Spoilers for last night's "How I Met Your Mother" coming up just as soon as I steal Feely the Share Bear...
Given that "Seinfeld" went off the air a decade ago, and that many of today's young comedy writers grew up watching that show, you would think that a little "Seinfeld" flavor would leak into today's comedy scripts. But I guess everyone realizes that the lifts would be too recognizable, or that they can't pull off the same material the way that Seinfeld and David did. Or maybe it's just that there aren't that many sitcoms left to steal from Jerry, George, Elaine and Kramer.
"HIMYM" previously did one "Seinfeld"-flavored episode, last year's "We're Not From Here," which is probably the "HIMYM" low point to date. So when I began to realize that "Benefits" was borrowing from not one, but two different "Seinfeld"s -- "The Deal," where Jerry and Elaine try to have sex again with no strings attached, and, of course, "The Contest," which made primetime safe for masturbation jokes (or vice versa) -- I braced myself for another stinker.
But this time, it worked for the most part. I never forgot that "Seinfeld" had done similar stories before, but this time, they felt more "HIMYM"-appropriate.
Part of that is that, unlike the deliberately-soulless "Seinfeld," "HIMYM" is a show that embraces the idea of hugs, and characters talking about their emotions, and all that other heartwarming junk the kids are so into today. And with the added wrinkle that Barney is secretly in love with Robin, the "Benefits" A-story became its own thing, which was largely a showcase for the awf-someness of Neil Patrick Harris as Barney tried to mask his jealousy. At this point, NPH's genius goes without saying, but it takes some real talent to be able to make a line like "Awesome, we're still talking about this?" both really funny and really poignant.
Beyond Barney's pathos, there were a bunch of other uniquely "HIMYM"-y wrinkles to the story, like Barney's hilarious side trip to comparison shop for a TV to smash, or the rapid-fire montage of TEd, Robin and Barney going through the cycle all over again.
As for Marshall's story, "HIMYM" has its own long history of coming up with euphemisms for taboo subjects -- "Eating a sandwich," most notably -- and even if Bays and Thomas lifted that concept from "Seinfeld,"(*) it's become such a part of the show that it worked.
(*) UPDATE: It appears that I really, really misread this storyline. See the comments for more. Sigh...
And really, beyond the subject matter and the euphemisms, it was telling a different story than "The Contest." And I give them points to using all those fame whore guest stars as minimally as possible, and in a story about masturbation. Seems about right for those folks.
Some other thoughts on "Benefits":
• Where was Ted's inner corrector at when Robin -- who earlier in the episode had mocked him for dropping a 20-year-old "Revenge of the Nerds" reference -- compared herself to The Fonz? I suppose he was in a good mood at the time, post-coitus.
• Has a character on the show ever broken the fourth wall the way that Marshall did when he raised his eyebrow at the camera after finding out about the abandoned 8th floor?
• Scenes in Lily's kindergarten class are really hit-and-miss, in part because the kid actors come across like kid actors. I don't know that the gag about LIly telling one student about his parents' divorce would have worked even with a young Haley Joel Osment, but in this case, it felt cheap.
What did everybody else think?