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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

How I Met Your Mother: "Definitions"

Illustration for article titled How I Met Your Mother: "Definitions"
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Illustration for article titled How I Met Your Mother: "Definitions"

Last season we had to make several long journeys.  From Barney and Robin apart to Barney and Robin together.  From Ted the failing architect to Professor Mosby.  From Stella to the mother, who is somewhere in that big lecture hall where Ted gave his first Architecture 101 lecture … to students enrolled in Economics 305.

Yep, the mother's in that room, but the mother's not in Ted's class.  Yep, Barney and Robin are together, but they're not willing to admit that they're crazy about each other — they think it's just a rather repetitive hookup.  Yep, Lily looks like a million bucks and she's pulling all the strings.  How I Met Your Mother is back, and it's awe-a-whole-darn-lot.

The linked stories this week are about knowing yourself — remember that bust of Socrates at the beginning, while the Vampire Weekend song was playing?  Robin and Barney are willing to have sex every night for a whole summer hiatus without ever saying what that means, but Lily won't have it.  She locks them in a bedroom until they "define the relationship" by "having the talk."  (Barney: "The talk sucks.")  Now she's got a vested interest: an entire fantasy life where she and Robin are couples-girlfriends, going to cooking classes and going on camping trips and sharing funny stories about said activities.  But she's also got a clearer view of the real definition than any of the other players.  When Robin's inability to say that she has a boyfriend results in a hockey date with Brad ("Do I have to hold a gun to your head?  Do I have to buy you a six-pack?"), Barney's jealousy certainly crystallizes the feelings present between them.  When they decide to lie to Lily and give her what she wants — the boyfriend/girlfriend label — their rehearsed speech gives way to real appreciation for a man who looks good in a suit and a girl who can hold her scotch.  And as they walk off to breakfast, or perhaps brunch, breaking the most important Gremlins rule for handling women ("Never feed them after midnight"), they hold hands in a very definite way.

Meanwhile, Ted has to decide what kind of professor he's going to be: an approachable colleague ("who's this cool peer of mine up in front of the class?" he imagines the students asking) or an authoritarian who takes control.  Caught between definitions, he freezes up just trying to write his name on the board ("wait … does professor have one F or two?") and then interprets all the students' demurrals about the non-architectural nature of the class as Zen koans about architecture ("Here's your think-about-it for the day.  Every single person in this room … is already an architect").  When the real professor arrives 20 minutes late, he's forced to run across campus to the much smaller room with his actual students, and as he later reports to Lily, his paralysis over how to present himself just vanishes in the embarrassment and breathlessness of it all.

Do we have to define what it is we love about this show?  If we must, maybe we'll just show last season's closer and this season's opener back to back.  There's the palpable joy of having both Alyson and Cobie back at full strength.  There's the force of nature that is Neil Patrick Harris, an unqualified hell-yes that other people are starting to understand after his triumphs at the Tonys and the Emmys.  And there are the less showy but no less emotional beats of Ted and Marshall, just as much characters trying to find themselves as the others, but uneasily trying to be grown-ups.  It's all there tonight, maybe not in the funniest half-hour the show has ever put together, but one that's assured, at ease with itself, and knows where it's headed.

Grade: B+

Stray observation:

- Lily has an "indoor woo."

- Marshall's favorite professor of all time is Indiana Jones.  The dream students in Ted's first class accuse him of not being a real professor because "where's your hat and whip?"

- Cobie rocks the hockey heckling.  I didn't understand a word she said — something about shoving something somewhere — but it was really, really loud.

- Brad is not at all afraid of "the talk," and launches right in: "I was born a little different."

- Movies teach us all our valuable lessons in life.  How to pick a tie?  Simple!  Remember Predator?

- After landing one punch, Barney collapses, gasping, "We can't fight like this all night, we both got some good shots in, let's call a truce!"

- Funniest moment of the night: The one student subtly shaking her head to guide Ted through the spelling of "professor."

- Barney and Robin's safe word is "flugelhorn."