For every toxic, unstable, will-they-won’t-they sitcom relationship, there is a simpler, sweeter, invariably less interesting counterpart. Ross/Rachel had the comfortably tepid Monica/Chandler. The Office balanced the chaos of Dwight/Angela, Michael/Holly, and Andy/Erin with the post-Season 4 doldrums of Jim/Pam. And through all the difficulty of fixing together Leslie and Ben, Ann and Chris, and Tom and anyone, we’ve had the unlikely rock-solid staple of April and Andy. On How I Met Your Mother, this pinnacle of psycho-romantic health is the Marshall/Lily combination — having endured only one trifle early on in the series run prior to this new arc’s revelation that Marshall accepted a judgeship in New York that directly conflicted with Lily’s plans to movie to Italy. And on the other side of the fence on the long-running CBS sitcom, we’ve seen Barney and Robin flounder through various mental problems to hold fast to the love that blooms (and often rots) between them. Those two are loons, not capable of a mature, healthy, giving relationship. But, like many people who fit that bill, they’re getting married now.
Many viewers have surmised that the Stinson-Scherbatsky union might never come to be, and that How I Met Your Mother will conclude with the revelation that Barney and Robin realize that they aren’t quite right for one another (or maybe for marriage at all) and opt to part ways amicably. If this were real life, we might root for this twist of fate. As much as we might enjoy their harebrained antics, we see evidence far too often that Barney and Robin are not part of what one might call a “good” relationship.
Sometimes, the pair champions this, using it to bolster their definition of passionate, non-traditional love. This week’s episode, “The Rehearsal Dinner,” is a primarily fun and sweet example of this kind of antic — Barney tricks Robin into believing one of his many long, elaborate, diagnostically insane lies in order to lead her to a surprise rehearsal dinner themed after her native home of Canada. It doesn’t quite make up for the fact that she, despite her professed wishes, does not actually get to be married in Canada… but Robin Thicke shows up, so everybody wins.
But although “The Rehearsal Dinner” is a particularly enjoyable episode, there is one element of it that rubs me the wrong way: the Robin of it all. Throughout, she strains to contain Barney as he lies, manipulates, ignores, and mocks her, all in the name of giving her a great surprise. The relationship doesn’t seem to be about two emotionally frayed people finding a common ground, but about one reasonably stable woman dealing relentlessly with her emotionally frayed fiancé.
We can argue, in favor of the pair, that Robin too is a nut. And she is, historically. But her time with Barney seems to have made her out to be the sane one. Lord knows that “Rehearsal Dinner” exhibits more angst on Robin’s part than voluntary lunacy. She commits to the ideas of rehearsal dinners and regimens, worrying about things we’ve never seen the abjectly offbeat Robin worry about… all in contrast to her maniacal beau. Being around Barney’s crazy has actually made Robin seem less crazy (and more boring, we might add), and we’re not too fond of this shift.
What makes the Michael/Hollys and April/Andys of the TV world ultimately work? Their compatibility. Barney and Robin advertise this, and occasionally show us a good time and some heartwarming (and funny) moments. But are they compatible? “The Rehearsal Dinner” makes us skeptical.