Tonight’s How I Met Your Mother is as breezy as they come. “Nannies” isn’t as substantive as the last two weeks, even though the episode explores the extent of Barney’s Quinn-related damage (his invented holiday “Bangtoberfest,” provides an amusing contrast to “The Autumn of Breakups” that hang like a pall over everything, as Future Ted reminds us). That said, not every episode really needs to explore the underlying themes of the season. It’s nice to take a break and luxuriate in the show’s world without the writers finding it necessary to get as heavy as the show tends to get. And hey, Marshall (Jason Segel) and Lily (Alyson Hannigan) get an actual, honest-to-God storyline, so that’s certainly something that sets “Nannies” apart from the last two weeks, if not necessarily its dialed-back approach to its overarching narrative. “Nannies” is solid yet unspectacular, which is par for the course in the early going of a new season, especially one with as much ground as season eight needs to cover.
So Barney (Neil Patrick Harris) has decided that the best way to get over someone is to get under someone, and so he’s begun the inaugural “Bangtoberfest,” bringing out all his pickup classics to seduce the unsuspecting women of MacLaren’s. However, it’s just not the same. Sure, his pickup lines and costumes work, but there’s no sense of challenge (and we know how much Barney loves accepting challenges). He’s just recycling old material that probably shouldn’t work anymore, except that it appears that MacLaren’s has gotten a newer, younger set of singles in the time since Barney was last on the market, and so none of these women appear to be savvy to his tricks. And so Barney turns to the Eriksens for his latest scheme, which should shore up the number of hot, single women for Bangtoberfest…
Nannies. All day, every day. Barney is actually shocked at what a good idea it is after he steals the prospective new nanny for Marshall and Lily right out from under their noses with a sympathetic story about his role as a single father who’s as rich as he is virulent. The seduction works, and Marshall and Lily must continue their search.
Yes, Marshall and Lily actually have an episode where the majority of the 22 minutes is focused on them. It’s felt as though the Eriksens have been pushed to the side as of late, perhaps due to the rumors of Jason Segel wanting out after this season. Whether that’s the truth or not, I found myself surprised at how much I missed them as a central presence, Marshall in particular. Their opening routine in the episode, in which Lily hands baby Marvin over to Marshall, having “run out the clock” on her turn with the baby in order to avoid changing his dirty diaper, is well-timed on both sides of the performance. It’s hardly Abbott and Costello, but Alyson Hannigan and Jason Segel have an effortless chemistry as husband and wife, and it’s heartening to see them front-and-center, even if I don’t imagine I’d want them front-and-center every week. necessarily.
Marshall and Lily are now defined, as characters, by their development as parents. And so the episode follows Lily’s return to work after her maternity leave, which necessitates that she and Marshall find baby Marvin a nanny. As they cycle through potential candidates, even having to dismiss the utterly delightful British nanny, Mrs. Buckminster, whom they can’t afford. While searching for qualified applicants, Lily’s father, Mickey Aldrin (Chris Elliott), has moved in after accidentally burning down his own house. Mickey has always been a divisive character among the fanbase, too eccentric for some, outright annoying for others, while some actually think he’s one of the show’s sweetest recurring characters. With “Nannies,” Mickey falls more on the “sweet” side, as the climax of the episode sees Lily unable to hand baby Marvin over to Mrs. Buckminster (whose salary Barney has offered to pay), leading to Mickey stepping up to offer his services as nanny, revealing the photo album he saved from the fire which documents his brief time as a stay-at-home dad when Lily was an infant. Lily mentioned her residual daddy issues last week, and though it’s hard for a person to ever completely get over certain issues regarding their parents, it’s a sweet cap-off to a storyline that features a relationship, in Lily and Mickey, that has produced some of the show’s most genuinely touching moments over the last few seasons (for instance, Mickey’s unbridled joy upon learning he’s going to be a grandfather. That moment, coupled with the increasingly absurd board games he’s responsible for creating, justify the character’s presence, for me). A photo montage, as the episode closes, documents Mickey’s continued presence in little Marvin’s life, right up to the first day of pre-school, where Mickey and Lily are there to see him off. This was easily the strongest narrative thread of the episode.
The weakest, naturally, was Ted (Josh Radnor) and Robin’s (Cobie Smulders) silly argument over whose relationship was more serious. Nick (Michael Trucco) is revealed to be far more emotional than he initially appeared, complaining about the results of a football and then freaking out when Robin tries to make things better with kind words, claiming that he doesn’t want Robin to try to “fix” it, he just wants to feel like she’s listening to him. Meanwhile, Victoria (Ashley Williams) has proven to be a bit of a slob, and anal-retentive Ted is driven up the wall. This plays on last week’s bit about each person having things about their partner that they don’t like, but it’s not a particularly salient observation after last week covered that ground so thoroughly, and it suffers from just not being all that funny.
Of course, the majority of the comedy comes from Barney’s end, from his “nanny seduction” montage to his eye-rolling pickup lines. He also gets to do some physical comedy when he’s backed into a corner by the nannies, forming a circle around him with the intent on beating him into a fine paste. There’s just something about the way Neil Patrick Harris’s body communicates cowardice that will never get old for me. It’s rare when the show does physical comedy, and even when it does, it’s remarkably subtle, as it is here (seriously, it’s hard to imagine many comedy aficionados, if they exist, would even count this as physical comedy). Barney’s plot also has the funniest bit of the episode as he ends up having a tryst with Mrs. Buckminster, a tag that plays over the credits.
“Nannies” isn’t going to be an episode many people remember a few weeks from now, and it doesn’t really advance any of the season’s main arcs, except for Future Ted reminding us that both his and Robin’s relationships would implode within the month. That said, it’s still a solid half hour, and it generates some good laughs (I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the excellent bit where Mickey swaps baby Marvin out of a sleeping Lily’s arms and replaces him with a sandwich…then gets hungry and replaces the sandwich with a stuffed monkey), so by that measure, the episode is more than enough for a passing grade.