Tuesday, November 17, 2009

How I Met Your Mother, "The Playbook": Smeet Sme at SmacLaren's

Spoilers for last night's "How I Met Your Mother" coming up just as soon as I focus on my "Star Trek" fanfiction...
"You're a real boy now. You can't go back to these cheap tricks." -Lily
I will say this upfront: "The Playbook" was very funny, as you would expect any episode with this many Barney Stinson scams, flim-flams and bamboozles to be. And it helped that the subplot gave Marshall a chance to be smug for an entire episode, because that's a note Jason Segel plays well.

That being said, at times the episode felt like Carter Bays and Craig Thomas were overcompensating for the return of Barney Stinson: Single Guy as Barney himself was. It was as if they were so frustrated at the challenge of writing Barney as one half of a couple, and/or they wanted to make it clear to the audience why they had broken up Robin and Barney so quickly, that they gave us an episode that was just wall-to-wall jokes about Barney's evil genius at tricking women into having sex with him.

And I have a few problems with that. One, it did feel a little forced, particularly in the payoff with the explanation for The SCUBA Diver. Two, as both Lily and James Poniewozik have pointed out, the show has established that Barney is a real boy with real emotions, who's capable of being in something vaguely resembling a healthy adult relationship, and that's a bell that can't be so easily unrung (or unrung at all).

And three, as I wrote last week, I liked the idea of Robin and Barney as a couple, if not all of the execution of it. I recognize that not everyone shared that opinion, and plenty of people last week said they were relieved Bays and Thomas had brought that storyline to a close. But for me, an episode whose subtext is, "See? This is why we bailed on that couple so quickly!" was as troubling in its own way as all the contrived shenanigans on last night's "House" that allowed the writers to reconfigure the team in the way that they wanted.

Again, it's not that my love of the show is based on whether or not any one couple gets together or stays together. But I thought that pairing had a lot of potential, both comic and emotional, and unless the break-up (and the introduction of future Robin boyfriend Don at the end) is only a temporary stumbling block towards Barney/Robin 2.0, then that potential feels squandered.

Now, maybe the match worked better on paper than it did in practice, and maybe it hamstrung Bays, Thomas and the other writers from making the best show that they could, and perhaps they were right to bail on a fundamentally flawed storyline as quickly as they could. But, like Robin, the abrupt end of that plot feels a little too close for me to have enjoyed Barney's gamesmanship as much as I might have had we gotten an episode like this much earlier (or much later) in the series.

What did everybody else think?

49 comments:

Brandon Nowalk said...

I thought it was a very funny episode, and like you, I still have misgivings over this Barney/Robin plot. But HIMYM is good at playing a long game, so it's hard to judge long-term plots like this in the moment. Meanwhile, I loved the standalone bits of this and last week's, so I'm still a happy camper. I withhold judgment on Barn-man and Robin for now.

Tim said...

I love that Lorenzo von Matterhorn is a top trending topic on google right now.

Alan Sepinwall said...

And I did like that one of the fake websites we saw last night was called "Lorenzo Von Matterhorn is not a jerk."

gravyboat said...

Am I reading too much into the fact that Future Ted said, "That was the day she met Don" and not, "That was the day she met Uncle Don?" Alan, I agree that there was some great potential in Robin/Barney, and I'm hoping that they come back together for Robin/Barney 2.0 eventually to really exploit that potential, but I still feel as though they never really established why Robin was into Barney in the first place. If this is part of a longer storyline leading them back together, I hope that it explores Robin's side of things a little more fully.

Yukona said...

What about the Doogie Howser reference? Hilarious!

LA said...

I thought the episode was totally great. The only blemish it had was Robin meeting this Don character at the end. Who the hell is Don? I want Robin and Barney together!

Heather said...

I'm with you - it's not that I need Robin and Barney to be together to enjoy the show, it's that they spent AN ENTIRE SEASON building up Barney's feelings for Robin, and one of the big emotional hooks of last year's finale was Robin and Barney, you know, taking the leap. All of that build up for, what? A handful of not particularly well-written episodes, never really delving into how Robin feels about all of this, and then restoring the status quo as quickly as possible? Serious squandering of potential, like you said. Seriously frustrating squandering of potential!

