"How I Met Your Mother" is back for a new season and I have a review of the first two episodes coming up just as soon as I lick the plane...

When I gave my list of shows I'd try to cover every episode of this fall, some people expressed surprise that "HIMYM" was still on it. Some of that is sentimental value (I started blogging early in this show's first season and would kind of like to see it through) and some is structural (the design of each episode is so complex that it inevitably gives me a lot more to talk about than, say, "Modern Family," even if "Modern Family" might be funnier), but some is because I'm simply not ready to give up the ghost just yet.

For all that I hated Zoey, and for all that the season finale - specifically, the obnoxious  "And kids, that's how I met your mother... psych!" joke - I didn't hate last season. Without going episode by episode, I would say Bays, Thomas and company batted about .500 last season, with the Marshall and Barney arcs mostly compensating for Ted/Zoey and the way Robin became completely adrift. I think there are still things "HIMYM" can do well, and often does, and barring them making another ill-advised 13-episode commitment to an actress/character who's going to become an anchor on the show, I think there's still some life in the old girl.

That said, we return from a mixed bag of a season with a mixed bag of a premiere, and a slightly better second episode. "The Best Man" had parts that worked quite well, others that didn't get quite there, and a few that made me want to throw the remote, while my opinion of "The Naked Truth" may largely depend on how the show deals with the final moment.

But let's start with the remote-throwing impulses from the premiere, just to get them out of the way. You would think the guys would have learned their lesson from the reaction to the "psych!" joke, but apparently not, because they're once again using Future Ted to taunt the audience - this time with the running gag about how this story is "not really all that close to the end." If the idea is just to reassure people who like "HIMYM" that the show isn't going away just yet (which we know because of the two-season renewal), that'd be okay, but it played out much more like Future Ted knows he's not going to get to the moment where he meets The Mother for a long time. And whether you're a person who takes the show's title absolutely literally and believes the series has to end within a pico-second of Ted meeting his future wife, or someone who thinks they should just introduce her already and make her a part of the gang for the rest of the show's lifespan, I think we can all agree that the best thing the show can do is to stop bloody calling attention to the way the story's being dragged out. If they don't want to get back to The Mother yet, that's fine. I don't need The Mother; I need entertaining stories. But if they're going to stall on The Mother for a while, then just shut up about her. Better to not hear about her at all and then be startled(*) when she suddenly appears (even though we know now it'll be at Barney's wedding) than for the show to keep bringing her up even as the stories are focusing on Ted's loneliness, Lily's pregnancy and the Robin/Barney/Nora triangle.

(*) That's one of the many reasons the "psych!" thing was so misguided. The show had spent so much time on Zoey, a character we knew wasn't The Mother, without any significant reference to the lady herself, that if she had popped up out of the blue in the season finale - and as an accidental byproduct of that long, awkward storyline - it would have been such a pleasant surprise, and a great moment for the show. Instead, it was just a stupid, pointless fakeout.  

Sorry to start there, but it really really irritated me.

There were other parts of the first episode that didn't entirely work. I think, for instance, that all the build-up that both Future Ted and Slightly Future Ted and Slightly Future Barney gave about Punchy's wedding foreshadowed a much greater disaster than what we actually saw. The description the gang gave at the start of "The Naked Truth"(**) made it sound more impressive, but I wish we'd gotten to see more of the wedding-wrecking.)

(**) And the mention of Marshall ending up in a dress by the time the evening was over reminded me that we still have to get back to Ted in the green dress, on top of new foreshadowing tonight like Marshall and Barney gambling in Atlantic City. While the arc foreshadowing has mainly gotten annoying, some of the joke foreshadowing still works out okay.

And while the Barney triangle might be interesting down the road, I found the moment where Nora called Barney back at the exact moment Robin was about to admit her feelings for him to be the kind of contrived romantic comedy BS that alwasy sets my teeth on edge. And yet the thing is, Cobie Smulders was so good as that scene continued and Robin admitted her feelings, anyway, but in a context where Barney only heard it as her playing Cyrano for him with Nora, that I almost forgave them the contrivance. (Smulders and Josh Radnor were also quite good together in their scene on the balcony.) I much preferred Barney and Nora's actual interaction in the second episode, because these outside love interests always work better when they're actually on screen and interacting with members of the gang. I'd rather see Barney wind up with Robin than Nora(***), but Nora and Barney worked well together in "The Naked Truth."

(***) By the way, the last thing the show needs - as Mo Ryan explains at much greater length - is yet another "Who's the bride?" mystery for the writers to drag out past all interest. I hope we don't see another glimpse of Barney's wedding until we actually get to it in the show's timeline. 

Both episodes gave Jason Segel a good chance to play Marshall as unbridled id, which he's very good at. (He also, as we've known since the "Freaks and Geeks" days, takes great pleasure appearing nude or near-nude on camera.) I hope his comment in "The Naked Truth" about how he's tried too hard to repress that side of himself suggests that the writers realize they haven't given him enough of those opportunities of late, and will redress that in the future. Hard to judge Martin Short as Marshall's new boss until they're actually sharing a physical scene together, but it was nice to see Jimmi Simpson as the drunk, creepy, Edward 40-Hands-playing Pete from college.

But the biggest development from "The Naked Truth" came at the very end, as Ashley Williams made her first appearance since the first season as Victoria.

if we're going to disqualify Robin, who was identified as a non-Mother back in the pilot, then it seems most fans agree Victoria is the character they most wish had been allowed to be a long-term love interest if the series didn't have its mystery structure. But the thing is, we now know she's not the Mother, because Ted met her long before Barney's wedding. The show reminded us of this in the first of tonight's two episodes, so even with Future Ted's narration about destiny, I can't imagine the writers are going to try to trick us into thinking she's a candidate for Mother-hood. (Though if they do? Then I think I'm out.)

And if not, then I'm curious to see why Victoria's back. I actually don't mind Ted being in relationships with no future if they're entertaining. The problem with Zooey wasn't that she wasn't the Mother, but that she sucked the joy out of every scene she was in. (Ditto Stella after her first few appearances.) If the idea is just to put Ted in a relationship with an appealing character, and involving an actress with whom Josh Radnor has good chemistry, and Future Ted makes it clear early and often that this is a place-holder story (albeit maybe one with a larger purpose), then that could be interesting.

After last season, I care more about the entertainment factor more than I do the show's mythology. If the writers think they can craft some entertaining episodes involving Victoria without jerking the audience around, more power to them. If this is part of yet another elaborate stall job, then... sigh.

For now, though, I'm on the hook enough to keep watching, and writing.

What did everybody else think?