"You're a real boy now. You can't go back to these cheap tricks." -LilyI 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?