'How I Met Your Mother' - 'Cleaning House': Black like me
A quick review of last night's "How I Met Your Mother" coming up just as soon as I get the Queen to give me a fistbump...
"Cleaning House" was a good example of the advantage that "HIMYM" often has over more joke-driven shows like "30 Rock." When "30 Rock" isn't funny, it has nothing else to offer and can be a chore to get through. But a largely unfunny "HIMYM" is still capable of having an emotional storyline to keep me interested.
"Cleaning House" did, in fact, have some funny moments, particularly once Ben Vereen(*) showed up as James' dad and Barney decided he was black(**). But a lot of the jokes - particularly in the Ted/Robin subplot - never quite landed.
(*) Note that Vereen is one of the few notable black entertainers of the '70s whom James doesn't list as one of the lies his mother told him about his father.
(**) That's a familiar vein of humor - as James Poniewozik noted in the headline to his review, Steve Martin famously built "The Jerk" around the phrase "I was born a poor black child..." - but Neil Patrick Harris' usual enthusiasm helped sell it. You could see Vereen understandably struggling to keep a straight face as Neil Patrick Harris did his black R&B voice.
Yet even though I didn't laugh much until the end, I enjoyed the episode as a good Barney story, playing off both season two's "Showdown" (where we first learned about the Bob Barker lie) and season four's "The Stinsons" (where we met Frances Conroy as Barney's mom Loretta and saw that mother and son had a relationship that was almost happily built on lies). Barney kicking ass on "The Price Is Right" to impress his "dad" was a great early "HIMYM" story, but eventually the truth had to come out, and NPH, Conroy and Wayne Brady all did a fine job in the smaller emotional moments.
In our summer interview, Bays and Thomas talked about Barney going off on a big season-long story that would kick off early, so even though Barney ripped up the paper with the information about his dad, I wonder if he may reconsider within an episode or two. If this is the story, I think it's a good one, as playing the broken child inside the d-bag in the suit tends to bring out the best in NPH, both dramatically and comedically.
What did everybody else think?