By Michael Arbeiter, Hollywood.com Staff
It's not always so easy to identify what differentiates the "good" and "bad" episodes of a given television show. When it comes to comedy series, we know we're after laughs but what is the formula that makes some jokes land while others fall flat? As far as How I Met Your Mother goes, in which cases do the antics of Ted, Robin, Marshall, Lily, and Barney thrill and elate, and in which do they irk and bore?
The latter phenomenon has become all but the norm for HIMYM. Week after week through the present eighth season, we've suffered through stale dialogue, lazy acting, and plots that'd make your brain peter into sawdust. But as we haven't given up on the show just yet, we must hang onto some semblance of faith that the CBS sitcom still has a few tricks up its sleeve. A few doozies packed away for sweeps week, or the odd mid-season winner. And such a winner transpires this week with the unexpected delight "P.S. I Love You," the funniest episode of How I Met Your Mother I've seen in months. Perhaps the only truly funny episode yet this season.
We catch up with Ted, plugging along on his journey of romantic exploration, locking eyes with a lovely young woman on the subway who just so happens to be reading the very same book as he. The two are separated before even meeting, but Ted vows to scour the plains of Manhattan Isle to find this stranger deterred by Marshall and Lily when they deem his devotion to the woman creepy and worthy of the denomination "stalker." When Ted just so happens to bump into the woman outside of his school building in the midst of a fire alarm conglomeration, Marshall and Lily's tune changes: they begin to call her the crazy psycho stalker, much to Ted's chagrin.
As the episode progresses, we learn more and more about Ted's new lady friend's mental state of being. She caused the ad hoc fire drill (and not by pulling the alarm, but by actually setting a fire). She had tracked Ted down to the school after following and watching him for, as it turns out, about a year and a half. And as Ted gradually approaches the truth about his new lady friend's psychosis, all he can do is bask in his periodically inflating ego over how much she seems to like him.
What Makes This One Work: Hard to say, as suggested above. But the kooky character with whom Ted is now romantically involved seems a good compliment to his own supply of nutso. The storyline's ability to showcase Ted as both the straight man of the relationship, reacting to her temperate insanity, while still exhibiting his own mental problems (namely, his crazy vanity and insecurity) in a lighthearted and fun way is what spins gold of this plotline and we haven't seen the last of it, as the unhinged character is set to return on next week's episode, thankfully.
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On the other side of the episode, we have an even greater deal of fun. And this one owes itself to a lot more straightforward an explanation: Robin Sparkles. After Robin admits to having herself been a stalker back in her teen years (but without indentifying the object of her desires), Barney breaks into her apartment wait, they're engaged but they don't live together? I'm just realizing this. Is that weird? to peruse her old diaries, stumbling upon the repeated phrase "P.S. I Love You," but never the figure's name. As such, Barney flees to Canada to interrogate all of Robin's ex lovers (including a costumed James Van Der Beek!), learning from his mission that the truth lies within a VH1 Beind the Music (rather, Canada's version of that) special about Robin Sparkles. And so, the gang gathers together to watch yet another exploit of our dear departed '90s pop star-of-the-North friend.
And although we're not exactly invigorated to the point of going to the mall, the new Alanis Morisettey/grungy ballad by an angrier, grittier Robin Sparkles number "P.S. I Love You" is enough to make you giddy. Plus, a slew of Canadian cameos offering their enthusiastically dramatic points of view on the historic shift, not to mention on the mystery of who "P.S. I Love You" is about. Alex Trebek, Jason Priestley, Luc Robitaille, Steven Page, and many others (including good ol' self-parodying Dave Couiler!) gather together to throw in their two cents, many of whom assigning the song to one Robin Thicke. But in truth, Robin admits finally to her affections having lain with Paul Schaffer (the P.S.), settling Barney's obsession and proving to him that just about anyone can go a little nuts.
What Makes This One Work: Again, this is a much easier one. First off, any '90s pop parody works wonders on this show. If Carter Bays and Craig Thomas know one thing well, it's '90s pop culture. The assortment of Canadian B-list celebrities, all fully devoted to the self-jabbing routine, makes for a fun extended gag even Barney's succumbing to the obsession of his fiancée's old flame is good for some laughs.
All in all, though it doesn't quite further us down the road of Ted's mother-meeting journey or Barney's engagement to Robin, this week's ep works in the vein of comedy. Although HIMYM has hardened a bit in recent years, this proves that it hasn't quite lost its touch altogether. And we might even be provoked to look forward to a few more laughers yet to come.
[Photo Credit: CBS]
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