'How I Met Your Mother': How Barney Met His Father

This week's episode brings a long-awaited reunion between a character and his dad. But it's just the series' latest paternal plotline.

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CBS


The theme of paternal influence in How I Met Your Mother is getting a little heavy-handed. The show is narrated by a father. Marshall's dad died young. Lily's is a crook. Barney's abandoned him at a young age. Ted's divorced his mother. Robin's wishes she was a boy. And in this week's episode, Barney meets his father, Jerry (John Lithgow), while Marshall attempts to normalize interactions with his friends who have all been treating him with "kid's gloves" since his father's death. Viewers have been teased with the prospect of meeting Barney's dad for quite some time, but we're only allowed to meet him through the convenient perspective of Marshall's tragedy. We knew how "Legendaddy" would turn out before it began. Though it doesn't fail to amuse thanks to an excellent performance by Lithgow and a strong running joke, it also doesn't achieve the climactic grandeur that audiences generally associate with the meeting of a long-lost father.

For Barney, the question at hand doesn't seem to be why his dad left, but rather, whether his own inherent awesomeness is the product of nature or nurture. When telling his friends the story of their three decade catch-up session, Barney turns his dad into a vision of cool: Jerry orders Barney's favorite Scotch neat; he picks up girls at the bar with ease; he manages tours for edgy rock groups; and he tells subversive and tasteless jokes. Of course the real Jerry orders skim milk at the bar, lives in the suburbs, and makes corny puns about his job as a driving instructor. His stories aren't about being a roadie for the Stones in the early '80s—they're about publishing two non-fiction books about asparagus and inventing a word to describe fumbling for keys (furgurling). Thanks to an encore use of the banned Intervention, the gang steps in to push Barney into pursuing a relationship with his dad despite his squareness. Though Barney has few memorable moments in the episode, Lithgow's Jerry is well-written and terrifically acted.

The most enjoyable moments, however, were found in the running joke. The characters begin pointing out each others' knowledge gaps: the moments where generally smart people exhibit an ignorance so grand, it becomes funny. Barney doesn't know how to use a screwdriver; Ted pronounces chameleon "shah-meh-leon"; Robin thinks that the North Pole is fictional (like Narnia and Hogwarts); and Lily has terrible aim. When they refuse to poke fun at Marshall, he acknowledges that their cautious post-trauma treatment of him has not gone unnoticed and that he'd even begun to test his friends by doing "crazy stuff" like declaring that The Phantom Menace is the best Star Wars movie (Barney: "It ages well"), and bringing home a possum as a house pet ("he's violent and he hates us"). Finally they give in and admit that Marshall can't wink, he can't swallow pills, he adds too much water to oatmeal, and he consistently misses one belt loop. The moment where the mourner is restored to the normal of the everyday is an important one, even if it is simply being the one people are joking about, and HIMYM treats it with a perfect blend of goofiness and sincerity.

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Lindsey Bahr is a writer based in Chicago.

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