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'How I Met Your Mother' recap: A night at the museum

November 8, 2010 |  9:45 pm

Going into tonight's episode, “Natural History,” I had a feeling I'd like it because I watched a commercial where Barney (Neil Patrick Harris) said, “Niled it!” and it made me laugh. A lot. It's a pretty good sign when just a commercial can crack you up. But “Natural History” was more than just one of the funniest episodes in a while. It was also rich with character development, emotion and reveals as all the characters, including Zoey (Jennifer Morrison) and her husband (Kyle MacLachlan), gathered at a fundraiser at the Natural History Museum.

For Robin (Cobie Smulders) and Barney, this was a perfect setting for a game of one-upmanship. Ignoring the Do Not Touch sign, Barney briefly touched one of the museum exhibits. “I didn't realize you were small potatoes. And to be clear, I was referring to your testicles,” Robin replied, languidly grazing the statue. Whether you like them together as a couple or not, Barney and Robin have always played off each other very well in storylines that have them separate from the group, going back to Season 1's “Zip, Zip, Zip.” There's a competitiveness between them, but also a lot of mutual respect and a gung-ho attitude. Watching them run round the museum, turtle drumming, using the stuffed lion's teeth to open beer bottles and even wearing outfits from the exhibits was as fun as it looked. But it wasn't just fun and games. When the museum guard caught them, he opened the incident file from when a 6-year-old Barney knocked down the blue whale and revealed that Barney's uncle Jerry actually marked himself down as Barney's father on the report. What a clever and unexpected reveal. Barney learned who his father is, but the audience remains in the dark. And I loved that Robin is the one that got to share this moment with him.

The museum setting was also creatively used for the Marshall (Jason Segel) and Lily (Alyson Hannigan) storyline. Marshall revealed to Lily that he was thinking of signing a five-year contract with GNB. Lily saw this as the end of the Marshall she fell in love with. (Lily, don't you still have a lot of shopping debt to pay off with Marshall's money?) She found herself confronted with college Marshall behind one of the glass museum exhibits. “I want you as opposed to what you've become. You've changed so much,” she tells him. But college Marshall is extinct and corporate Marshall has never cheated on her and lasts even longer in bed. He hasn't really changed all that much he points out. He's just going to use all his GNB money to shower Lily and their kids. It was the perfect mix of funny – the Jane's Addiction exchange and everything about Marshall's stamina, including college Marshall's jealousy, was a highlight – and sweet.

Ted (Josh Radnor), meanwhile, ran into Zoey at the event and finally got the upperhand on her a little, giving Ted some really funny lines. Zoey was there dressed to the nines with her older husband, George Van Smoot, who calls himself The Captain. He wears red paints, is obsessed with his boat, practically paid for the GNB event and was in “Guys & Dolls” with Marshall's boss, Arthur. Yes, Ted has a lot of ammunition. Among my favorite lines: “I'm half Jewish. Will that be a problem?” “Yeah, old stuff's great.” “I'm Galactic President Superstar McAwesomeville.” “You have a monocle! Good luck killing James Bond.”

Zoey fed Ted a sob story about getting married too young and hating her husband's red pants to catch him on tape badmouthing GNB. I got the feeling there was some truth to the story even if she was fake crying. Ted was being very sweet to her when he thought she was genuinely upset, which isn't helping Zoey's likability factor. After Ted opened up to her and admitted he does feel bad about destroying the building, it just seemed like she had gone a little too far. Then Zoey overheard Ted telling The Captain that he respects her for standing up for what she believes in. She told him she erased the tape. She was going to beat him fair and square. “Bring it on, Princess,” Ted replied, but it looked like he wanted to bring on the kissing more than the fighting.

Other brief comments:

-- Loved the return of “sandwiches,” lawyered and Scooter.
-- Our gang looks pretty dressed up, yeah?
-- Ted whispering things a 7-year-old would say across the museum? Yeah, it made me laugh. Maybe I'm 7 too.
-- Also funny: Marshall and Barney as fat cats.

Readers, were you surprised by the reveal about Barney's father? What do you make of the end tag that corporate Marshall “wouldn't last forever”? What do you think of Zoey after this episode? And do you agree that this was the best episode so far this season?

— Vlada Gelman (follow my TV musings on Twitter at @stayingin)

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Photo: Ted (Josh Radnor), Lily (Alyson Hannigan) and Marshall (Jason Segel) attend a fundraiser at the Natural History Museum. Credit: Matt Kennedy / FOX.