When you do 24 episodes every season there are bound to be clunkers and for How I Met Your Mother, “Noretta” was a real lemon. Don’t get me wrong; it was nice to see Wayne Brady back, ever so briefly as Barney’s brother James as well as Frances Conroy as Barney’s mom and Bill Fagerbakke and Chris Elliott as Marshal and Lily’s dads. Unfortunately though, these cameos were tied to a plot that was more awkward and simpleminded than funny and smart. Worse yet, the plot exposed Kal Penn‘s Kevin as more of a problem for the show than an asset.
On this weeks episode, Barney (Neil Patrick Harris) and Nora (Nazanin Boniadi) are going to finally have sex, or in Barney’s terminology ‘going to Bootytown.’ How does Barney know that tonight is the big night? Nora has told him that she has something special planned.
James (Wayne Brady) is visiting this week and he has a secret: he doesn’t like Nora. It’s not Nora’s personality or something she’s said or done but rather that the way she treats Barney reminds James of his mother (Frances Conroy).
Yes, it’s the classic “I’m dating my mom” sitcom trope. “I’m dating my mom” is dated to the point that I believe Jack Tripper on Three’s Company may have played a variation on it while Dick Van Dyke may have originated the idea on the Dick Van Dyke Show. I can’t verify those claims off the top of my head, but this trope is a lazy sitcom classic.
Not only does How I Met Your Mother drag out this old sitcom chestnut for a Barney plot, they also center Lily (Alyson Hannigan) and Marshall’s (Jason Segal) plot on the same theme. After Kevin (Kal Penn) points out to James that it’s natural for people to seek out partners reminiscent of their parents, Marshall and Lily have a near meltdown as they imagine each other as their parents.
For Lily, who’s going through a rough patch in her pregnancy where she feels unattractive, Marshall morphs into her dad (Chris Elliott) just as he is attempting to make her feel sexy again. For his part, Marshall thinks he is immune to this notion of dating your parent because Lily couldn’t be more different from his mother.
Upon further reflection however, Marshall realizes that Lily is very reminiscent of his dad (Bill Fagerbakke). This leads to one of the most awkward and unwelcome moments in How I Met Your Mother history as each imagines their father just as they are about to make out. The sight of Chris Elliott about to kiss Bill Fagerbakke may have made some fans laugh, but not me, I was merely uncomfortable.
As for Ted (Josh Radnor), Robin (Cobie Smulders) and Kevin (Kal Penn), they are locked in another bad plot. Ted is lonely and he’s taking it out on Robin and Kevin by invading their relationship time. Robin is aiding and abetting Ted’s interruptions because she feels bad for him while Kevin begins to suspect there is something still going on between Robin and Ted.
This plot stunk from the start because the premise is flawed. Ted has been interrupting Robin and Kevin for a while. Why don’t Robin and Kevin go to Kevin’s apartment to be alone if Ted’s interruptions are such a big deal? It’s a flawed premise. The resolution involving a Weird Al concert and a sad, pathetic Ted, made things even worse.
Nothing in “Noretta” worked, including Barney’s plot which proceeded from yet another bad sitcom trope “A series of unfortunate events.” After finding out that Nora’s ‘something special’ wasn’t a trip to ‘Bootytown’ but rather a trip to an ice skating rink, Barney thinks he can still turn it into sex.
Then, Nora falls and knocks out a tooth. After getting Nora fixed up at a 24 hour dentist, Barney has things going his way again until a rat somehow lands on Nora’s head. Barney is not to be denied however and he manages to get Nora back to his apartment. After she has showered, things are going Barney’s way until he suggests champagne on the patio and the couple ends up witnessing a suicide.
The problem with this ‘series of unfortunate events,’ aside from the fact that the idea came from a book of bad sitcom formulas, is that none of the ‘events’ were funny. Not one laugh was generated from the tooth, to the rat to the suicide. The escalating ugliness of each event never became the darkly comic running gag that the writers intended.
Making things even worse, following the suicide, Nora decides that they can still turn the night around and Barney finally realizes how much Nora’s actions resemble his mother, right down to Nora (in a context only she and the How I Met Your Mother writers understand) singing “My Favorite Things,” the same song Barney’s mom had sung to him as a child.
A week ago I praised the fact that Kevin being a psychiatrist was forcing the main cast of How I Met Your Mother to evaluate their desperately co-dependent friendship. This week however, the writers used Kevin’s job as the impetus for a bad plot that had zero complexity, avoided any actual deeper issues and was resolved in a simplistic, dismissive fashion.
If this is how the show plans to make use of Kevin and his job I hope that he isn’t around much longer. It’s nothing against Kal Penn who is working hard to integrate himself into this tight knit group, but if his character being a psychiatrist is going to keep inviting such horribly underwhelming plots as this, he needs to go.
“Noretta” actually leaves you with a fair question about Kevin’s longevity. Notice how Robin was not given a plot in which she imagined qualities of her parents in Kevin. After last week when we got a glimpse of Robin’s life with her domineering father (Ray Wise), it would have been interesting to see what qualities Kevin shares with such a bizarre character as Robin’s dad. The fact that we didn’t get that plot could be a subtle indication that Robin doesn’t see anything of the people she loves in Kevin.
- Ted needs a girlfriend. I know the cast is a little crowded at the moment with both Kevin and Nora getting screen time but pathetic Ted is not funny Ted. Get this guy a date.
- Why was Weird Al Yankovic on the show? Ted having inspired the song “Like a Surgeon?” What was funny about that? Moreover, Ted was the only Weird Al fan on the show; everybody else looked down their nose at him for liking Weird Al. Why have Al on the show if the majority of the characters express how much they don’t like him?
- Finally, which Lily game did you prefer; Monopo-Lily or Shoots and Lillys?