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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

How I Met Your Mother: “Ring Up”

Illustration for article titled iHow I Met Your Mother/i: “Ring Up”
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I don’t mind how long it takes to build up to one of the big moments of a serialized show. My patience isn’t tested by detours and slow burns. Even setbacks don’t bother me. And regrets after a character has made a decision? That’s poignant realism, not wishy-washiness. I don’t expect everything and everyone to move on at warp speed into the new reality. In truth, I’d find that more distracting and credulity-straining than these people feeling nostalgia for the way things used to be, or forgetting themselves and acting as if they still were.

But there’s something about aftermaths and this show. Buildups, this team knows how to pace. Denouements and changing focus to start building up to the next moment? They seem to get the yips. Tonight, to show how things have changed for Barney and Robin since their engagement, the folks behind How I Met Your Mother decide that Barney would have to “detox” from one-night stands with hot young things. So he begs Ted for pictures and details of a hookup with a roller-skating, underground-club-going, Korean-bacon-taco-cupcake-food-truck-patronizing 20-year-old to keep himself from going into withdrawal.

Barney’s long history as a character defined by his womanizing has to be a major focus of his post-engagement storyline. But “Ring Up” treats this history either as a source for lazy jokes, or as a story problem to be gotten past as quickly and sloppily as the show can get away with. The script is by Jennifer Hendriks, whose “Bad News” is a series low point for me, but she can’t bear the blame alone; the handling of Barney’s transformation into a one-woman man is something that comes down from a higher creative level. I’m certain there’s more to come in this process than “Ring Up” implies (with its “hey, you’re cured!” gag right before the epilogue). At least I hope so.

Those of us who kept up with the comments last week knew that Carly (played by Ashley Benson of Pretty Little Liars) was going to turn out to be Barney’s half-sister. Nevertheless, the reveal, drawn out for comic effect as Barney scrolled up an oversized picture on Ted’s phone, was one of the plotline’s funnier moments. I object, though, to the way Barney’s half-sister, a detail from season six that we might have expected the curators of the masterplot to bring back in some halfway interesting fashion, gets shoehorned into this recovery-from-sex-addiction business. Not because I expect Barney to be instantly monogamous, mind you, but because a laff-riot “eww you treat my sister like a sex object! oh, that’s how I treat women! I’m all better now!” syllogism is far less than what this particular character arc deserves.

On the other hand, Robin’s revelation about the travails of being engaged (she no longer gets the red carpet treatment from men), while no less pedestrian as a concept, gets plenty of goodwill from the way Cobie Smulders plays it, all innocently delighted with the attention she’s getting when she’s single and forlornly confused when she can’t get a bartender’s attention. “New York used to be the friendliest, most affordable city,” she remembers; “Now it’s as rude and expensive as San Francisco.” She’s been on a roll all season, of course, but so (with less recognition) has Josh Radnor as alternately douchey and lovelorn Ted, and the douchey side is on hilarious display here as Ted bluffs his way through his hipster dates with elder-fetishist Carly and endures the gang’s scorn (“Were you in Vietnam?” she asks in his flashback, and Ted admonishes his friends: “Hold that groan”). Even Marshall and Lily’s storyline has a fresh edge and a neatly-fitted connection to the others, as Marshall finds that the leather cuff Ted sports in the cold open plays into Lily’s fantasy of sex with a loser burnout. Afraid of giving up on a rare post-baby chance for sex, he refuses to let a little allergic reaction stop him from wearing it, until he has to show Lily the giant swollen monstrosity his hand has become. (“Is that why, when I asked you to honka-honka me, you only honka’d?” Lily inquires.)

And lest we fall into the trap of thinking that the Barney-Robin pairing is the problem, the way it turned out before in their first ill-fated attempt at coupledom, the moments they’re together are delightful. Both of them fairly glow with happiness. No, it’s the way Barney’s former personality gets dredged back up, in a desperate, sweaty, jonesin’ for a fix version, that hits only the obligatory notes and never gets anywhere near a tune.

Stray observations:

  • Noel’s recent essay about the tone-deafness of nerd jokes may have made me a little sensitive, but I thought Robin’s dismissal of Hobbit and Harry Potter references was lazy writing. Yes, we know Robin is proudly ignorant of these things and Marshall and Ted are super-geeks, but why pick on two of the biggest film franchises of all time as things only basement-dwelling virgins would know about?
  • I was excited about the prospect of another musical number, but found myself a bit disappointed by the execution. Cobie is adorable, but it was less a song than a bit of lightly-scored patter.
  • Even the bits of Barney’s storyline that had comic potential grated on me a bit because of the general shoddiness of the concept. In another context, the bit about Barney grabbing Ted’s dream journal to jot down his merchandising ideas would have been gold. Still, we do find out how much Ted hates Whole Foods (“the aisles are just too narrow!”).
  • I do love Marshall’s new-father sexy-talk: “While I’m out maybe daddy will pick up diapers and some mild salsa because we’re looooooow.”

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