For what were we waiting all these weeks? What did our president pre-empt when he failed to notice the guy beside the camera making the slashing motion across his throat? (Although actually the Secret Service probably hustled that guy out pretty quick.) We were waiting for Neil Patrick Harris to be awesome.
America, the wait is over.
Tonight's episode showcased almost every move in the NPH repertoire, and a few callbacks from his days treading the boards on Broadway to boot. And all in the service of a truly crazy sitcom plot that warmed the cockles of my old-school-television-loving heart. The gang thinks Barney has a secret girlfriend because (a) Ted saw him buying roses in violation of his credo (never give a girl flowers because giving her living things will remind her of babies) and (b) Marshall heard him on the phone making a date to go to the farmers' market followed by hiking. When they follow him from the bar, they wind up at his mom's house. Mystery solved! But then Barney introduces his wife and kid. Mystery deepens!
Turns out Barney tried to make Mom's dying wishes come true some years ago by hiring an actress to play his fiancee. (She's done mostly off-Broadway stuff, "this close to a Tony — it's who you know, it's all political, I shouldn't go into it.") Then she ad-libbed that she was pregnant. Then Mom got better, forcing Barney to cast a kid. ("Child actors were way better back in the eighties," he gripes.) And so here we are, with a big family dinner scripted by Barney, fake-wife "Betty" giving Ted acting tips after they bond over Bertolt Brecht's strategy of alienating the audience, a sundae bar in the kitchen that lactose-intolerant "Tyler" can't eat, and eventually, a huge improv scene when Mom walks in on Ted and "Betty" kissing.
Are we going to see more of "Betty"-Margaret? Or is their fling a one-episode thing? I wonder because there they are in the cab at the end, giving Lily acting tips to resolve her little B-story with Marshall. See, she confesses to Marshall that she hates Marshall's mom — and who wouldn't hate a mother-in-law who interrupts one's march down the aisle to correct the "forever" in one's vows by observing that one won't be in heaven with the groom? But Marshall takes it hard, and so the third-act capper features "Betty"-Margaret coaching Lily through a fake phone call reconciling with her mother-in-law. It's in contrast to the honesty — or mostly honesty — that Barney finally gives his mother after years of subterfuge and frustration with child actor Grant's performance (especially his attempt at a catchphrase, "Tyler no likee!"). He gets maybe too much honesty in return about Mom's three weeks with Grand Funk Railroad, but he also gets some advice about love that maybe, just maybe, he'll take before the end of the season.
For now, that small moment in the cab — Barney glances at Robin, Robin gives a quick "hey there!" smile, Barney turns away with a secret smile of his own — will keep me going. It's an elegant seal on a broad and very funny package.
- Where is Barney going? The beach. It's winter. Laser tag. Home. Where are you going?
- It's really fun seeing Frances Conroy say that she was a bit of a dirty whore, especially since she pronounces it "hoo-ah."
- The gang, including the hard-to-please Barney, are all impressed by Grant's adlib during the screwed-up sundae bar scene: "I don't want my mommy and daddy to get divorced!"
- Acting rule number 8: Don't be afraid to get physical. Yes, please, because I could watch Barney getting slapped all day.
- Strategies for hiding Cobie's and Alyson's pregnancies: big coat on lap, shooting from waist up, loose drapey blouses.
- "I wasn't so much playing Ted as I was trying to get out of Ted's way."