"And so ended one of the strangest afternoons of our lives." -Future TedAnd so ended one of the strangest "HIMYM"s of our lives -- and, I'm guessing, one of the most polarizing.
The theme of half my reviews of this show tends to revolve around the eternal struggle of "HIMYM" vs. Sitcom(*). Ordinarily, I view any episode that gets too close to Sitcom territory to be a very bad thing, but "The Stinsons" so gleefully embraced its Sitcom-ness at the same time it was inverting it that it was like watching a car turn into a skid. It doesn't make any sense that this is the best, safest way to survive, and yet it is. With "The Stinsons" -- featuring wacky and unnecessary lies, a cute kid with a (lame) catchphrase, and random musical stings(**) -- I was willing to turn into the skid right along with the show, but I can see how other people might not.
(*) Insert boilerplate disclaimer about how, of course "HIMYM" is a sitcom, but that the capital S implies a bad sitcom, one where consistent characterization is sacrificed for the sake of one lame punchline after another.
(**) Am I nuts, or was the sting right after Barney's meta joke about '80s child actors supposed to be a snippet of the "Doogie Howser" score?
I think what made it work is that it was a Barney Stinson version of a dumb sitcom plot. They couldn't have done this episode with any other character, but Barney's always been allowed to operate on a different frequency from the others, and his attempt to model his life after characters and stories from pop culture only adds to his appeal. The running gag about Barney cheering for the villains of '80s movies (which gives me another excuse to link to both the original "sweep the leg" scene and to the Wiliam Zabka-directed "Sweep the Leg" music video worked nicely into the larger plot about Barney lying to his mom about having a family. In Barney's worldview, the villains are the heroes for what seem like obvious reasons (Zabka was better at karate than Ralph Macchio, Hans Gruber was the one who died hard, etc.), just as coming up with this elaborate, expensive, years-long lie to his mother makes perfect sense to him. In Barney-world, not only is all of this possible, it's damn near probable.
It helped that Frances Conroy was so funny -- and so unlike Ruth Fisher -- as Mrs. Stinson. She doesn't sound anything like Megan Mullally (who voiced Barney's mom in previous flashbacks), but she played the character in a way that fit the previous info we had. Her monologue about eight minutes in a gas station bathroom was as funny as it was horrifying, and it makes sense that this is the woman who would have created the Barney Stinson we know. (NPH's very childlike and hurt delivery of "Mommy?" after she told him about her stint with Grand Funk Railroad was lovely.) And yet she was just human enough that the climax, where she unwittingly nudged Barney towards making another play for Robin, felt like something real even in the midst of all the wackiness.
Of the bits of business for the rest of the cast, I enjoyed watching Ted the pretentious theater geek and wannabe actor, as well as Robin bonding with Barney's "son," but Lily and Marshall's conflict felt too broad and dumb even within the context of an episode about Barney inventing a fake family to impress his mom. Again, it's about what one character can get away with that another can't.
But overall, this worked, in a way it probably shouldn't have, because "HIMYM" Carter Bays and Craig Thomas (on script duty this week) were able to embrace Barney's more extreme qualities and hang some good jokes around them.
What did everybody else think?