This week’s How I Met Your Mother, “Noretta,” delves into the chemistry of relationships. James (Wayne Brady) comes to visit, and is grossed out by just how much his brother Barney’s (Neil Patrick Harris) girlfriend, Nora (Nazanin Boniadi), is like their mother, Loretta (Frances Conroy, Six Feet Under, American Horror Story). Kevin (Kal Penn) says this is perfectly normal, that people often end up with spouses who have similarities to their parents. Suddenly, the whole group begins seeing their significant other this way, and all sexual attraction dissipates.
Is this true? Do people really end up with their parents? It’s certainly possible. Kids imitate the adults in their lives. Watching their parents interact shapes much of who they are, and it’s what they grow up thinking of as normal. So, of course, they would seek out a similar person, so that they can have a similar relationship as their parents do. Even if the parents get don’t along, it’s still what the child is used to, which is why there are negative repeating patterns as well as positive. Luckily, in this series, and in the case of these characters, those qualities are overwhelmingly positive. Obviously, this does not hold true for everyone, or society would be stagnant, but it’s a valid trend, and one worth noting.
The conceit is great because it gives How I Met Your Mother the chance to bring back some of the wonderful performers who play the characters’ parents, and all in one episode. Besides Loretta, there is Ted’s (Josh Radnor) mother, Virginia (Christine Rose, Heroes), Lily’s (Alyson Hannigan) father, Mickey (Chris Elliott, Everybody Loves Raymond, Eagleheart), a glimpse of Kevin’s unseen-before mom, and best of all, the return of Marshall’s (Jason Segel) deceased father, Marvin (Bill Fagerbakke, SpongeBob SquarePants, Coach). Robin’s (Cobie Smulders) father, Robin Sr. (Ray Wise, Reaper, 24) sits this one out, but that’s OK, because he appears in last week’s episode. Each of these actors are great in various roles, and having them together in one episode is a wealth of riches.
It should be noted that Fagerbakke’s return, the subject of much sorrow and grief last season, is done in a lightly comedic way. There are no tears or sadness accompanying it, and that’s a good thing. Marshall has really begun to move on with his life, something he needs to do.
Hilarity ensues when the characters have to play opposite their parents in sexual situations. The elder performers give it their all, fully committing to the scene, leaving their “children” to shrink back in disgust. It’s equal parts disturbing and funny. Perhaps the best gag, though, comes as Marshall and Lily both get the complex at the same time. This leads to Marvin and Mickey on screen together, leaning in for a kiss. It’s not sexy, but it will have viewers roaring with laughter. Thank goodness the camera stops before it happens! To show that would turn into pure silliness, and ruin the moment.
Of course, because this is a point that hits home with a lot of people, it would be uncool of How I Met Your Mother to leave viewers hanging without resolution. Thus, it’s left to Barney to say that his mom is the coolest person he knows, and that any similarity between Nora and Loretta is wonderful. This is a healthy, mature attitude to take. Nora and Loretta don’t look alike, so there’s no conflict there. All Barney is saying is, you love your parents; why not pick someone who shares their best qualities? And he’s right. One doesn’t want someone exactly like one’s parents, but it’s impossible to imitate their relationship without a partner who is looking for the same things as you. Thus, it works on a number of levels.
In “Noretta,” Barney is looking forward to finally having sex with Nora. He’s been patient, something unusual for the character, but necessary for the growth he is experiencing, and the level of effort he puts into the relationship. Because How I Met Your Mother is a sitcom, zany events pop up to try to derail his sexy night with his girl. Barney pushes through, as he always does. What’s unusual here is that Barney isn’t just pushing through for the sex, as he has numerous times before. Instead, there are real emotions present, and care for Nora in his actions. Which is why, despite everything, it appears that things work out in the end for the couple. Love wins the day, and can overcome anything. A nice message leaving viewers feeling good.
“Noretta” is significant because there is a real focus on where Ted stands in the group. The entire theme of How I Met Your Mother involves Ted finding his future children’s mother. Yet, at this point in season seven, he is the only one currently single. Lily and Marshall have been together since well before the series begins. But with commitment-phobic Barney and Robin now getting serious with Nora and Kevin, respectively, it reminds Ted just how much he is failing in this mission. He may very well end up being the last one left alone. It’s not his fault, it’s just the way the characters have developed.
Kevin is still an enigma in terms of how he fits into the group. He’s rapidly getting past the creepy stage, which starts because he is Robin’s therapist when they meet. But he can’t help that encounter, and he’s moved past it. He is correct in his criticisms of the codependent group, but that also makes him more of an outsider. The central characters aren’t likely to change their behavior, so he either needs to get with the program and join in, as Nora does to some degree, or move on, as so many others have. What points to the former possibility is that he does make effort, such as this week when he pretends to be a Weird Al (who cameos a 1980s version of himself) fan to make Ted happy. It’s a generous, compassionate move that bodes well for Kevin.
How I Met Your Mother is back on the right track, so for fans who gave up on it during the rocky last couple of years, it’s time to come back. Watch How I Met Your Mother Mondays at 8 p.m. ET on CBS.