as though there’s a lack of commitment to story lines that have long been developing, and it’s the sitcom equivalent of a character being brought back from the dead. There’s absolutely no nuance. The episodes that were supposed to be so big and meaningful, like Robin and Barney’s engagement, are diminished when the writers can at any time retreat to their comfort zone. It seems like Robin’s doubts about Barney have been assuaged many times over by now, and yet she still has them. It doesn’t leave me too eager for the finale.