How I Met Your Mother: “The Best Man” / “The Naked Truth”

Confession time. When I first started watching How I Met Your Mother, midway through its first season, it hit me right where I lived. I related so distinctly with Ted’s situation—best friends engaged, weary of the single life—that it was easy for the show to sink its emotional hooks in me. As HIMYM‘s much-lamented (and oft-lamentable) fifth and sixth seasons wore on, the effect for me was less like a fading favorite show and more like irrevocably growing apart from an old friend. Even when you can’t connect on the same levels you used to, even when you get irritated at their string of baffling choices, you can never quite shake the residual good feelings that just seeing them triggers, and you cling to those moments when they’re the friend you grew up with again, even fleetingly.

By the end of the two-part seventh-season opener, and certainly by the end of its first half, I had that feeling again, like I had spent time in the company of old friends. More than that, I remembered that raw connection to Ted Mosby during his conversation with Robin on the balcony. Without exceeding the purview of a TV review, suffice it to say his anxiety touched a nerve. Maybe that’s not the fairest ground from which to judge a program as a reviewer (rather than merely a fan), but I have to acknowledge the biases I can’t escape.

How I Met Your Mother: "The Best Man" / "The Naked Truth" - Neil Patrick Harris, Cobie Smulders, Josh Radnor, Jason Segal, Alyson Hannigan

It wasn’t vintage HIMYM, and I won’t pretend it was. “The Best Man” got off to a particularly clumsy start, with a run-down of Ted’s back catalog of sad-sackery that doesn’t do much to redeem the guy who’s become many viewers’ least favorite member of the gang in recent years. But weddings have provided the backdrop for many a delightful HIMYM experience in the past, and a schlep to Cleveland doesn’t diminish the touch. I adored Barney and Robin’s pas de deux, Marshall and Lily’s baby-goggles, and yes, even seeing that Ted had a success to his name.

And naturally, I enjoyed the hell out of Drunk Marshall (alias: Beercules), the unifying thread between parts one and two. His story in “The Naked Truth,” chasing down a humiliating online video, feels stale by a couple of years, both in terms of narrative plausibility (GNB wouldn’t have performed a similar background check? The NRDC internship?) and of tapping the zeitgeist. Yet it’s forgivable because it plays well in that HIMYM sweet spot of exploring the murky terrain between young adulthood and boring-old-regular adulthood. It’s also elevated by typically game performances by Jason Segal, who never met an opportunity to go bare-ass naked on screen he didn’t seize, and guest star Jimmi Simpson as the booze-happy college classmate responsible for the incriminating tape(s).

I was less enamored of “The Naked Truth” overall, in particular its insistence on continuing to mark time with the Barney-Nina storyline. I’m no shipper, but look, we all know this is just an obstacle on the path of Barney and Robin reuniting, and it’s not that believable or interesting an obstacle. For one thing, Robin makes infinitely more sense. Barney is not the sort of man to fall madly in love after one date, and to demonstrate that love through outrageous stunts like spending nine hours in a diner. (My suspension of disbelief at the ridiculous behavior of protagonists after one freaking date only extends as far as Ted, and even with him the show’s pushed its luck.) Furthermore, Barney checking off lies he’s told women came across as an excuse to squeeze in some leftover gags from “The Bracket,” where the gimmick was much, much funnier.

And speaking of retreads, Ted’s airless C-story choosing between two 5-second extras seemed like nothing more than a build-up to yet another of his patented “I don’t want to date, I want to fall head over heels!” revelations. Until the very last minute of the episode, anyway. Even though I’d heard it was coming, the triumphant re-emergence of Victoria was a delight. Ending on Ashley Williams’ irresistible smile of recognition evoked the first shot she appeared in, in the closing seconds of season one’s “The Wedding.” Last year, I often complained that HIMYM was doling out the callbacks to earlier, better seasons too liberally, as a crutch. Well, this was one callback I can not only forgive but applaud.

All in all, the most encouraging start to a year since at least season four. Sometimes old friends who’ve drifted manage to find their way back. I hope that’s the case with this one.

Originally published at The Vast Wasteland, Sept. 20, 2011.

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