Recap and review of How I Met Your Mother – Season 8 Episode 15 – P.S. I Love You:
For How I Met Your Mother, Robin Sparkles saga is one of the most reliable outlets for slam-dunk comedy. Maybe it’s the perpetual 80s slant to her fashion and music, or the preternatural thickness of her Canadian accent, but the pop star alter ego of Robin Scherbatsky (Cobie Smulders) always delivers. “P.S. I Love You”, like so many Robin Sparkles episodes before it, delivers the laughs by adding a new wrinkle to the Robin Sparkles mythology. In this instance, Robin Sparkles is ushered into the fashion of 90s alt-grunge rock, changing her name to “Robin Daggers” and releasing a breakup song titled “P.S. I Love You”, a track that doesn’t even pretend not to be “You Oughta Know”. It’s the funniest episode of the season not only for the novelty of Robin Sparkles, nor necessarily the added novelty of all the Canadian guest stars they got to appear for the episode’s “Underneath the Tunes” special (a fictional Canadian version of VH1′s “Behind the Music”), but for how it so wonderfully lampoons the 90s, from its fashion to its music and the esoteric randomness of its music videos. It’s an episode that pretty much gets everything right, from a pure comedic standpoint, although I have to question the wisdom of introducing one last bump on Ted’s road to the Mother. But it’s hardly a big enough issue to derail what’s one of the best episodes of the season.
When Barney (Neil Patrick Harris) learns that Robin was once obsessed with an ex-boyfriend in her younger years to such an extent that the person in question took out a 50-meter restraining order against her, he becomes obsessed with discovering the identity of the ex, going so far as to break into Robin’s room and reading all of her teenage diaries. He reads her obsessed writings about this mystery man, each of which are punctuated with repeated scrawlings of the words “P.S. I Love You”. To get to the bottom of the mystery, Barney travels to Canada to interview a collection of Robin’s ex-boyfriends, including the returning James Van Der Beek as Simon. The investigation results in Barney unearthing a copy of an episode of “Underneath the Tunes” dedicated to Robin Sparkles. The gang is beside themselves with joy, and their enthusiasm is infectious, as they roll the tape and watch as Robin’s musical history is detailed, from the popularity of “Let’s Go to the Mall” to the success of “Sandcastles in the Sand”. A cavalcade of Canadian stars contribute to the documentary, including Jason Priestley, Paul Shaffer, Alex Trebek, and Dave Coulier, poking fun at his status as the mystery man behind Alanis Morrisette’s “You Oughta Know” (and also providing the connection for a wink-and-nod reference to Full House, when Future Ted cuts in to add that he always liked Coulier’s “cut-it-out” hand gesture).
Yet the documentary pales in comparison to the music video for “P.S. I Love You”. Robin gets dark in the mid-90s and changes her name to Robin Daggers, releasing a single that represents the angst-ridden excesses of the era. The music video features a toy robot, a shirtless old guy shot in black and white for no discernible reason, and Robin with jet black hair and baggy men’s clothes, singing about God being a woman, and how this revenge song in no way reflects the views of her record company. It’s a symphony of the absurdi, and it’s glorious. No, the song isn’t as catchy as “Let’s Go to the Mall” or “Sandcastles in the Sand”, but “P.S. I Love You” is the funniest song in the Robin Sparkles catalog just for its balls-to-the-wall commitment to randomness and absurdity. It also serves as the catalyst for Barney’s recognition that anyone can be driven to stalker-like obsession. He learns that he was basically wrong to judge Robin for her unhinged youth (a wise decision, given that Barney has plenty to judge in his own past), although he doesn’t hesitate judging her for her taste in men, once he learns that the mystery man in question was musician Paul Shaffer (I guess the “P.S.” was the big clue). If this is, as the creators have hinted, the last we see of Robin Sparkles, I consider this a pretty fitting send-off for the alter ego, encapsulating the best of what made the character such a fun diversion.
The other development this week was Ted (Josh Radnor) getting himself a stalker of his own in a beautiful young devotee named Jeanette (Abby Elliot). Ted ranks her on his Dobler-Dahmer Scale, which measures whether a grand romantic gesture will be perceived as endearing (Dobler: named after Lloyd Dobler, John Cusack’s character in Say Anything) or creepy (Dahmer: named after serial killer/cannibal Jeffery Dahmer). After catching one another’s eye on the train home, Jeanette tracks Ted to his university, where she sets a fire and pulls the alarm to get him to come out, after it becomes apparent that security isn’t going to let her in without a student ID. Ted has his blinders on, not recognizing that her actions are pure Dahmer, due in large part to her continued flattery of Ted. Yet Future Ted admits to his kids that Jeanette would ultimately prove to be a huge mistake on his part, although it would, thankfully, be the last before he finally met their mother. Abby Elliot is adorable in the role, and her comedic timing has been honed from several seasons as an undervalued performer on Saturday Night Live (sort of like her father, Chris Elliot, who portrays Lily’s father Mickey), a talent which she deploys well when prefacing each of her admissions to stalking him with “I’m so embarrassed!” I’ll be glad to see her come back, even if I question the wisdom of introducing one last hurdle this close to the wedding where Ted will ultimately meet The Mother. As it stands now, it probably won’t be that big of an issue, so this doesn’t bother me nearly as much as it would if this were being played straight, and not as a comical side-romance with no lasting impact or harm on the story.
“P.S. I Love You” is pretty terrific from top-to-bottom, and utilizes each of the cast members well. Even Marshall (Jason Segel) and Lily (Alyson Hannigan) get room to show off their comedic chops, as the episode flashes back to the moment when the couple first met, and the subsequent moment when Marshall asked Lily out by playing her a corny song he wrote on his ukulele – which could have easily been a Dahmer moment had Lily’s affections swung the other way. We also learn that Lily had a hand in pushing fate along, contriving the scenario she used as an excuse to first meet Marshall (breaking her own stereo so he would have to fix it), which undermines the long-held belief that their meeting had been destiny, that Lily had simply knocked on the first door she came across in the dorm, hoping to find a kind soul to fix her stereo – when, in actuality, she knocked on several doors in search of Marshall’s dorm. Everyone gets a chance to shine, and I really can’t complain about an episode that uses its ensemble this well.