I remember watching the first episode of How I Met Your Mother and thinking, eh, I don't need this additional half hour sucked out of my life by television along with all the others, so I passed on watching this and didn't give it another thought--until this week when my husband, after reading a second rave review on tvsquad, recorded the rerun of HIMYM's "Slap Bet" episode (1st tvsquad episode review).
Because I am too impatient I watched it just to see what all the fuss was about before my husband got home. O. M. G. This is one of the funniest sitcom episodes EVER. If you want to get technical you can start ranking the various Seinfeld and Simpsons and what-not but what I'm saying is that I rarely watch something that is so hilarious that I want to save it on the disk so I can watch it again during the week because it makes me laugh so much. (The last time I did that was with Maria Bamford's half hour special on Comedy Special.)
When I watched the episode for the second time I twas waiting to see my husband's reaction: his mouth dropped open in hilarity and disbelief, rocking in the chair in paroxisms of laughter. I was not disappointed. Of course I was doing the same. I was mainly waiting for the Robin Sparkles moment at the end. It is so crazy that you tend to forget that what leads up to it is also brilliant comedy writing and acting. Watching the episode again allowed me to appreciate the first half more. It could stand alone as a great episode even without the video at the end.
In addition you need to watch the "Robin Sparkles" video several times because there is a lot of stuff in it and the first time you see it you are laughing so hard that you miss most of the lyrics. The second time around you catch things you missed the first time but if you are familiar with eighties fashion and music videos you will want to watch it again for various references and details.
However, everything in the episode is spot-on. There is not one wasted line. The entire Slap Bet plot line allows for some of the best sitcom slapstick (literally) I've seen. There are the slaps themselves which are unique expressions of character: Barney's fast stings versus Marshall's brute blows. And there are the reactions, especially when Marshall starts to tear up and covers his face which leads to this classic recess exchange:
Barney: Are you crying?Another gem is Lilly as Slap Bet Commissioner devising new rules for all of Barney and Marshall's violations, i.e., "premature slapulation."
Marshall: No. You are.
Woven into the theme is the debate about couples sharing too much or too little with each other. Marshall and Lilly tell each other everything. This can be interesting, as we learn that Marshall won't go to the Pacific Northwest because of Sasquatch. ("I'm not afraid, I just think we need to be aware.") We also learn that sharing everything with each other is also utterly, nauseatingly annoying and worse yet, boring.
Robin won't tell Ted her secret about why she won't go to the mall. Each buddy has a theory about Robin's secret. Barney's is that Robin did "porn -- wait for it -- ography." Marshall's theory is that she is already married at a mall in Canada. (One of my favorite details was Ted's claim that he looked it up on the "Canadian Mall Marriages 6000" database.)
Robin's secret allows for a few good jabs at Canada in the first part of the episode (e.g., maybe Canadian marriages are like Canadian money: no one really takes it seriously) but we have to wait for the end of the episode for that motif to fully bloom.
The final disclosure is the video of the song "Let's Go to the Mall" that Robin made when she was a teenage pop star in Canada who toured and sang in malls as "Robin Sparkles." Robin Sparkles has her own my space page so you can watch the entire video, which has so many hysterically funny elements that I would be describing the entire video just to list them. Just watch it. (I will just mention that I particularly liked the Maple Leaf "Canada Day" bad body roll dance element and the addition of the robot was inspired 80's idiocy.)
However. this is an episode that is so well written that it is worth seeing the whole setup. Also, the group's conversation about the video is priceless: "Hey everyone Robin is rapping!"
Marshall: This was in the '90s. Why does this look like it's from 1986?
Robin: Because the '80s didn't come to Canada until like '93.
Oh Canada, Our Great Mittened Neighbor of the North. We mock because there is no good reason for us to do so. And yet we do it anyway. And it is funny. Life is cruel.