A question I will pose to you to start this here recap: Last night’s episode of HIMYM, was it cute or total crap? Yeah, I don’t deserve any stars for that, and I’m not sure creators Bays and Thomas do either, but there was some fun in listening to the rhythm of the dialogue, particularly when the writers pulled off a surprise, brought in multiple players, or went blue.
Personally, I’d like to know the origins of “Bedtime Stories.” Was it five o’clock on a Friday? The end of a long ideas meeting? After a few picklebacks (hence Brooklyn’s Pickle Jar Bob joke)? It’s a gimmick, and you can’t fault a sitcom for that, but there’s a whiff of desperation here, too. The writers hemmed themselves in with the Farhampton setting, and although I actually like the idea of a season unfolding over the course of a weekend, it has its limitations. Breaking free of the setup usually necessitates another scheme. Even so, an episode in verse probably would have impressed all of us more if the story that unfolded was as complex as, say, the average three-star episode. But if we strip away last night’s lyricism, what are we really left with?
The three separate vignettes barely registered. None of them would make the cut of a non-rhyming episode (well, by latter-day standards, maybe, but they shouldn’t). Ted tries to figure out if he’s on a date with a girl, and then finds out she dated Barney once before, except mistook him for Derek Jeter, which doesn’t even make sense, since she has eyes and is watching a Yankees game. Robin, in a fit of slobbery not seen since season six’s “Big Days,” when Ted plucked a Cheeto from her hair, runs into her ex, Simon (James Van Der Beek, in a wasted cameo), after a bad breakup and steals/eats his entire wedding cake, and then chugs a keg of beer. Barney, in the most straight-up fairy tale, becomes the Player King of New York City by poisoning all of his outer-borough rivals and redistricting the single ladies for himself. It couldn’t have been too taxing rhyming these stories with the plots practically plucked from thin air.
Some of the best material came from the bus, with help from fellow passenger Gus (of course), played by Lin-Manuel Miranda, the Tony-winning composer of In the Heights. Taken just as a framing device to lull Marvin to sleep, the episode makes enough sense, and the scenes in which we witness everyone collaborate to keep the rhymes going were the best by far. If the pace had been faster, or the narration and plot more elaborate, “Bedtime Stories” could have been relatively successful. I applaud the ambition, but for the most part, I wasn’t blown away by the execution.
What I liked:
- The unpredictable rhymes. Sometimes, the wink was in skipping the obvious word, like when the softball-playing Lisa was nearly accused of being a lesbian, but instead she interjected with “Yes, we win!” An actual honk complimented conk, and an expletive that befits a flat tire also rhymes nicely with Nantucket was elided by some fireworks.
- The dirty verses, particularly this from Ted: “Oh god, that could be true / How many times have I come home to find my balls are blue?” And this, at Ted’s expense: “The last time he saw boobies was the screen test seen in Fame / The last girl he dated, I think Righty was her name.” (Runner-up from Lily: “Please! Bronx Donnie? No chance he could get me in the sack / Tell that mafioso I know something he can whack.”)
- Lin Manuel Miranda’s rescue of Canada from a rhyme-less existence.
- The theme song, which paled in comparison to the gang’s fake-band rendition, but mixing it up with nursery-style chimes fit with an unorthodox episode.
- Marshall. I miss that guy, and badly want him back in the mix.
What I didn’t like:
- Barney’s mafia. Don’t get me wrong, NPH did an outstanding job inhabiting the four other characters. His Barney-via-Brando Captain Bill was almost unrecognizable. I’ve just grown a little weary of watching the writers turn the series over to their star, and letting it become his showcase. The temptation is understandable — NPH is a talented performer, and he’s energetic even when the story lines don’t deserve it — but it’s an ensemble show. His scene-stealing is rarely as satisfying as a great moment with the whole gang.
- The lazier verses. For example, the menu options that coincided with the names of Yankees felt contrived. Since plots were essentially sacrificed to this convention, the writing should have been sharp throughout. Though “Your West Side college girls are not the slip I park my boat in / So you should know my East Side debutantes are quite verboten” actually evens out: uninspired rhymes, but commendable word choice.
- This could apply to any episode, but can you imagine Ted’s kids tolerating this particular story within a story? They’d surely be walking out of the room when their dad started in on the time Marshall couldn’t get Marvin to sleep, even if it somehow tied back to their cousin’s first ever memory.