It’s Thanksgiving week, which means another deluge of holiday-themed programming, and I want to use this opportunity to point to a show I frequently watch but have yet to write about. Despite its standard sitcom format and middle of the road humor, it’s difficult for me to deny a fondness for How I Met Your Mother. It’s playful and moves quickly, it’s self-referential without being obnoxious, and it’s silly to the point of absurdity.
“Slapsgiving 2: Revenge of the Slap” demonstrated many of those quintessential characteristics, particularly HIMYM’s fondness for reference. As the title suggests, last night’s episode is a continuation of one of the show’s many long-running premises, in this case, that Marshall has been granted the right to slap Barney in the face five times. Marshall has been slowly doling out his share of slaps over several seasons, and in this episode, decides to grant his penultimate slap to Ted and Robin as a Thanksgiving present. Of course, this entails a brief flashback through the previous slaps, a recounting of the Slapsgiving rules, an ensuing battle over who will actually get to slap Barney, and a subsequent heart-warming Thanksgiving Day discovery of what friends and family really mean. This classic “and now everyone hugs each other moment,” of course, is both a parody of the essential sitcom sentimental resolution, as well as undermined within the episode by being entirely based around slapping someone right in his face.
It’s fluff, and I know it, but there’s just so much to love about this show. Neil Patrick Harris as Barney is always at the top of my list, and he was great in this episode, nervously anticipating each delayed slap. I’m a fan of escalating throwaway gag, represented here by Lily’s father’s increasingly unpleasant board game concepts (“Tijuana Slumlord,” “Car Battery,” “There’s a Clown Demon Under the Bed,” “Dog Fight Promoter,” and “Diseases”). At its best, what this show does better than any sitcom I know is nail the rhythm. Jokes rarely disappear without being sewn back into the season at an opportune moment, and scenes like the end of “Slapsgiving 2,” where each character steps up to try to slap Barney are always well-timed and well-written so that the premise that may have only been mildly funny at the beginning becomes hysterical by the end. By the time Marshall announces that the slap has done exactly what he wanted, which was to allow everyone to recognize “both the frailty and the greatness in ourselves and each other,” the long-delayed slap has melded so completely with the saccharine pronouncement of Thanksgiving spirit that the actual slap feels as meaningful as finally carving the Turkey.
How I Met Your Mother doesn’t always work, but even on its off days, it’s been so consistently strong that I’d really like to credit it with helping revive the sitcom as a viable, funny, intelligent form. The half-hour comedy doesn’t have to live and die with I Love Raymond or Two-and-a-Half Men, and that is just one of the things I am thankful for this year. (Cue sappy sitcom audience making AWWWW! sounds).