This week's episode of How I Met Your Mother was about perception and the ways we guard ourselves and others from disappointment—from figuring out how to sell a blind date without overselling it to managing the fragile expectations of children.
"Cleaning House" focuses mainly on Barney. When packing up his things from his mother's Staten Island home, we learn very quickly that his idyllic childhood was anything but. Barney remembers being a popular, talented kid. In reality, he was a loner. His complacent happiness was only possible because his mother did everything she could to keep her son sheltered from reality, from lying about why he didn't make the elementary school basketball team (you're too good), to forging a note from the Postmaster General explaining why no one showed up to his eighth birthday party (all the letters got lost in the mail).
In the fanciful world of HIMYM, of course adult Barney still believes many of these things, much to the embarrassment of his brother James (a recurring role, played by the cheesy-even-for-sitcom-standards Wayne Brady). Eventually Barney does come to realize that his memories were based on a series of lies. Instead of being dismayed by the delusions his mother had crafted for him, he's grateful. What does it matter if things weren't how he thought they were? The lies were well-intentioned and he had a great childhood.
Now, in order to make any of this story work, we had to accept a dumber-than-usual version of Barney and tolerate a pretty weak second half where Barney truly believes that Ben Vereen is his father. But that's all forgivable because, unlike last episode, the mostly sweet main story was supported by a number of funny scenes and one-liners. Here are the top five.
1. Marshall explaining that Santa is a good lie that parents tell their kids, just like "when we tell Ted that he'll meet a nice girl and settle down."
2. Barney channeling Louis Armstrong in a rendition of "Stand by Me"
3. Ted describing himself using adjectives from Chevy commercials: "Tell her I'm 'solid as a rock.' No! 'Dependable.' No! 'Rugged.'"
4. Marshall's matter-of-fact justification for serving Santa milk and lutefisk instead of cookies: "Yeah, that's just what Santa needs at 3 a.m. when he's battling a snow storm over the Rockies, a sugar crash! No, he needs protein."
5. Ted to Robin upon realizing that she's oversold a girl to him. "You said she looked like a movie star." "She does, like Robert De Niro...but like super buff in Cape Fear."