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'How I Met Your Mother' recap: On matters of the heart

March 1, 2011 |  7:00 am

How do you add depth to a ladies' man like Barney Stinson (Neil Patrick Harris) on “How I Met Your Mother”? In this week's episode, “A Change of Heart,” we saw a different, confused side of Barney, who's struggling with his feelings for Nora (Nazanin Boniadi). In a lovely show of friendship, the gang all had their hearts checked out by a doctor, who made Barney wear a heart monitor for 24 hours. She noticed some spikes in his results, so he took her over the events of the previous day, which featured his second date with Nora. The heart monitor went crazy when Nora started talking about how she wants to get married and have children. It was straightforward, yes, but kind of skipping a few steps. This was only the second date. Barney lied and said he wanted the same things, including three kids --  “One of each,” he said -- in order to get in her good graces and her pants. On the walk home, he admitted to lie and said he only told her those things to get to sleep with her. She slapped him, and the next day at the doctor's, Lily (Alyson Hannigan) punched him in the gut for lying. But the lie was the lie. He wants those things, Lily insisted. At 8:30 p.m., the time of his date, his heart literally skipped a beat, the doctor said, when Nora walked into the restaurant. Barney went to meet Nora and her parents at a cafe and told her, “I want to be confused with you.” Except he was imagining himself telling her that. In reality, Barney stared through the glass door at Nora before walking away.

I've long wanted to see Barney grow and deepen as a character. I wanted to see him and Robin (Cobie Smulders) in a relationship, not the abbreviated, out-of-character hookup they had. But I'm having a few issues with this story line. First, Nora's very ill-defined as a character while at the same time being a lighter version of Robin. What do we know about Nora except the characteristics she shares with Robin? Not much. It's hard to get invested in Barney's feelings for her and believe in them when we barely know Nora. It also doesn't help that Nora taking care of a sick Barney immediately made me recall Robin taking care of a sick Barney in season 2's “How Lily Stole Christmas.”And if Nora works with Robin, shouldn't she know more about Barney and how the gang met him? Or are Robin and Nora not very social at work? She just seems like any other random girl Barney has met rather than someone Robin knows. My other major concern is how quickly this story is moving along. Two dates and Barney's falling for this girl already? It probably takes him longer to decide what suit to wear. In the end, while I like the idea of this story line, the execution and pacing just aren't working.

The other main story in the episode was decidedly less serious. Robin thought about getting a dog, but instead found herself a guy in the park nicknamed Scooby (Robbie Amell), who turned out to be a lot like a dog. He stuck his head out the cab window, ran after keys, chased his own butt when Marshall (Jason Segel) and Ted (Josh Radnor) pointed out his jeans still had a tag, and sniffed out food. The writers clearly had a lot of fun with this story, especially when the gang started using dog puns while talking to Scooby: “How did you meet? Tell us the tale.” “How did you whisk her off her feet?” “We hope our noisiness doesn't give you pause.” Even Robin unwittingly got in on the fun when she came to his defense. “Stop pounding him!” she exclaimed.

“We don't want your new guy to flee,” Marshall replied. When Scooby got out of the apartment, Marshall and Ted exclaimed how smart he was and that they should get him to do tricks on Letterman, which was a nice nod to “HIMYM” creators Carter Bays and Craig Thomas' former job as writers on the late night program. “I know Paul Shaffer's sandwich guy. It could happen!” Marshall announced.

Other funny bits:
–- Marshall to Robin: “If you weren't so much stronger than me, I'd slap you.”
–- Barney's interesting blackmail on the gang. He had something on Lily involving the kindergarten guinea pig. Marshall revealed what Barney had on him to Ted: He continued eating a calzone after it fell on the sidewalk. When Barney got to Robin, she muttered, “Don't say the Mr. T dream,” over and over. But Ted claimed he was an open book with nothing to hide. He fessed up to going to a ballet class and a 'N Sync concert, but stopped short when Barney brought up the thermos.
-- Lily's punches and slaps as Barney kept lying.
-- The sandwiches make a return in the form of brownies!

Readers, what do you think of Barney developing feelings for Nora? Do you buy it? Do you like this new side of Barney, or would you rather he go back to being a ladies' man? And do you like Nora?

Complete “How I Met Your Mother” coverage on Showtracker

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

Photo: Neil Patrick Harris as Barney on “How I Met Your Mother.” Credit: Eric McCandless / FOX.