This final season of How I Met Your Mother is only five episodes old, but we've already bounced back and forth between quality episodes that made us laugh and cry, and groan-inducing episodes that made us want to yell and scream. "The Poker Game," thankfully, was one of the best outings yet, and that's because it was the first episode of Season 9 where the time-shifts felt integral to the story. We knew this season would feature a lot of flashbacks and flashforwards, but not since the premiere—when Ted shared a moment with the Mother—have they felt as well placed as they did this week.
The Ted and Marshall storyline was one of the show's better uses of Marshall in awhile, because he actually had something to do beyond sitting next to Sherri Shepherd and yelling into a phone, or appearing via Skype to settle an argument between his friends. From a storyline point of view, I'm not entirely sure why the writers chose this path for Marshall this season, but I do wonder if his limited appearances stem from Jason Segel's availability and/or willingness to sign on for Season 9. But no matter the reason behind Marshall's road trip predicament, I was glad to see Marshall as a living, breathing human being again.
Along with Marshall's return to human status, "The Poker Game" was also a return to form as Ted and Marshall's plot regarding whether or not Ted gave Lily and Marshall a wedding gift, and the subsequent frustration Ted felt at not having received a thank-you note for said gift, felt like classic HIMYM. The show presented one version of reality—Marshall and Lily spent years fuming because they never received a wedding gift from their best friend—and then flipped it on its head as we saw the opposite side of the story: Ted bought them a coffee pot, and we viewed all of the original scenes through a new lens.
I genuinely laughed at Marshall and Ted's inability to talk to each other; their alternative—dropping thinly veiled hints for years—made them seem like utter lunatics. I mean, they even went so far as to dress up as a wedding present and a thank-you note for Halloween one year (and yes that was Katie Holmes in a surprise cameo in the flashback!), and still neither of them brought it up. HIMYM's been one long lesson in the use of an unreliable narrator, and while the gag worked well for a number of years, the series has struggled to pull it off in recent memory. So it was downright refreshing to see the series hit all the marks with this week's time-traveling story.
It even made me forgive the show for its Robin and Barney storyline this week, which saw Barney forced to take sides in Scherbatsky vs. Stinson and Stinson. It's a situation we've seen before: Once you're married, who do you side with, your significant other or your family? And while the jokes weren't necessarily all that funny, some of them were delivered so well by Neil Patrick Harris that I'm not sure it matters. "Sorry, muffberry bluffmuff, all in!" was great, and I loved his bathroom freakout when Robin barged in on him attempting to cheat in the poker game. So despite the oddly jarring moment when Barney told James and Loretta that he was never going to see them again once he got married, and then blamed it on Robin, and then didn't see why that was a problem, the Robin and Barney story gets a pass on the basis that Frances Conroy is awesome, plus Ted and Marshall's material was funny enough that it made up for the weirdness of the abrupt shifts in Barney's choices. And it lent itself to a potty joke that I definitely laughed at. So sue me, I'm immature.
– Lily dressed up as Michael Cera's character from Juno for Halloween the year Marshall chose to dress up as a wedding present to make a point to Ted. I love the fact that they often switch genders for their costumes. Also, Lily made a surprisingly good Michael Cera?
– In addition to tonight's episode being one big callback to the days when HIMYM was really great, we also had a callback to Ted and Marshall's favorite pizza place in Chicago.
– More bronzed, corn-rowed Barney, please! That was so much WTF it went all the way around and became a FTW in a matter of seconds. I have a feeling we'll see more of post-honeymoon Barney, and it's another one of those jokes that worked well because the show just skipped over it like it wasn't a big deal (like the goat when it was originally introduced).
– I didn't once ask myself where the Mother was during tonight's episode—good going, writers! (But for reals, when can we expect to see her again? Love her.)
– I miss MacLaren's. I think part of the reason the series feels so off this season is that it's lost a very important character in the bar.
– FYI: Marshall does not regret that sewing class he took because he learned a useful life skill.
– Ranjit's hat said Legal Poker Aruba. And yes, it's a real website.
– Ted's thank-you note costume: "Dear friend, thank you for the present! Love, your friend."
– "There’s one thing that didn’t leave me at the altar, and that’s my manners." Douchey, manner-loving Ted is still the best.
– "See ya, losers!"
AIRED ON 3/31/2014
Season 9 : Episode 24