I'm hoping they're planning on coming back to it, but I suppose I don't really want them to if this is all they found they could squeeze out of a Barney/Robin relationship.

Zachary said...

I loved the episode. The writers definitely know how to get comedy out of single Barney. I agree though that after all of the buildup to the Baney/Robin relationship we should get a bit more on that.
btw i would buy the playbook

Billiam said...

Wow, I thought my opinions were a minority, and then I find that Alan, Poniewozik, and several posters agree with me. I find it sad that Barney has to stay a manipulative man-child forever. Not only was the scuba twist obvious, but I really wanted it to be false: and that Barney's relationship with Robin actually affected him enough that he could treat women like people. As funny as this episode was, Barney's womanizing is getting pathetic.

Jen said...

I thoroughly enjoyed the episode because anything that gives NPH a chance to really work the Barney character is something I'm going to be on board with. That said, it did put into relief just how poorly executed the Barney/Robin relationship was. I hated last week's episode and while this was a great return to form, it really highlighted just how much opportunity the writers missed with Barney and Robin together.

Also, I saw the scuba play coming from a mile away, so the payoff wasn't as great.

Michael said...

The Lorenzo von Matterhorn entry on Wikipedia was quickly deleted Monday night but as of Tuesday morning it has redirected to the episode's entry.

You can see what previous versions looked like by going to the "history" tab.

Lawofbob said...

First off, since no one else has posted, The 3 websites Barney mentioned, are real.
http://balloonexplorersclub.com/
www.extremitiesquarterly.com
www.bigbusinessjournal.com

And while I found this episode incredibly funny, I'm really hoping they don't kill the robin/barney relationship completely. As other commentators have pointed out, Barney has been pining for Robin since the end of season 3! HIMYM has always rewarded the loyal viewers by developing these characters and evolving them in a realistic way.

Last thing, where are the Ted storylines this season? We had his first day at college and the roadtrip episode, which was a bit of a throw away storyline. I want to see more Ted the Professor storylines!

dez said...

I thought the episode was totally great. The only blemish it had was Robin meeting this Don character at the end. Who the hell is Don? I want Robin and Barney together!

ITA! Barn-man and Robin 4eva! :-) Okay, that's about as 'shippy as I get.

The ep was funny, especially the "ding!" winks, but it did feel too fast after the break-up to have Barney be so uncaring toward Robin's feelings. OTOH, I did enjoy Ted testing out "The Ted Mosby" play and finding it worked. Also, how often does MacLaren's clientele turn over that the women there haven't already encountered Barney's scams??

LoopyChew said...

Little thing of the ep that killed me dead: Barney's SCUBA mark joining in on the harmonized "Hell no," after a briefly uncertain pause.

Much as I expect them to follow up on the BroTP sometime in the future, I'll enjoy Single Barney again for the time being. While yes, he was supposed to be "pretending" about his emotions here, I think it's pretty clear from the way he has acted in the past that he is actually hurt, but just also happens to not be above using his own feelings to manipulate a chick into the sack. Consider "Game Night" from Season One, or even Barney and Robin lying to themselves about lying to the others about their relationships in the season premiere. Heck, even "The Naked Man" from last season does a pretty good job of showing that Barney's willing to put his feelings aside for the chance at another chick and another technique.

I wonder if it's too late for me to legally change my name to Lorenzo Von Matterhorn.

Steve said...

Welcome back, HIMYM!!! What a fantastic episode. Even though the payoff at the end of The Scuba Diver was predictable and obvious, it was still a legendary episode.

The "Lorenzo Von Matterhorn is not a Jerk" was a headline that linked to TedMosbyisaJerk.com. I love these show runners.

lifeofmytime said...

I don't think we're done with the Barney/Robin story. The fact that single Barney was brought back so quickly and with such force, I felt it wasn't so much the writers who were overcompensating. Barney was overcompensating.

Barney doesn't know where to land after the breakup, so he throws himself back into the only other life he knows. And Barney does nothing half-assed.

I can see lots of comedy potential coming down the pipe with Robin's new love interest and how Barney deals with him.

But if I'm wrong and the writers really just want to move on from the storyline becasue it wasn't working, then I'm fine with that too. Yeah it's not much of a payoff for fans, but if the writers couldn't make it work, then bravo to them for not dragging the series down by continually trying to make it work.

mmjoan said...

