Marshall (Jason Segal) and Lily (Alyson Hannigan) have evolved into the true heart of How I Met Your Mother. Yes, this is in opposition to the show’s title and premise but this is nonetheless where the story has developed. Currently, Ted (Josh Radnor) is a cartoonish man-child with only a casual eye out for the future mother of his children. Where Ted’s romantic quest was central to the show we now have wonderfully Marshall-Lily-centric episodes such as ‘Tailgating’ to help us forget the fact that How I Met Your Mother has forgotten everything it was conceived on.
It’s New Year’s Day and Marshall has travelled to Minneapolis to visit the grave of his late father Marvin (Bill Faggerbakke in flashbacks, obviously). Once there, Marshall is met by his brothers which leads to a childish but typically Erickson spat over who is spending a special day with dad; they’re tailgating for the Vikings-Bears game which in reality did take place this past New Year’s Day.
Marshall is our narrator this week as he tells the story of New Year’s Eve 2011 to his late father, his brothers and, as it turns out, a nearby funeral party eager to horn in on Marshall’s travel sized TV and grilled cheeseburgers.
Marshall and Lily were in a fight on New Year’s Eve. Marshall had convinced Lily to call her father, Mickey (Chris Elliott) and finally tell him about baby Erickson; she’d decided not to tell him because he’s disappointed her so often in the past. Naturally, Mickey disappoints again with a seemingly non-plussed reaction to Lily’s big news.
This leads into an argument when Marshall talks about sharing a book with the baby that his father had shared with him. On the surface Lily objects to Marshall’s choice of the book “Enigma of the Mystical,” as appropriate reading material for bedtime stories; the book is a take-off of an 80’s book that promised true unexplained tales of alien encounters, bigfoot and psychic phenomenon.
The real reason why Lily is upset, of course, has little to do with aliens; she’s jealous of Marshall’s deep connection to his father and his ability to share this generational bond with the baby. Other than their brief bonding over the Thanksgiving Slapbet of 2010, Lily and Mickey don’t have many fond memories and no traditions to pass along.
Jason Segal and Alyson Hannigan are two terrifically talented comic actors who have throughout How I Met Your Mother but especially in recent seasons balanced comedy and pathos like few sitcom performers working today. Marshall and Lily have a deep emotional bond with fans that allows them to go places dramatically that Ted and Barney (Neil Patrick Harris) can’t quite reach.
Speaking of Ted and Barney “Tailgating” offered them arguably their worst storyline to date. After being denied entry to McClaren’s by their former protector turned nemesis, Doug (Will Sasso), they decide to open a bar in Ted’s apartment and call it “Puzzles.” Why is it called “Puzzles” you ask? That’s the puzzle.
That joke gets old fast as does the idea of Barney making Ted’s bedroom into a VIP area for scoring with random skanks and the return of pedantic Ted, the know-it-all we love to hate. Ted’s attempt to make “Puzzles” into a model of the salons of the legendary European thinkers never becomes funny, even when someone bullseyes his copy of “Ulysses” with a dart.
Poor Kevin (Kal Penn) is roped into Barney and Ted’s story offering the dissonance of Barney suddenly abandoning his feelings for Robin (Cobie Smulders) and sorta-kinda welcoming Kevin as a friend. Yes, Ted and Barney take advantage of Kevin, making him do all the work while they compose a cheesy, sort of funny Cheers-style theme song for “Puzzles,” but there is never any mention of Barney taking advantage of Kevin out of jealousy; it’s more out of laziness and Kevin’s eagerness to join the fun.
In the C-story Robin is forced to replace Sandy Rivers (Alexis Denisof) in prime time on New Year’s Eve just as the ball drops in Times Square. It is Robin’s first time back on the air and her first national anchor job in her tenure in cable news. Alexis Denisof is the real star of this plot as his drunken Sandy Rivers steals scenes with his broad stumbling performance. I especially loved the closing scene with Sandy and Kevin and a terribly inappropriate gag for the family hour.
- Can Ted’s romantic journey once again become the emotional center of How I Met Your Mother? Maybe, but first the writers must stop writing Ted as such a complete tool. They will also need to absolutely nail the casting of the Mother but that’s another matter.
- I must admit, I had tears in my eyes when Mickey showed up at the end. Chris Elliott’s Mickey is a terrifically consistent piece of character writing by the How I Met Your Mother crew. In just a few minutes of screen time we’ve learned what to expect from Mickey allowing for moments like the end of “Tailgating” to be a little surprising and impactful.
- The same could be said of Bill Faggerbakke’s Marvin Erickson. Marshall’s flashbacks to his dad are always so warm and inviting and Fagerbakke’s sweet, slightly oafish but loving performance is always welcome.
- Marshall’s apron read “Fran Tarkenton for President.” This was a nice meta touch as not only was Tarkenton a Super Bowl quarterback for the Minnesota Vikings he was also briefly one of the host of TV’s That’s Incredible a show that highlighted stories quite similar to the stories in “Enigmas of the Mystical.”
- My thanks to anyone who can tell me the name of the real book series from the 80’s that “Enigmas of the Mystical” are based on. My googling has gotten me nowhere thus far.