'How I Met Your Mother' Returns to Form, Aided by John Lithgow

The actor guest stars as Barney's dad, and inspires some amusing changes in the main characters

HIMYM_Hopeless_post.jpg

CBS


After last week's misstep, How I Met Your Mother returned triumphantly with "Hopeless." The main storyline focused on Barney's attempt to have an awesome night with his dad Jerry (John Lithgow): the hard-living roadie/magician who once told a six-year-old Barney to "never stop partying" and has since turned into a staid suburban dad and driving instructor who can't finish a single beer. Though Lithgow is once again amusing with his forceful yet affable delivery, the real worth of the episode isn't found in Barney and Jerry's crazy night or even in Barney's eventual realization that perhaps he does desire something more substantive in his life. It's in the interactions between the friends after Barney gives them multicolored note cards listing "minor improvements to their personalities" designed to lure Jerry into returning to his awesome ways.

Robin becomes a professional Scotch taster, because people only watch the news for car chases and nip slips, Lily becomes a workaholic in an open marriage, Marshall becomes a gin-swilling, womanizing playwright, and Ted becomes Robin's temporary boyfriend and a less annoying version of himself thanks to a detailed list of forbidden topics, like quoting Oscar Wilde. Even though the conceit is ridiculous, everyone commits fully. Ted fake proposes to Robin, Lily continues to embellish her new life by adopting Meryl Streep characters from The Devil Wears Prada and Julie & Julia, and Marshall awkwardly strives to come across as a literary type ("Many of my plays are about the bourgeois. And ennui. And one rock opera...about a frozen yogurt shop").

Sometimes this show can get a little too saccharine, and in a season where we've seen real pain from Marshall, the forced wackiness and lingering grudges behind Barney and Jerry's reunion fall short of the emotional depth that HIMYM occasionally manages to pull off. Regardless, the chemistry between the four supporting characters in this episode is the stuff of great sitcoms. The best scene of "Hopeless" begins when the group tries to decide where to go for their epic night in a modern take on the Abbott and Costello sketch "Who's On First." It's 60 seconds of His Girl Friday-paced banter, and it's pure joy.

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Lindsey Bahr is a writer based in Chicago.

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