Yukona, I can't believe I missed the Doogy Howser reference. What was it?

Lawofbob, I too have wondered about Ted's storylines this season. His character has definitely bordered on annoying and Ross Gellar-like, but it's like they're writing him out of the show entirely.

And for whatever reason, I can't believe Ted's feelings for Robin are really gone. There have to be some residual feelings on both of their ends, right?

The fake website "Lorenzo Von Matterhorn is not a jerk" had me laughing for 5 minutes. Maybe that's how I missed the Doogie Howser reference? :)

Fresh Dunks and a Green Hat said...

I love last nights episode. I really think with a show like this it's all about the long haul. Of course Barney's jump back into single life looked pathetic, it was supposed to. I think with two emotionally stunted people like Barney and Robin the first crack at a relationship was always doomed to fail.

I'm sure they'll end up back together after Barney actually gets tired of the single life and Robin's relationship with Don fails.

Anonymous said...

I felt like what they were trying to go for was the idea that even unconventional people get "institutionalized" by couplehood. That there was pressure for Robin and Barney to be typical boyfriend-girlfriend, including stuff like brunch and cuople dates and bed and breakfasts, and that this broke them up. But they *really* didn't execute that well and because of that, this episode, while funny, felt like a huge letdown. Barney has to be a little bit human and he really almost wasn't here.

Chazz said...

I have to disagree here. Not only did I find the episode very funny but I thought they absolutely had to have Barney come out guns blazing on his return to single life. I found the episodes with him and Robin together forced and akward, and not nearly as funny as with them apart. I almost needed an episode like this to get back into the show- Barney's over the top antics, and the episode's focus on them, were like a shot of caffiene to wake me up from getting bored with this season.

I thought the Barney / Robin arc was necessary given the setup they had put into it but for me the show just works better without them together. Maybe because I'm a single guy in my late 20's, but I like assuming I fit somewhere between the marriage obsessed Ted and the permanent single man-child Barney. Without Barney being who he truly is, there's just Ted there to identify with (to the extent that anyone should actually identify with a fictional character on a 23 minute sit-com).

And I thoroughly disagree with the comments about Barney not staying the way he is. Why does he need to grow up? It’s a television show, and a comedy at that. I'm not saying he can't mature in some ways as the storylines progress but I hope the show ends with him as single and outlandish as when it began. Its my least favorite thing about Judd Apatow movies, the last 30 or more minutes devoted to the male character "growing up," eating Salad etc etc etc, precisely when his movies stop being funny. I'd really hate the show to go in that direction.

So I say, long live Lorenzo Von Matterhorn!

Alan Sepinwall said...

Chazz, I understand where you're coming from, and I think if they had never done the Robin/Barney thing - which showed that Barney not only could grow, but that he did grow - we'd all be fine with him being a man-child forever, because NPH plays that so well. But once the guy has demonstrated a capacity for growth, going back to man-child makes him look bad.

Matt said...

My theory is that Barney is really torn up over this breakup but is covering up the pain by going back to his old ways, even harder than usual. I bet in a few episodes, we see Barney show his true colors and run back to Robin saying he can't be without her. Maybe that's the role Don will play, the catalyst for Barney jumping back into action.

But it was sad that even in a few moments where the writers could have given Barney a bit of vulnerability, they passed on it and went with the bastard-coated bastard with bastard filling.

I will say this, you've got to give major props to HIMYM for always going above and beyond to incorporate little Easter Eggs on the internet to go along with the gags on the show.

dez said...

they passed on it and went with the bastard-coated bastard with bastard filling

Hi, Dr. Cox! :-)

Chazz said...

Alan- I agree it would have been better if he had demonstrated that perhaps he has the capacity to grow but ultimately just isn't ready, instead of making such a large step forward and then reversing direction.

Anonymous said...

How do you people not realize how this is going to play out? Robin is going to date Don and get engaged and Barney will confess his love for Robyn at the Alter. Or something to that effect.

srpad said...

I cackled like a loon every time NPH winked. Every single time.

I think this was Barney's way of working through the breakup. We always knew he had a third dimension even before Robin so I think it is okay.

gravyboat said...

mmjoan, I've suspected for a while now that Ted's "I'm gonna win her back" from "Three Days of Snow" was in reference to Robin.

