Picking back up after two weeks of reruns, How I Met Your Mother doesn't really seem bent on giving us anything especially new... at least not until the wedding of Robin and Barney. A wedding that each new episode of this show makes me think is a terrible, loathesome idea. This week, HIMYM pits the engaged pair in a discussion about residency: where will the two of them live once they are married?
Robin is happy to give up her apartment — one of such little consequence that I can't even remember what it looks like — but Barney is holding fast to his Fortress of Solitude, as it were. So many memories, so many schemes and gadgets devoted to the ensurance that one night stands would not amount to anything more: voice-triggered sprinkler systems and hidden escape routes; welcome matts that double as BMI-measuring computers; a greenscreen window to trick gullible dates into believing they're in exotic locations; beds chauffeuring Barney's unfortunate victims into secret dungeons, never to be heard from again... wait, really? Is he a cartoon mad scientist? Is this show even about people anymore?
And that's the thing that makes HIMYM so soft in landing: it tries to have it both ways. The show wants us to invest and believe in Barney and Robin's relationship, but it can't bring itself to make Barney a human being. After Robin rallies a gaggle of white toast couples to check out Barney's apartment so that the duo can start fresh, she comes to realize that all of the nasty, pervy, borderline sociopathic (her words! She's aware of this!) "quirks" the apartment embodies are what make Barney Barney. The things that no one else in the world appreciates about him, that's what she loves. Call it sweet, but there's a reason everyone else in the world thinks Barney's a monster: he is. He's not a lovable kook, he's an emotionally paralyzed villain.
You can argue that HIMYM has shown a softer side to Barney — it sure has. But those are the episodes of empathy and authenticity. When stood up against ones like these, they pale in comparison. The Dr. Horrible/Harold and Kumar version of Barney is a lot more vivid than the Smurfs version.
On the other side of the episode, we have Marshall and Lily knee deep in an argument about, of all the dull things, Lily not being around enough due to her new job working for Dale Cooper. I mean, the Captain. While that ordeal plays out exactly as predictably and boringly as you might expect, Marshall and Ted delve into their latest television addiction: a ferocious Downton Abbey parody riddled with croquet matches and chimneysweeps. The climax of the story centers on Marshall's spiteful spoiler of the latest episode for Lily as a jab at her for not spending enough time with him. But that all works out effortlessly in the end, and Ted does a British accent and says "Postlethwait." So, win some lose some.
All in all, How I Met Your Mother is stuck somewhere between soap opera and Saturday morning cartoon. Yes, it can inch in a few sweet moments now and again, and a few good laughs here and there. But if it ever really wants to land a good plenty of either, it had better decide what it wants to be and stick to it.
Follow Michael Arbeiter on Twitter @MichaelArbeiter
[Photo Credit: Carin Baer/CBS]