Spoilers for "Ten Sessions," the Britney Spears-eriffic episode of "How I Met Your Mother," coming up just as soon as I introduce Ted and Stella to a little movie I like to call "Attack of the Killer Tomatoes"...
Not that I expect the ratings to be notably higher than usual -- stunt-casting stopped moving the ratings needle years ago -- but if new viewers tuned in to see Britney(*), I wonder what they made of this one. As an example of story construction and grand romantic gestures -- two of the things that make "HIMYM" great -- it was a triumph. As an example of laugh-out-loud comedy? Meh.
((*) Before we go any further, might as well get this out of the way: Britney was fine. Not great, not awful; fine. She has plenty of experience at doing sketch comedy with her version of the Mickey Mouse Club, and she's been a pretty good "SNL" host -- albeit not as good as fellow MMC'er Justin Timberlake. She was overplaying a little bit here and there with the wide eyes and big smile, and I imagine a more trained comic actress could have done more with what was really a minor character, but she was fine. She did nothing to detract from my enjoyment of the episode, and hopefully this will be one step of many on the road back to mental health.)
Anyway, I was so busy admiring all the clever things in "Ten Sessions" -- how the writers were able to cram in distinct feelings for all 10 (and bull sessions at McClaren's after most of them), how the script kept looping back around to reveal that Barney was the rude guy on the phone and Marshall was the guy who left the book in Stella's office (the latter felt very much like a time travel movie punchline, like Marty McFly teaching Chuck Berry how to play "Johnny B. Goode"), how awesome and sweet Ted's two-minute date was (complete with Ranjit the cabbie from the pilot) -- that it took me a while to realize that very little of it was ticklin' the ol' funny bone. I laughed a few times at throwaway jokes (Lily giving Barney a time out, Robin admitting that she suffers a little from the mustache thing), but more prominent gags like the game of Telephone at the movie theater or Marshall forgetting where he left the memory book felt very bad sitcom-y to me. When "HIMYM" is really clicking, it's both smart and funny. "Ten Sessions" was mostly just smart.
And, man, am I still annoyed by the Silverstone/Chalke/Spears kerfuffle. If I had any doubts before that the role of Stella (originally written for Alicia Silverstone, who bailed when Brit-Brit got cast) was originally planned as The Mother, they're gone now. Between Stella's reference to going out to a lame St. Patrick's Day party (no doubt where she lost her yellow umbrella) and the perfection of the two-minute date, everything about her smelled Mother. And unless Bill Lawrence's plans for the bonus final season of "Scrubs" (whether it airs on NBC or ABC) don't involve Sarah Chalke, it won't be logistically feasible to make her be the woman of Future Ted's talky dreams.
(I did briefly wonder how Stella's 8-year-old daughter fit into the world of Future Ted, but then realized that she'd be an adult by the period when Future Ted is boring his biological kids with this neverending story. Problem solved.)
What did everybody else think?