Andrew said...

The "Lorenzo Von Matterhorn is NOT a Jerk" site was, according to the shows version of Google, posted onto the "Ted Mosby is a Jerk" site.

I think we should hold off on saying that they have regressed Barney here. I totally buy that he would throw himself whole-hog into his old life. We will see how that plays out and if he is able to garner the same enthusiasm for one night stands as he once had. Remember when Marshall was single and Barney constantly stole chicks from him? We thought it was Barney being Barney, but eventually found out it was him trying to keep Marshall from spoiling what he had with Lily, even though she had left him. He has hidden depths, and I think the writers have recognized that pretty well.

femmeperdue said...

I would like to add that this episode featured scheming, devious Lily (and I think she's awesome), particularly because I love watching NPH and Alyson Hannigan interact.

My only hope for Barn-man and Robin is that the writers don't get them back together, break them up, lather, rinse, repeat. If they're done, let them stay done. But while I thought they were a great pair, I personally never saw any long-term potential.

Lorrie said...

I'm not saying it wasn't a funny episode, cause it was. Far from HIMYM's best, but still funny.

However, Barney's shenanigans felt very forced, almost like he was playing himself instead of being himself, especially after the (very brief) honest emotional moment between Barney and Robin at the bar ("We just broke up"). The question is whether the writers intended me to see Barney's actions that way, or whether I'm seeing what I want to see. I admit I'm a romantic, but it's not like I'm only watching for Barney/Robin. I watch for all the characters (where the hell is Ted's storyline?). But if this is really the end for B/R, it's a bit of a letdown.

I saw The Scuba Diver coming from a mile away, as did most veteran TV viewers, I'm supposing.

Alden said...

About Don: My theory is that Don turns out to be the biggest mistake of Robin's life, so memorable he's actually known to the kids twenty years later.

Karen said...

Well, it was funny. There's no denying that. And I really did live for all of Barney's winks to the camera.

But I didn't like that Robin was actually hurt by what was happening and Barney didn't seem to care. He has actually always been a pretty good friend to Robin and, while I know that post-breakup attitudes may vary from regular mileage, that seemed crueler than I want Barney to be. Or even than I expect him to be.

Anonymous said...

I thought it was funny, but the sticking point for me was that there's no way this is the first time anyone else has heard of the playbook.

Andrew said...

Like Lorrie, I saw this as Barney overcompensating and that he was more hurt than he realized by the breakup with Robin and he's engaging in hyper-Classic Barney behaviors to attempt to move on from this relationship. I don't really see this as post-relationship Barney simply returning to normal, but attempting to aggressively and consciously revert to his pre-Robin self.

Anonymous said...

I just really don't want to see "The Playbook" in my local bookstores soon... or I am going to swear to the gods of synergy.

Anonymous said...

Taken by itself, I thought this was the funniest episode this season, but I was annoyed the whole time I was watching it that they had changed Barney so much while he was in his relationship with Robin that he wasn't funny anymore then. I agree that they could have done more with that relationship, and I hate what they did do with it. I hope the posters who think Barney is hiding real feelings by overdoing his return to his old self are right, and I'd like to see them put Barney and Robin back in a relationship, but only if they can stay Barney and Robin next time.

alex s. said...

I really thought The Scuba Diver was going to turn into a play for Robin, possibly jumping into "we can't date, let's get married". This would have tied up what the guys were saying about Robin as well as explaining Barney's entire Playbook prank.

Minor quibble: Ted spent an entire year (season, whatever) after he broke up with Robin in "not looking for The One" mode and didn't find her, so Ted and Marshall's point was a little off (though I assume they (the characters) were more interested in teasing Robin than consistency).

Whiskey said...

I felt the same way as you, Alan. And I too missed the Doogie Howser reference, WTF?

Tom Galloway said...

Keep in mind how Barney became the Legend...wait for it...ary Barney. The result of a bad breakup with someone he really cared about.

jenmoon said...

I agree with Alan and everyone else who's feeling kinda bummed at Old Barney Return despite everything.

