Wait just one cotton-pickin’ second. Yeah, sure, Monday (April 30) night’s How I Met Your Mother was back in top form after the slightly (relatively speaking) disappointing "Bachelor Party" episode, but how could they leave us all hanging on the night’s most pressing issue: What was up with Robin and Ted being covered with tomato sauce?

There aren’t many shows that could have pulled off what How I Met Your Mother achieved on Monday. HIMYM built an episode around a cross-promotional in-joke and actually pulled at least a half-dozen laugh-out-loud moments from that corporate synergy, while also providing new insight into a favorite character. CBS is already dedicating two primetime hours to sending Bob Barker off into the sunset after 35 years on The Price Is Right, but I wager than none of those tributes will be as hilarious as Barney Stinson’s conviction that Bob Barker is his father and the lengths he goes to win his dad’s approval.

How comically heartbreaking was it to see young Barney trying to show TV Daddy his report cards? Or trying to play catch with the screen? And how perfectly did Neil Patrick Harris show off his contestant’s bravado, both practicing his run to the stage and later taunting his competitors and mocking the audience on the show itself?

It was even funny watching Barney practice his wheel-spinning on a bicycle wheel, noting, "If I don’t win the spin-off, I can’t get to the Showcase Showdown."

Here, unfortunately, the geek in me must step in. As all true fans of TPIR know — and as Barney surely should have known — the wheel-spinning portion of the show actually *is* the Showcase Showdown. The part where players bid on the showcases is just the Showcase round. Sorry. Had to quibble there. By the time Barney successfully hit the dollar space on the wheel and pushed his rival off the mat, I wasn’t worrying anymore.

One of my favorite things about HIMYM is the sense that the characters all have colorful histories that are being parceled out to us week-by-week. What did we learn this week? We discovered that Marshall has a favorite grandfather whose ghost haunts the family barn. We saw that the first time Marshall confessed his love for Lily, he was actually drunk and the love was directed at Ted and a bag of Funyuns. And it was revealed that Marshall was once pulled over for driving alone in the carpool lane, only he wasn’t actually alone, Lily was just, um, ducking her head so that the officer couldn’t see her. Oh and it turns out that McLarens, the gang’s regular hang-out, has 11 deep-fried appetizers on the menu.

Other episode highlights:

  • Ted’s sanitized best man speech in which he remembered the night Lily and Marshall got back together and the celebrated by, um, drinking chocolate milk and holding hands in a bathroom stall ("It was a lovely and responsible night").
  • Of the main plots in the episode, the Lily’s Too Skinny for her Wedding Dress plot was the least funny, I think, but it also included information on the contents of Robin’s kitchen (Cool Whip and Fritos) and Robin goading Lily to eat fudge and mocking her with "You gonna cry? Skinny little baby’s gonna cry? Well, eat, baby! Eat!"
  • Marshall’s Nite-Nite tape for Lily. Oh and had we seen Marshall’s swingin’ wedding hat before?
  • How is Ted supposed to top Barney’s wedding gift of a pair of watches, a computer, a camcorder and a Dune Buggy? He’s a sweet guy, that Barney.
  • The episode’s real highlight? That CBS sent critics the season’s last two episodes a week ago and I’ve been waiting to watch them until I saw this week’s. Excellent.

    I have other favorite moments, but what were yours? And did I somehow miss the tomato sauce explanation?

  • Posted by:Daniel Fienberg