Screen: CBS

How I '50s-Sitcommed Barney's Mother

How Mother-y was Barney's psychotic effort to get his biological parents back together?

This week, with 27 hours left until the wedding (but it feels like much longer), HIMYM goes into full cartoon mode with a storyline about Barney wanting desperately to get his mother Loretta (the peerless Frances Conroy in a thankless role) back together with his bio-dad Jerome (John Lithgow, wonderfully game for anything, no matter how dumb or beneath him).

Barney's brother James is also rooting for a mom-dad reunion, but with his dad, Sam (a returning Ben Vereen). Now let me ask you this. When you have Frances Conroy, Wayne Brady, Neil Patrick Harris, and John Lithgow on the same episode, what do you do? A musical number? Great idea! These are talented people. It could work. What don't you do? Dump that musical number into a lame, unfunny '50s-sitcom fantasy sequence (complete with drab black-and-white), ignoring that neither Barney nor James would have grown up anywhere near that time period. A One Day at a Time take-off or something along the lines of The Cosby Show may have worked. But the Ozzie and Harriet thing was played out so many decades ago that it feels like a callback to a callback to a wisp of TV writer's room farts from the early 1980s. It was that bad. Please never do that again, HIMYM.

There's something genuinely poignant about Barney's desperate need for a family unit that has run through the show, but instead of exploring that a little and tying that in to his starting a family with Robin, it goes completely the other way with Barney turning into a super-villain (on the day before his wedding, as Robin notes), pulling strings and elevator operations to trap Loretta and Jerome together. This late in the game, it's hard to keep these characters, especially Barney and Ted, from becoming extremely unlikeable and overfamiliar, and this episode doesn't do any favors for Barney's character. He seems like a needy psychopath, someone Robin should stay far away from.

If there were good B or C stories to balance out this misfire, that would be something, but instead the road trip storyline with Marshall is wrapped up tidily with Daphne attending a school event for her daughter after revealing she's a traveling mom who rarely sees her kid. This road trip has dragged and dragged and needed to end, but the conclusion of it makes you wonder why they bothered, since there's not much to its conclusion. It also feels weirdly rushed, as if the writers understood by the second or third episode that this couldn't be sustained for the whole season and dumped Daphne's character at the first opportunity. That's no knock against Sherri Shepherd. She did what she could with the character, but the road trip idea seemed like a bad one from the start and never paid comedic dividends.

And then there's the weirdest subplot, in which Billy Zabka spills ink from Ted's calligraphy set onto an autographed photo of Wayne Gretzky that Barney got for Robin and entrusted to Ted. It's all a scheme to become the wedding's best man after a lifetime of being booed and having popcorn thrown at him for being a movie bad guy. I had to go back and re-read those sentences to convince myself that's what happened. ["It's also the second Zabka reference on Previously.TV today. Don't know what THAT says." -- ed.] It's a lot of spinning plates for very little return, and feels like a lot of flailing and overexertion in a season of television where very little has actually happened. When the biggest thing your fans have to look forward to is an all-rhyming episode (and, shudder, a spinoff series), you might need to acknowledge that mistakes, many of them, were made along the way.

So how Mother-y were Barney's aggressively awful attempts to get his mother to get down with the Lithgow?

Mother-Y Element Present?
Ted Still Pines For Robin…Or Does He? No, he's too busy tracking down the person who spilled his calligraphy ink. Classic Mosby.
Robin And/Or Barney Shows Signs Of Cold Feet Before The Wedding Robin makes an exasperated joke about marring into the family when Barney and James have a little slap fight, but she doesn't really mean it.
Guest Star From A Past Season Pops Up (Ex-Boyfriend, Old Boss, Ranjit The Cab Driver) James Stinson's long-lost father from Season Six, Sam (Ben Vereen), returns to officiate the wedding in his capacity as a minister. John Lithgow returns as Barney's dad Jerome. Ranjit shows up, briefly driving Jerome's wife away at Barney's request. Also, Karate Kid's Billy Zabka as the guilty party in Ted's ink-vestigation.
Baby Marvin Does Something Cute And/Or Disruptive) He's alive! Baby Marvin drives very briefly during the "500 Miles" music sequence. He doesn't crash, so he's clearly an excellent baby driver.
Gay Jokes About Barney’s Brother James Stinson (Wayne Brady)? No jokes about his sexual orientation; just a lot of material about Barney and James having major daddy abandonment issues.
Ted Moves A Tiny Step Closer To Meeting The Mother (Cristin Milioti) Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha no.
Humor Involving Wacky Relatives Doing Wacky Relative Stuff At A Wedding All the wackiness was manufactured by Barney trying to get his mom and dad back together. They acted pretty normal given the circumstances.
Ted Is An Insufferable, Pretentious Prick About Architecture, Wedding Etiquette, English Literature, Or Any Other Pedantic Bullshit Ted takes on the persona of "Detective Mosby, the case-crackingest private dick on the scene." It's about as awful as it sounds.
Public Transportation High Jinks Barney's dad jumps on the hood of Ranjit's limo to try to save his kidnapped wife. This may have been an unacknowledged fantasy sequence.
Flashback To Ted, Lily, And Marshall In College None.
Pop Song Montage Or Episode Outro A fairly elaborate sequence using "Sabotage" by the Beastie Boys.
Barney Says Something Inappropriately Dirty About A Hot Woman Because, Come On, Barney Unless you count Barney's mom as the hot woman, I'm going to say no on this one.
"Legend…ary!", "Wait For It…," Or Any Pun On The Word "Bro" Barney fakes a suicide note that his dad's wife might have left behind. It says, "I'm going to kill my…wait for it…self." Pretty dark, guys.
Retro Video, Instructional Tape, Book, Or Other Multimedia Project Starring Or Created By One Of The Main Characters (Robin Sparkles, Barney As A Fake Astronaut, Etc.) Barney and James enact an untitled '50s-style black-and-white sitcom starring their respective fathers and Loretta living together as a family. Barney and James both wear kid clothing and it's a little creepy.
Slap Bet A minor slapping fight breaks out between Barney and James, but I'm guessing it's not Official Slap Bet Canon.
Unanticipated Wedding Hookup Loretta and Sam have apparently been a couple already and they start making out in an elevator even though James is standing right there.
8 / 16
Final Score
50%
How I Met Your Mother
50%
icky, off-putting wish-fulfillment Mother
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