“The Naked Man”
Season Four, Episode Nine
Airdate: November 24th, 2008
Of all the shows on this list, How I Met Your Mother may have been one of the toughest selections. It isn’t that the show had too few or even too many great episodes in this calendar year, but rather that the show has a higher standard for greatness than other shows. There is something that elevates this above other sitcoms that is not always tangible, and not always something that appears in the same fashion.
So it’s tough to decide what it more quintessentially HIMYM than something else: some episodes might most embody the show’s commitment to its New York setting, others its manipulation of time, others its quirky catchphrases. Do we value episodes that highlight the awesomeness of Barney Stinson, or are such episodes almost too simple compared to the challenge of making Ted a likeable character? All of this creates a true conundrum, and one that was not easily answered.
The reason that I have chosen “The Naked Man” is not because I am convinced that it is the best episode the show aired this past year, but rather that I believe it to be the most well-rounded. It isn’t an episode about just Barney, or just Ted, or any single character. It ignores the show’s normal structure for a tightly construct A-plot, every character being either victim or perpetrator of the show’s newest lexicon entry. The Naked Man is a strategy employed by a hapless blind date of Robin’s, a decision to strip down on a bad date to see if the victim will say “Screw it” and give in to the power of nakedness.
What works about the episode is that it doesn’t try to be something bigger: yes, Ted is willing to try it because of his relationship troubles post-Stella, and Robin attempts to turn it into a real relationship to appear less pathetic after her own life crisis, but it feels like a bunch of people we like watching (yes, even Ted) trying out something fun, funny, and played with just the right level of reverance with its superhero-esque closing.
And while my mind might be torn between the Mr. Clean and the Burt Reynolds, and between this and many other episodes, I think my heart is perfectly fine with “The Naked Man” making it into the Time Capsule.
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[For more details on the Cultural Learnings 2008 Television Time Capsule, click here!]