CBS’s How I Met Your Mother celebrates New Year’s with “Tailgating.” After the holiday, Marshall (Jason Segel) visit his father, Marvin’s (Bill Fagerbakke), grave to tailgate a Vikings game and tell the story of the most recent New Year’s Eve he and his friends celebrated. Lily’s (Alyson Hannigan) dad (Chris Elliott) has an unexpected reaction upon learning of his daughter’s pregnancy. Ted (Josh Radnor), Barney (Neil Patrick Harris), and Kevin (Kal Penn) open a bar in the apartment. Robin (Cobie Smulders) gets back on the air while covering for a drunk, disgraced, Sandy (Alexis Denisof). And Marshall learns to honor his dad’s spirit of generosity.
The framework story, at first, seems unnecessary. Just because the episode airs a couple of days past New Year’s Eve doesn’t mean that the night needs to be told in flashback. However, upon further reflection, Marshall’s story with his dad fits into the larger themes of the episode. There’s a parallel between Marshall and Lily’s fathers, and how they react or would react to a grandchildren. There’s an element, like in Robin’s story, of Marshall realizing his proper place in life. Marshall also acts stupidly, like Ted and Barney, by trying to hog his father, when, really, it honors Marvin more to share what he has with others. Thus, it works.
Lily’s dad, Mickey, is a strange one. But he does show up when he needs to. With Lily’s life falling into place so nicely, it’s no wonder that she looks back upon her disappointing childhood as something she’d rather forget. It also ruins her ability to believe, as Marshall discovers when telling her of cool enigmas he thinks might be true, and that he can’t wait to share with their child. Assuming that her father has not changed, and cannot be counted on, she doesn’t even tell Mickey about her pregnancy until Marshall pushes her. But it’s a good thing he does, because Mickey has gotten Lily’s message. He needs to step up, and step up he does, driving all night to deliver a stuffed bear. He may still have trouble expressing himself, as evidenced by the phone call, but he will be a better grandpa than he was a dad. Which is a good thing, since the baby’s other grandfather will not be around to do the same.
Side note, anyone else catch that Mickey is selling a boxed game called Slap Bet, an inside joke for HIMYM fans? But how is that played?
There is a healthy layer of emotion hanging over the story in “Tailgating” that shows How I Met Your Mother‘s maturation. It is still a comedy, shown amply in the non-Lily and Marshall plots. But finding heart and growth is what is rejuvenating the series after it has slide into a rut for a year or two. It’s how How I Met Your Mother needs to move forward, and sets up a more moving ending than may have been expected at the outset. This is a furthering of the strategy beginning last year to make the series get “more real,” and it’s working.
Robin’s bit is geared a little more towards comedy, in that Sandy acts in a ridiculous manner. But there is also an undercurrent of her most recent story, dealing with the news that she can never have children. Robin always puts her career before family, but learning that family is not an option is still a hard blow to take. Before, it was a choice, and now it’s not. She, surprisingly, does not instantly redouble her efforts in her job, demonstrating a healthy attitude of dealing with her problems, rather than avoiding them. Encouraged by Kevin, and with few other choices, she bravely takes back to the air, setting the stage for the next step in her career. It’s a great moment, one very fulfilling for Robin as a character.
Barney and Ted’s time in “Tailgating” is much less serious, providing the light touch the sitcom wants to, and should, hang on to. They go back to an earlier, alcohol infused dream to own a bar. Of course, they go about it in very different ways, with Barney wanting to have lots of sex in Ted’s room, and Ted seeking intellectual discussion. They do agree that a theme song is needed. The bar doesn’t work, because, let’s face it, bars just don’t flow that way. Instead, the patrons trash the place, and the clueless proprietors have to keep raising the drink prices–something they vowed not to do–just to break even. It’s a reality check that ends their fun little experiment gone wrong.
Interestingly, after a couple of false starts, Kevin just falls into place as Ted and Barney’s bitch in “Tailgating,” which is, admittedly, the only way to really break into this heavily co-dependent group. An outsider cannot come in and shake things up without turning off the main characters. But one who happily goes along with whatever they choose to do is welcome, and through this, Kevin begins to make himself a part of the whole. It’s unclear if it will last, but he’s the first significant other in a long time that seems to have a real chance to join. He judges the friends a little, but mostly silently, and without trying too hard to change anything. And he’s good for Robin, encouraging and supportive, without being too pushy.
Overall, “Tailgating” is not a super memorable episode that will go down as one of the How I Met Your Mother greats. But it’s also not a disappointment, furthering several stories, and holding up relatively well throughout. It captures a lot of the trends working for the show right now, and delivers an interesting plot. As such, it is a fine “standard” episode between the big event weeks, which will surely happen in February sweeps.
Watch How I Met Your Mother Mondays at 8 p.m. ET on CBS.