Spoilers for tonight's "How I Met Your Mother" coming up just as soon as I alert the sommelier...
Wow. I've been enjoying "HIMYM" for the most part this year, but an episode like "Sorry, Bro" -- both the funniest and most uniquely "HIMYM" episode dating back to at least "The Naked Man," if not to last season's "Ten Sessions"/"The Bracket" double-header -- makes me realize how much I've been making allowances for some of the episodes of late. Because there are so many moving parts (the interlocking stories, the playing with time and perspective, Saget's narration, sweet moments mixed with crude ones, etc.), it's hard for "HIMYM" to live up to its potential every week. There have only been a handful of real Pantheon episodes like "Slap Bet," after all. But when I see an episode as good as this one, it makes me wish the show could reach this level all the time, even as I understand how difficult that is.
There were so many funny things going in "Sorry, Bro" that this could easily degenerate into one of those "30 Rock" episode reviews where all I do is list jokes that made me laugh. So instead I want to try to break down the things that elevated it over just a very good episode:
1. Marshall and Lily got angry. Their relationship is based on Craig Thomas' marriage, and from what little I know of Craig, he seems like a very nice and friendly guy, and I can imagine him and Mrs. Thomas getting very schmoopie together. And Jason Segel and Alyson Hannigan certainly play that note well -- just not nearly as well as they play blind comic fury. Segel is rarely better than when he's exploding into a rage over some perceived slight, and Hannigan is never better, so an episode built entirely around someone they both despise was right in their wheelhouse. Excellent work from both, so much so that I barely even noticed the various pregnancy-hiding tricks this week.
2. Everyone's either had a Karen or known a Karen. The specifics of her awfulness don't really matter, though her ceaseless pretensions were certainly funny. But there's a universality to the Karen experience -- of either being unable to resist dating someone who is always bad news, or else having a friend who does it -- that meant they could have given her almost any personality and it still would have been funny. (And this one was well-played by Laura Prepon.) Some "HIMYM" stories are great because they're so unique, but lots of others work because they somehow manage to capture an emotion, or an experience, or a person that we're all familiar with in some way. This was one of the latter.
3. The jokes were relentless. I think in some weeks, the writers might have been content to build a whole episode around Barney's four reasons for having lunch with your ex, or about Robin having trouble adjusting to her new schedule (and sleep-eating ribs!), or even about Barney waging an elaborate prank on Marshall at the office. Instead, all of those gags -- and Robin's snub-nose revolver, and Robin and Lily both quoting "The Wire," and Marshall and Lily dressed up as, respectively, The Ultimate Warrior and Hacksaw Jim Duggan, or any of the other jokes I would list if I were throwing up my hands and taking the "30 Rock" approach -- came fast and furious in the same episode. I had to pause the show a few times just to catch my breath, and/or so I could jump back and catch another joke I almost missed. (Did you notice, for instance, that Ted and Karen's waiter is Lily's ex-boyfriend Scooter, who fulfilled his promise to her to become a waiter because he thought that's what she wanted?)
4. The interlocking of the pants story (boma-ye!(*)) and the Karen story made each one funnier than if they had been told in linear fashion. This, as always, is the big "HIMYM" signature, the way that familiar stories are told in new ways, bending time and perspective to fit the needs of the jokes and/or the characters. Here, the recounting of Ted's reunion with Karen played out the way an actual 1:45 a.m. bull session at a bar might go, with the topic bouncing back and forth between Karen's return and Marshall's stolen pants, and with Barney deliberately needling Marshall (and raising the hilarity quotient) by wavering on who should tell the punchline to the pants story.
(*) Adapted from "Ali, boma-ye!," meaning "Ali, kill him!" which the crowds in Zaire chanted as Muhammad Ali trained for the Rumble in the Jungle with George Foreman.
Damn, that was good. I want to see Summer Glau on "Big Bang Theory" (and no talk about that one until I do a separate post tomorrow), but I'm really tempted to just put "Sorry, Bro" on again. Bravo, bros.
What did everybody else think?