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'How I Met Your Mother': Why 'Natural History' is the season's best episode

March 14, 2011 |  9:00 am

HIMYM_609_102110_0021b It's been something of a creative rebound for "How I Met Your Mother" this season. Like every show that's lasted as long as the CBS sitcom -– six years and counting! -– "How I Met Your Mother" has had some rough patches. It's only inevitable that a show should occasionally show some signs of strain. But while some shows, which shall remain nameless, never recover from a slump, "How I Met Your Mother" has rebounded nicely from last year's mixed bag of a season. It hasn't been perfect. I've written about the story lines and characters –- mainly new love interests Zoey (Jennifer Morrison) and Nora (Nazanin Boniadi) -– that haven't worked for me this season in my episode recaps. But for the most part, "HIMYM" has found its heart again and plenty of laughs in Season 6.

Although it would be easy to single out the exceptional Marshall (Jason Segel)-loses-his-dad arc as the highlight of the season, my favorite episode of this season so far is a much earlier one that perfectly mixes heart and laughter: "Natural History," which repeats Monday night on CBS.

Some of my favorite qualities about "HIMYM" are the way it wears its heart on its sleeve, its unabashed sentimentality and how it's able to take human experiences and put a creative, funny twist on them. "Natural History" has all of that and more. When the episode first aired, I wrote, " 'Natural History' was more than just one of the funniest episodes in a while. It was also rich with character development, emotion and reveals."

From Ted (Josh Radnor) seeing a bunch of tiny Barneys (Neil Patrick Harris) on a girl his friend has already slept with to Ted seeing Robin's (Cobie Smulders) dogs as the ex-boyfriends who gave them to her, these are the type of clever, funny twists on universal issues that "HIMYM" does so well. In "Natural History," the show explores watching the person you love change when Lily (Alyson Hannigan) sees college Marshall through the museum looking glass as an extinct species exhibit. It's a pretty brilliant setup. Not to mention, it's a thoughtful, sweet, funny and well-acted scene, mixing pop culture references -– Jane's Addiction is reunited, but it doesn't feel so good -– with real fears. You feel Lily's desire to reach through that glass and hold onto to the person she fell in love with.

Then there's Barney's story.... There are a lot of laughs to find in Robin and Barney's museum escapades, and why wouldn't there be? Robin and Barney are the show's best twosome, if you ask me, and not just romantically. They challenge each other and the actors have a real willingness to go there comedically and dramatically, both of which they deliver on in this episode. What starts out as an amusing game of one-upmanship leads to a revelatory moment for Barney. Behind the laughter, there's usually a dramatic anchor and real genuine emotion on "HIMYM." The silliness of "Sandcastles in the Sand" led to Robin confiding in Barney and then a kiss. Here, in an unexpected, but well-placed twist, the silliness leads to Barney finding out that his uncle Jerry is really his father. Like I said in my recap, it was rich with character development and reveals that planted the seeds for the big changes ahead: Barney found out about his father, Marshall and Lily contemplated careers and family before revealing that Corporate Marshall would also go the way of extinction, and Ted and Zoey reached a tense compromise.

And then there's the funny stuff. How can you not love an episode with moments like this?

HIMYM_609_102210_0083b –- The introduction of Zoey's boat-loving, red pants wearing, rich, older husband, who refers to himself as The Captain and is played with relish by Kyle MacLachlan.
–- Some of my favorite Ted lines: "Yeah, old stuff's great." "I'm Galactic President Superstar McAwesomeville." "Oh my God, you have a monocle! Is this real? Is this really happening? Good luck killing James Bond." Zoey to Ted: "You're going down." Ted: "Down where? To the yacht club? I'd love to. Wait, I'm half Jewish. Will that be a problem?" It's always a fun treat when Ted gets to be funny. I even enjoyed his childish whispering -– "Wieners and gonads!" -– to demonstrate the museum's unique acoustics.
–- College Marshall's jealousy of Corporate Marshall's sexual stamina: "You said that any longer would be too much!" "It’s OK, College Lily thinks those are orgasms," Lily replies.
–- Robin to Barney: "I didn't realize you were small potatoes. And to be clear, I was referring to your testicles." "Get ... your hand off my ass." "It’s been like 30 years since that completely made-up story didn’t happen."
–- Robin carrying a penguin from a museum exhibit as a waiter comes over: "None for him. He's stuffed."
-– On second watch, I noticed that Zoey's op-ed is sandwiched between articles about Dowisetrepla and the cockamouse ("No one is safe. Not even your mother," the article reads), one of my favorite absurdly funny story lines.

Showtrackers, do you agree with me that "Natural History" is the season's best episode to date? Or do you have a different pick?

Complete “How I Met Your Mother” coverage on Showtracker

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

Top photo: Ted (Josh Radnor), Lily (Alyson Hannigan) and Marshall (Jason Segel) attend a museum gala.

Bottom photo: Ted (Josh Radnor) runs into The Captain (Kyle MacLachlan) and Zoey (Jennifer Morrison) at the gala.

Credit: Matt Kennedy / Fox