A review of tonight's "How I Met Your Mother" coming up just as soon as I pelt you with my Phish bootlegs...

Whew.

I was beginning to worry that, despite the summer assurances of Bays and Thomas, that season six was going to be another frustrating one like season five. I'd only liked a handful of this season's episodes, and even then felt like I was grading the better ones on a curve. The Bays/Thomas-scripted "Natural History," on the other hand, felt as close to classic "HIMYM" as we've gotten in a very long time.

It wasn't perfect, mind you. I still feel the writers are, as Fienberg noted in the comments last week, trying too hard to make Zoey happen, particularly since it would seem she's not The Mother(*). I have no problem with the show spending time on non-Mother relationships with Ted, particularly if they don't spent time being cute about the woman's potential Mother-hood (as opposed to what they did with Stella). But I don't think Josh Radnor has the same chemistry with Jennifer Morrison that he's had with a lot of previous Ted love interests (including, early on, Sarah Chalke), and the whole "I hate you! Now I love you!" thing has felt a bit forced.

(*) We know at least two concrete things about The Mother: 1)She was in the Econ lecture hall the day Ted thought it was his class, and 2)She was Rachel Bilson's roommate less than a year ago. While those don't automatically disqualify Zoey from Mother-hood - she could have married The Captain far more recently than she said while scamming Ted, and she might be waiting to mention the embarrassing Econ lecture when she gets to know/like him better - she doesn't seem to fit the puzzle that's been laid out.

That said, the moment where Ted said the words that finally melted Zoey's cold grudge was a nice one, both because it had been so well set-up by the juvenile running gag about the room's acoustics, and because that conversation with The Captain (nicely-played by Kyle MacLachlan) is the most human Ted's been in a while. This is the guy I really liked once upon a time; the guy whose future I actually cared about, rather than the guy whose stories I tolerated while waiting for Barney or Robin or Marshall to do something funny(**) in a subplot. A week ago, I was dreading the idea of Morrison being around for a while. Now? Maybe it could work.

(**) Here's how good a job Bays and Thomas did of redeeming their leading man this week: Ted was consistently the funniest part of the episode. And not in a "the other characters had bad writing" way; Ted's mocking of Zoey's apparent hypocrisy was genuinely funny, and a highlight in an episode that also featured a lot of good stuff for the supporting cast. There. I said it. Ted Mosby was the comic highlight of a very good episode of "HIMYM." It can happen.

This was actually a great episode for making sure all the characters were drawn on a human scale. The Barney/Robin story started off as a silly but entertaining lark, then took an abrupt left turn when the security guard casually mentioned Barney's dad, and Neil Patrick Harris was great in the aftermath scene as Barney told Robin how he felt about the news. Even by the usual standards of Barney's a Real Boy scenes, that was a cut above.

The Lily/Marshall subplot, meanwhile, not only gave us some welcome flashbacks to the gang's college days (including a callback to the old sandwiches=marijuana gag), but addressed a question the show's needed to deal with ever since Marshall took the job at Barney's firm: how long before he felt safe/frustrated enough to quit, thus being true to his character, yet depriving the show of the great Barney/Marshall workplace dynamic? It felt right that Corporate Marshall would feel differently about the world and his life than College Marshall (Extinct), and Lily's conversation with the latter species felt honest and sweet, with a few nice jokes (Corporate Marshall's stamina, the return of Jane's Addiction) sprinkled in.

There were a lot of "I finally deleted the show from my DVR" comments last week. I hope at least a few of those were empty threats, because I'd hate to think everybody dropped out right before they missed them some vintage "HIMYM." I'm not saying the show is necessarily back for good, but a show that's capable of generating an episode like this is one where I'm going to suffer through the likes of "Canning Randy" in hopes of seeing again.

What did everybody else think?

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