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'How I Met Your Mother' Recap: How Well Does This Show Handle Black Comedy?

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Oct 22, 2013 | 11:28am EDT

How I Met Your Mother, Season 9 Ep 6CBS

I had a decidedly bizarre relationship with this most recent episode of How I Met Your Mother. To begin, I watched the half-hour comedy via the good graces of my DVR (for which I allot a portion of my salary in lieu of breakfasts) at around 3 in the morning, after waking up from a nap I didn't remember deciding to take. In my fugue state, everything hit harder. The jokes (I couldn't help but laugh at every misplaced "What the damn hell?!"), the sentiment, the Indiana Jones references, and the episode's "dark" conclusion. That especially.

See, How I Met Your Mother doesn't exist in the world of It's Always Sunny or Arrested Development or Seinfeld. It exists in a world with a pulsing heart, one that wants us to care about its quirky quintet. It seems too often, though, that the show tries to have its cake and eat it too: to bank on the bounties of black comedy while still riding on a sympathetic undercurrent. We've already come to recognize all of the group's core members (with the possible, and that's being generous, exception of Marshall) as horrible people. Lily goes out of her way to refer to Barney as a sociopath — probably true — in this episode. But when it comes to gags like the conclusive twist in "Knight Vision," we reach a point that's beyond bearable. At least to those of us watching in the hyper-emotional state immediately between two sleeps.

Robin and Barney spend the episode trying to convince their rigid minister that they are worthy of his approval and of his church. So, they use the sweetest, most romantic love story they can conjure up: Marshall and Lily's, the whole "we met in college and have been together ever since" ordeal, adopting their personas (and nicknames, to comical nonsensicality — the stern minister fawning over monikers like "Barnmallow" and "Robinpad" earned a good laugh) in place of their own far more... colorful... personal history.

When Lily's intrusion sparks the revelation that Robin and Barney swiped the story, they lose the minister's approval, and a place in his church. But the pair realizes that they prefer their true story — a story of deceit, heartbreak, lechery, adultery, and various other sorts of undesirable behavior — launching into a vivid recollection of the past nine years they have spent together. The shock of their narrative actually kills the minister, leaving them in want of a new official to oversee the wedding.

Theory: Don't Robin and Barney have a friend who is struggling with the decision to become a judge? Perhaps this new position is the answer to our question of what Marshall and Lily will ultimately decide to do (move to Rome for her career vs. stay in New York for his).

And so, while Robin and Barney sulk over having to find a new minister at the last minute, we cringe at their unintentional hand in the death of this man. It's the sort of thing that should haunt you, one would think, not just serve as a plot device. While this sort of black humor might feel right at home in Sunny or its dark brethren, HIMYM needs to make up its mind on where it wants to lie. It's a rare achievement for a show to manage such sinister comedy and still earn our "aww"s. And since How I Met Your Mother is certainly more concerned with the latter, it should really steer clear of gags like these.

Meanwhile, Ted tries to sleep with Anna Camp. He doesn't. But don't worry. The Mother is coming soon.

Footnote: In the sleep to follow my viewing of this episode, I had a How I Met Your Mother-themed dream. In it, Barney kissed Ted, tearfully professing his undying love for him and his long-guarded homosexuality. It was very moving, and very exciting. I was disappointed to wake up to realize this never actually happened. 

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