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It’s not extraordinarily original for a sitcom to point out that we marry (or are attracted to) our parents. I’m sure even the gag of having the parent in question replace the character’s partner in an amorous moment has a long and storied history on American television. But I have to admit that when Nora and Loretta Stinson appeared in split screen, wearing the same robe singing “My Favorite Things” and broke into harmony briefly, I was delighted anew.

In fact, the main problem with the parental appearances in Noretta was that they were so brief and chopped up. We had little time to enjoy Chris Elliott as Lily’s board-game-aficionado dad telling Lily about the rules of Chutes and Lilies (“two to six players”) in between Lily’s cringes and expressions of disgust at his sexy talk. Same for the thoroughly disturbing sight of Bill Fagerbakke as Marshall’s dad, dressed in Lily’s pink pajamas and asking Marshall to spank him. But counterbalancing those weird moments were quick montages of the ways Lily reminds Marshall of his dad (chowing down on a sandwich, ostentatiously rubbing her own feet) and vice versa.

The larger point of this Oedipal truism about your mom forming the template for the rest of your romantic life is a bit of a response to last week’s Kal Penn monologue about the group’s dysfunctions. Sure, it’s a mess, HIMYM replies, but it’s the same mess all of us are in. It’s a healthy mess. We should all be so lucky to find a friend or a lover as wonderful as the one who raised us. Because, as the final act with Ted and the Weird Al concert shows, those people are the only ones likely to understand and put up with our quirks. My favorite sequence of the episode, actually, was the montage of Ted calling up everyone he knows to find a companion for the concert. (When all he had to do was call The A.V. Club offices!) “Ranjiiiiit!” he enthuses toward the end of the list, letting us know how far he’s reaching even before he’s calling the guy at the bodega with his head buried on the desk.

Ted is strangely ascendant in this season that has dedicated itself to the Barney-Robin relationship, which in practice means the placeholder relationships that will end when Barney and Robin finally re-acknowledge their feelings for each other. I understand Kevin and Nora as story devices and even as romantic partners for the characters. I really do. The two of them are the people you try to love because there’s nothing wrong with them, because you really should stop letting the intangibles scuttle what your intellect tells you is the best you could ever hope to do. But it’s painful to watch them bluff their way through it, because Kevin and Nora are going to end up being the innocent victims of the romantic comedy, the dude that Sandra Bullock brings home for Thanksgiving dinner who suffers from adenoids and is doomed to be dumped so that she can be swept off her feet by her childhood sweetheart-slash-mortal enemy. They don’t deserve it; the people in that position never do. Their crime is to be on the wrong side of destiny.

While Barney and Robin try to keep their blinkers on so they’ll be happy with their placeholder relationships, the opportunities for wacky hijinx multiply. This week, it’s Barney looking forward to “finally going to booty town,” which he and Nora have not yet done because “we decided to wait until she decides to have sex with me.” Unfortunately, their special night devolves from Nora knocking out a tooth at the ice rink and having it replaced with a distractingly shiny fake at the 24-hour dentist, to a rat crawling on her head, and then to one of Barney’s upstairs neighbors jumping off the building right past their tender moment on the balcony. Barney’s determined to turn it around at every stage and later explains to the group that he got past his realization that Nora is his mom by literally “turning her around.” (Makes no sense because it’s not that Nora’s face reminds her of his mom… ah, whatever.)

But I get happiest when Ted is being Ted. At this point, his enthusiastically douchey quirks are freed from the pressure of being the center of the story or carrying any romantic import. He’s just a great, great character, and Josh Radnor is having so much fun making him into an original creation. Who would have thought that the accomplishment of season seven would be Ted’s emergence as a great leading man, through his relegation to the margins of the season’s arc?

Stray observations:

  • Love the little sleight-of-hand Barney does to tuck away the condoms after making the joke about how Nora is the only one who’s forgotten her raincoat. (And if you didn’t love the little recurring air-guitar bit, complete with sound effect and highlighted by the one that continues from the flashback to Barney as a kid, then I’m afraid we can’t be friends anymore.)
  • Marshall and Lily have to face their horrific parental sex fantasies because Lily is worried about getting preggo-fat. “I’m making it my mission to make you feel sexy no matter how bloated you get!” Marshall declares at the end of a long string of poorly-phrased protestations that her girth doesn’t matter.
  • The bit about Ted whining about Kevin standing in the living room in his boxers (“There’ve been some complaints,” Robin diplomatically relays to Kevin), later revealed to be the end of a sequence in which Ted walks through the room with an open robe and maracas, is a nice nod to classic HIMYM time-shifting.
  • “Trying to watch the coin documentary over here!”
  • “Your eyeballing his deal is the most action he’s gotten in months.”