How I Met Your Mother – “The Sexless Innkeeper”

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“The Sexless Innkeeper”

October 12th, 2009

In the season premiere, we essentially got a confirmation that How I Met Your Mother would be dipping into the well of the double date: after struggling for a few seasons to integrate a drama-free Lily and Marshall into the show’s set of couples, they kind of gave up late last season with Hannigan disappearing to have a baby. The result is that, while Barney and Robin are a newer couple and in need of development, it’s perhaps more important that the show use this opportunity to remind us of Lily and Marshall’s value (as a couple, individually isn’t really a question) to the show’s dynamic.

“The Sexless Innkeeper” is simultaneously a justification for why we haven’t seen much of their individual life since they moved into their new apartment and a sign that the show really should have been going out of its way to do so. I don’t think that they should have rushed another couple together, but the addition of a two-couple dynamic lets them play stories that they’ve clearly wanted to dabble in without much of an opportunity. As Ted says at one point, couples need other couples, and Lily and Marshall only needed another couple to bring back what I enjoyed about their characters.

It really only had two jokes, but one was clever and the other was committed to by four really great comic actors and featured a whole lot of HIMYM-style intricacies (like The Best Night Ever.com, another meta-website), so it’s a very enjoyable half-hour of comedy.

At the heart of Lily and Marshall’s courtship with Ted and Barney is the kind of marriage story that the co-creator who is married (I never know which one it is) has likely been trying to tell for a while. Couples do need other couples, and the episode draws this out into a full-on relationship featuring an awkward first date, a less than graceful brush-off, intense jealousy, and a tearful reunion in the rain. There were plenty of gimmicks the show could have used here, including the idea of showing the date from two different perspectives or something of that nature, but there was no denying the fact that Lily and Marshall were plain old desperate and kind of manic in their approach.

Instead, the show played the joke (the broader joke, anyways) straight throughout, simply depicting the various stages of a relationship. In the process, we got a fun callback to Ted waiting outside Robin’s apartment in the rain (as that’s how Barney and Robin met Lily and Marshall to reconcile the friendmance), and also a rather fantastic device in the form of Marshall’s photo montage videos. The Best Night Ever website may be the cornerstone of CBS’ viral campaign, and was quite great (“Creme Brul-lay-lay-lay-lay-lay” [And yes, I know it’s not spelled like this, but I’m going phonetically here] was a highlight), but I was partial to the “Catsitting/Cat Funeral” combination which had me laughing a whole lot. The individual pictures were kind of fantastic (I’ll have to rewatch this one at some point), and more importantly it really fit Marshall’s character (who has a penchant both for song-writing and for being overly sentimental – heck, you could even argue it’s an extension of last week’s barrel storyline, as he probably has a song about that).

The other half of the episode was Ted off on his lonesome, although I’ll say I was impressed with how they managed to integrate Ted into what is suddenly dominated by couples. If the show’s problem before was that it only had one couple to deal with (which one could argue worked perfectly fine, although perhaps to the disservice of Lily and Marshall), its problem now is that Ted is the only person who is single, a fact which this episode used both for deprecatory and freeing purposes. Barney’s “Sexless Innkeeper” story brought back his quasi-English accent (hearkening back to the Bro Code), and was more importantly quite clever. I’d argue most things are better with rhyme, but I love any opportunity for Barney and Robin to gang up on Ted for being lame. Ted is a character who is often the most entertaining when he’s being put down in some capacity, so the addition of another couple consisting of the two people who most often knock him down a peg is actually a huge boon for the show and his character.

And it even afforded the show an attempt to tie the two storylines together, as the coda features Ted writing his own poem about the sexing of the Sexless Innkeeper by a young woman who loves the whole professor vibe, leaving Barney to head to brunch with Lily and Marshall and question just what he’s gotten himself into. It was a bit of a slight concluding note (as in, it wasn’t anything transformative or anything), but I thought it showed that the writers are very aware of the unique dynamics (for the show, at least) at play here. Despite this episode, Barney isn’t suddenly going to become someone who is comfortable in a couple, and he will remain envious of Ted’s single status and likely try to live through him vicariously in between ridiculing him for something or other.

Really, it’s the kind of episode that really connects with me as a viewer because it manages to give us a lot of little beats that actually all felt connected to these characters in at least a tangential fashion. To some degree, the episode played largely with existing character traits: Lily and Marshall have searched for friends amongst their neighbours before (Lily’s wine and cheese party, the creepy stalker neighbours), so it didn’t really break new ground. However, suddenly, the show was able to bring those ideas together into something that involved every character, Ted as the voice of reason trapped between them while still getting a storyline of his own. It made for a really complete episode that might not have been a laugh riot overall, but that threaded together its comic highlights with a story that felt relevant and suited to the series.

Cultural Observations

  • Nice to see a bit of continuity all over the place, in particular the return of Ranjit.
  • Interesting that Dollhouse does a storyline about a professor needing to hire an active to have a student/professor affair with the week that HIMYM decides whether professorship is attractive or not.
  • Barney’s collection of hotel jokes were actually enormously lame, but Robin’s turndown joke was a lone highlight.
  • Lesson learned: never sleep on the gouda.
  • I love spoken rhyme because I’m instinctively trying to figure out what they’re going to be: totally called “Frisky” after “whiskey,” considering the poet in question.
  • Loved Marshall refusing to discredit the underwater alien story (which really is a Barney lie, albeit a bad one considering he’s in a new and uncomfortable position) simply because it sounded so cool: it’s not that he believed it, but it was something he’d otherwise think was awesome if he wasn’t busy feeling shunned.
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