I think they kind of hopped all over the map in how they treated the Brobin courtship. Some episodes, such as "Dual Citizenship," were freaking perfect as to how these two would behave in a relationship. Other episodes were kind of iffy, but I thought it was realistic to deal with them as a Couple (i.e. Marshall and Lily wanting couple friends). But the last one suddenly drove the whole thing into the ground very fast, and I suspect the producers of the show just want to ditch this plot entirely. I'd be happier if I felt like they might revisit it someday, but right now I somewhat suspect they aren't going to. It does hamper their ability to do Barney scam jokes, after all.

Really, the issue with Brobin is that they shouldn't be trying to fit into the Traditional Couples Behavior Box. Marshall and Lily take to it like ducks to water, but these two need to do their own thing. I appreciate the show indicating this, but darn it, I want a rematch, with a Robin who doesn't make Barney throw out his porn and a Barney who can still stay slim and go out and have a good time while still with someone.

I do wonder if the next episode is going to show Barney being secretly heartbroken that Robin found a new regular boyfriend like, yesterday, though.

Craig Ranapia said...

Alan wrote:
as both Lily and James Poniewozik have pointed out, the show has established that Barney is a real boy with real emotions, who's capable of being in something vaguely resembling a healthy adult relationship, and that's a bell that can't be so easily unrung (or unrung at all).

It's also frustrating because Neil Patrick Harris is a bloody good actor who can do Man-Slut Barney in his sleep, and do it well when it would otherwise be tiresome and unfunny in the hands of most other actors.

But it's like sleazy Wollowitz in Big Bang Theory -- sleazy Barney is a card you don't want to over-play, because it can end up as being something you laugh at (in an uncomfortable, embarrassed way) instead of laugh with.

Nicole said...

Viewed in isolation, the episode is quite funny, however, unless this is a sign of Barney overcompensating, it feels like the writers have artificially regressed Barney so that he could be the joke, and an easy one at that. There had better be more depth to this, or else this show is now basically Two and a Half without the kid.

Anthony Foglia said...

@alex s.
Minor quibble: Ted spent an entire year (season, whatever) after he broke up with Robin in "not looking for The One" mode and didn't find her, so Ted and Marshall's point was a little off[...].

Ted was through looking for the one, but wasn't through dating. Robin was swearing off dating altogether.

And it was only a half season; in the spring he dated Stella, who was nearly the one.

jasctt said...

Strike two. last week was the first strike. One more crappy ep and I am outta hre. Life is too short to waste on a great TV show turned crap.

BTW, i can't believe I am saying this, but BBT has been O MUCH MORE consistent this season. Yes, it isn't as smug and faux-showoffy as HIMYM, but at least it knows what ist is (a more traditional sitcom) and can do a lot with very little story. Those HIMYM guys should take note of that

jana said...

I thought this episode was pretty funny, but I was very distracted be the laugh track. Has it always been so obvious?

Anonymous said...

Wasn't Claire (the girl they told the whole story to and who left with Barney at the end) one of the students in the econ class Ted lectured to by mistake?

Anonymous said...

To the people who didn't catch the Doogie Howser reference : The article about Lorenzo Von Matterhorn's penis reduction surgery came with a picture of him with the stethoscope around his neck, just like one of the newspaper clippings you saw in the opening credits of Doogie Hower, M.D.

Our Doogie's all grown up !!

Pamela Jaye said...

dez quoted...

they passed on it and went with the bastard-coated bastard with bastard filling

and said
Hi, Dr. Cox! :-)


this made me laugh because a previous post mentioning ability to relate to a character in a sitcom, made me think: I relate to JD.

I guess I don't watch a lot of sitcoms.
(Scrubs, TBBT, HIMYM, 30 Rock. Did I miss any? Community & Cougartown are Jay's fault and won't be watched till her gets here to watch them. also, the rest of season 1 of Better Off Ted. Could be good but I fell asleep mid-ep 2. Side thought - mid-season replacements have to compete with exhaustion due to spring allergies. hmmm... Someone tell Neilson (however it's spelled))

Anonymous said...

I couldn't agree more with your review. As hilarious as this episode was, I hated that we suddenly forgot any kind of character development on Barney's part, and just suddenly went back to season 1-3 Barney.

Can I also just add, this whole season has been way to Barney-centric. Not that I don't love him, but can we please remember that the show is called, "How I Met Your Mother," and not "How Barney Nailed some Dumb Chick in a Bar"? Ted has become a total side character in his own show this season. I really hope they can get the focus back to Ted soon!