A review of last night's "How I Met Your Mother" coming up just as soon as I open the kimono...

Sitcoms love Christmas episodes, but New Year's episodes tend to be a bit rarer because the TV business tends to take the last couple of weeks of December off. (It's one thing to air a Christmas episode on, say, December 13 and another to air that on the 6th so you can do a New Year's show two and a half weeks before New Year's.) But because CBS planned to be in originals last night, we got a well-timed holiday outing - and a fairly solid, sweet installment of "HIMYM" overall.

Stories about Marshall's father pretty much always work (unless they're about Marshall being afraid of making out with him), and the tailgating plot was no exception. (Though I'm trying to figure out when in the chronology Marshall had time to get from New York to Minnesota.) It gave the episode a good framing device(*), the welcome return of Marshall's rivalry with his gigantic brothers, and the touching coda that once again drove home how much Marshall is like Marvin.

(*) And the second episode in a row largely narrated by another character before Future Ted took over at the end. I'm assuming Barney and Lily will also get a turn before the season's out.

The Marshall/Lily New Year's Eve story worked well in concert with the New Year's Day stuff at Marvin's grave, and not just because I remember those old Time/Life book commercials they were parodying. It started out seeming like a spin on the familiar debate some couples have about what religion (if any) they want their kids to be raised in, but turned into a larger point about how Marshall and Lily had very different relationships with their fathers growing up. The flashback to how Lily's dad really reacted to the news felt a little cheap - his initial reaction was only there so Lily (and we) would be surprised by the larger one - but the actual moment on her doorstep(**) with the bear was a really good one for Alyson Hannigan and Chris Elliott.

(**) So they're really going forward with them moving to East Meadow, huh? I'm going to be curious to see how that works in terms of having them hang out with the rest of the gang in Manhattan, or if they'll just ignore the issues of geography/traffic/time/etc.

The other two stories were more of a mixed bag. The Puzzles plotline allowed Bays and Thomas to once again demonstrate their love of "Cheers" with the bar logo and the theme song(***), but it also featured Ted at his most insufferably pretentious, and the runner about Ted and Barney not wanting to let Kevin participate too much also fell flat. (As a rule, the more obnoxious Ted acts, the less funny he is.) And I liked the Robin story more for where it ended (finally pulling Robin out of the humiliating professional spiral she's been in for a while now) than for seeing Sandy repeatedly implode live on camera. Those jokes tended to work better when they were in the context of the early-early-early morning show they co-hosted that nobody watched than when it involves what's supposed to be a legitimate cable news player. I also thought Robin's moment on camera could have seemed more like the sort of thing that would eventually turn her into Sandy's co-anchor again(****), as opposed to her rambling a bit about her own personal life before counting down to midnight.

(***) You can hear the song in full on the Puzzles website, which for some reason didn't go live until a couple of hours after the URL was shown on the banner. Odd; the show usually tends to have their fake websites up and ready to go well in advance of when the episode airs.

(****) Okay, so how many "we'll get to that later" balls is the show juggling at the moment? Marshall and Barney at the casino, Ted in the green dress, Robin co-anchoring with Sandy, whoever it is that Barney is marrying, and... ? I'm assuming the stuff with Michael Trucco as the guy Robin has a crush on got squashed because Trucco got hired to be on "Fairly Legal." 

Still, the Marshall/Lily pieces were very effective, and there was nothing in the other two stories to make me wince the way some episodes this season have.

What did everybody else think?