Tonight's episode is all about style — bro-style, Canadian-style, and comedy style.  At its best, a great sitcom will surprise you a dozen times in a half hour, taking the jokes to places you never expected.  Now I can't claim that this fine, fine episode of a fine, fine show is the sitcom form at its very best, but I will make the case that it achieved that surprise factor several times.  And that's such a welcome change from last week's by-the-numbers installment that I'm inclined just to sit back and enjoy.

Surprise number 1: Kenny Rogers.  There's no particular rhyme or reason to this one, which is why it's brilliant.  It's predictable that Lily's woman-style upsets Ted's plans for a ridiculous marathon road trip to Chicago to eat at a horrible pizza joint before it closes its doors.  A keen observer of the comic conventions could even have foreseen that Lily's idea of good listening material would be a sentimental, View-approved unabridged audio book about a dog instead of The Proclaimers and Van Halen.  But nobody could have come up with Kenny Rogers as the voice on said audiobook, let alone reading a list of the balls poor dead Sparky used to chase when he frolicked among the living.  ("Soccer balls … baseballs … grapefruit, which isn't a ball but is round like a ball … football, which isn't round but is technically a ball …").

Surprise number 2: Toronto.  The B-story is Robin's conflicted feelings about her Canadian citizenship, which a pending assault charge (stemming from a hockey bar brawl) may force her to renounce.  Barney tries to beat the Canadian out of her by drilling — I mean, cramming — I mean, boning — sorry, it's a rich area.  By helping her practice American attitudes and knowledge, such as identifying the Queen as Elton John and curling as "I don't know, it's stupid; let's go buy something that's bad for us then sue the people who made it."  But she decides to get one last drink at the Hoser Hut (ironically because "it's a free country," the most American of all excuses), and winds up in a hotel room filled with Canadian accoutrements.  Barney shows tracks her down and tells her just how Canadian she got the night before by dramatically flinging open the curtains, revealing … the side of the next building.  "That was supposed to be a dramatic view of the Toronto skyli — you're in Toronto," he explains.

Surprise number 3: The Crumpet Inn.  I suppose a sharp observer could have pegged Lily's choice of a bed & breakfast, that least masculine of all accommodations, when she first mentioned the very un-roadtrip-esque option of a hotel.  But what the show did with the B&B, now that's some wonderful stuff.  Just two examples: The proprietress talks up all the couple-based activities she offers, and then when Ted asks about something for a singleton, replies, "I suppose I could arrange a little recreation.  Do you enjoy sitting on a bench?"  And in the denouement, when Lily is being rendered insensate by spa treatments, her iPhone vibrates repeatedly with messages from Marshall that they're on their way … and each time, she just hums in ecstasy, right along with that mmMMMmmm of the phone.

The need to bring it all to a resolution — especially the B-story in which Robin decides on dual citizenship (and can you just make that choice when facing criminal charges, really?) — means that the episode ends quite a bit flatter than it begins.  But for all those surprising reasons, friends, I hereby declare that HIMYM is back.  And without a potential mother in sight, in a throwaway half-hour of fun, fun, fun auf der Autobahn.  Jump in the Fiero and drive!

Stray observations:

- Because it didn't fit in with my secret plot-recap agenda above, I left out the best surprise of them all: "Shrimp fried rice, totally!"

- "We'd eat nothing but jerky, drink nothing but Tantrum."  TANTRUUUMM!

- "I don't know why they make phone books anymore, everything's online now."

- I want Robin's coat — the one from right before she went into the Hoser Hut.  So bad.

- "Next thing I knew they were inviting me to a Bryan Adams/Rich Little double bill."

- "So, you wanna talk about bitches?  I'm kidding, they're called women."