Spoilers for How I Met Your Mother after the jump:
One core question affecting how you see How I Met Your Mother is, and there is no way to put this delicately: how big of a, er, can of Pringles is Barney?
I mean, he’s funny. The character is brilliant. Neil Patrick Harris is matchless. And yet, when it comes down to it, you’re watching a show about a guy who amusingly lies to women to get them to have sex with him. Not seduces them; stages elaborate deceptions. Sometimes, like tonight, impeded/abetted by his friends, who realize he’s sleazy, but also know that deep down he’s a sweet guy and good friend. Who lies to women so that they will do things with his penis.
OK, I’m overthinking this. I am perhaps taking the show a bit too seriously. And this hasn’t always been an issue for me. The problem goes back to my issue with last week’s Barney-Robin breakup, in which it looked, worrisomely, like the writers had decided that the relationship was a huge mistake and were trying everything they could—short of having someone wake up and it turn out to be a dream—to make it as though it had never happened.
The problem is, having established Barney as a character with an emotional life (not for the first time but the first sustained period) and the ability to commit, HIMYM rang a bell it can’t simply unring now.
I’ve always expected more from HIMYM on a character level than many comedies because it delivered more. Barney, however, was the one character who was exempt from the show’s rules of emotional realism. That worked before his relationship with Robin. But now, when he acknowledges that he was affected by the breakup—and then it turns out to simply be part of his most elaborate Playbook move yet—it seems like kind of a cheat where it would previously have been funny. However many times an episode Barney winks at us and tells us he’s awesome, we now know he’s more than one-dimensional. So when a story resolves like “The Playbook”—basically, saying that whenever Barney shows some depth of feeling, it’s a trick because he wants something—it now seems hollow.
As I said last week, I’m willing to give this show the benefit of a doubt. But for now it seems like HIMYM has decided to simply wipe out a major character arc and grant itself a do-over.
Having said all that, this was a funnier episode joke-by-joke than last week’s. You can see why the writers are so drawn to writing his scams, because they’re so genius—especially his trip to the “smoon” for “SNASA.” (It’s unfortunate, however, that a web search for “Lorenzo von Matterhorn” turns up only this. Even HIMYM cannot game Google.) And really, a man stuffing as many chicken fingers in his mouth as possible can never not be funny. But having watched several episodes of Barney with a woman he wasn’t pretending to be a billionaire balloonist for, I can’t be completely over the moon about this one. At least not the moon you’re familiar with.