How I Met Your Mother follows up last week’s Marshall/Lily-centric episode with another half hour that focuses on the decisions of parenthood facing the Eriksens. “Who Wants To Be A Godparent” is an episode that best represents the show firing on all cylinders. It takes great pains to address the widening gulf between Marshall (Jason Segel) and Lily (Alyson Hannigan) on one end, and the rest of the gang on the other. We know how parenthood affects the characters on this show and is a recurring theme throughout their lives, from Ted’s (Josh Radnor) desire to have kids to Robin’s (Cobie Smulders) inability to have children of her own, while Barney (Neil Patrick Harris) has a long history of daddy issues that make fatherhood an introspective proposition. So while it’s not that surprising that the gang would compete with such fervor to become the godparents of baby Marvin (the gang is just naturally competitive), it probably should case Ted, Barney, and Robin to consider the implications of parenthood a lot more poignantly than they do. But while that should matter when placed in the context of these characters’ pasts, it ultimately isn’t a big deal when you consider how spot-on the episode is with its comedy.
Marshall and Lily’s days of closing down MacLaren’s are long done, and while they try to make appearances (the episode opens on their first night out in five months), the Eriksens are too worn-down by the business of parenthood. They’ve instated a rule that none of their friends can come to them with a problem unless it’s an 8 or higher. This leads to an amusing sequence where Ted, Barney, and Robin each assess the nature of their own personal lives to determine if it’s fit for discussion. Victoria (Ashley Williams) tells Ted that her father thinks that since he’s the cause of her wedding with Klaus falling through, that he should be the one to reimburse him all the money wasted on the ceremony. Robin, meanwhile, reflects on how Nick (Michael Trucco) isn’t nearly as bad boy cool as she thought he was. And Barney reflects on how his one night stand from the night before was hardly an 8, more like a 6. It’s a great bit, and establishes that the dynamic within the group has changed in Marshall and Lily’s absence. However, the sequence also sets us up for the main thrust of the episode: Marshall and Lily are making preparations in the unfortunate event of their death, and must decide whom they wish to become little Marvin’s legal guardians if that should happen. Cue Marshall’s latent theatricality: it’s time to play “Who Wants To Be A Godparent?”!
The game itself embraces the joke-a-minute style that’s been lost in How I Met Your Mother’s increased focus on serialized storytelling. It would be one thing if it had simply been Marshall in a ludicrous blue-and-purple suit with Lily in shimmering gold, or if they’d only gone to the trouble of making a huge, elaborate game wheel. But the level of detail, from the questions themselves, to how fully Marshall commits to the game show concept (throwing to a commercial break in a moment that nearly breaks the fourth wall), makes this the funniest sequence on HIMYM in some time. More than that, the game also provides valuable insight into each character’s frame of mind, as we flash to each of the characters parenting their “Marvin” when they give their answers.
Robin answers her questions by placing each situation in the context of what her distant, emotionally abusive father would do, while Barney adopts a cavalier attitude in his parenting methods, teaching “Marvin” not to confront any of his emotions in an honest way, instead burying his feelings underneath the same “Bro” veneer that Barney wears time and time again. This leaves Ted, whose answers, while not insightful, are very honest to the character as we know him. His answer to the question of how best to break news to Marvin (whether it’s about the death of his parents or a discussion about the birds and the bees) is filtered through a hand puppet named Professor Infosaurus. Ted has always been pretty corny in his sensibilities, and Professor Infosaurus got some of the biggest laughs of the episode from me, between the absurdity of a rapping dinosaur explaining sex to a ten year-old, and the basic truth behind the most simplest of observations: Ted is lame, and a flashforward to Future Ted breaking out Professor Infosaurus for his kids is evidence enough. But this is just who Ted is, and he wouldn’t be Ted Mosby if he wasn’t at least a little lame.
There are some great lines in the game portion, from Robin appealing to Marshall’s vanity by comparing his privates to a cucumber, to Barney’s sports-related burn on Ted (“Neither you nor Cleveland knows how to get over someone leaving them.”). But it’s mostly window-dressing for the larger issues underneath it all. The game breaks down, and Barney, Robin, and Ted demand that Marshall and Lily choose. With no answer forthcoming, the situation escalates to the point where Ted and the others accuse Marshall and Lily of essentially abandoning them, hardly making so much as an effort to come out anymore. It’s a little bit childish on Ted’s part, but it’s completely within the realm of his character, as he has a very child-like (if not teenage) sensibility where his friends are concerned. I’d argue that this makeshift family means the most to Ted out of all the principle characters in the show, and though HIMYM has long since stopped being Ted’s story, he’s still the mechanism through which the story progresses, as he’s essentially the one telling it to us. In this sense, it’s easy to see why Ted is so wounded, and it’s even easier to see how Marshall and Lily are right in their defensiveness, with Marshall arguing that when you have a baby, it “isn’t the most important thing, it’s the only important thing.” Until the rest of the group experiences parenthood, they can’t know what it’s like, or understand the necessary level of sacrifice to where they’d understand how getting drunk at MacLaren’s doesn’t rate that high on the scale of importance in comparison. Yet Ted isn’t necessarily wrong either. It doesn’t seem as though Marshall or Lily are trying to maintain the semblance of friendship or involvement in each others’ lives anymore, and Lily herself comes to realize that she has no idea what’s going on in any of her best friends’ lives because she’s been too absorbed in Marvin to care.
And so Marshall and Lily presumably leave Marvin with Lily’s dad, while they meet with the gang and announce that they’re waving the “8 or higher” rule. They want to know everything that’s going on in their friends’ lives. Future Ted narrates that this is the first time they closed down MacLaren’s together in a long time…and the sharp cries of baby Marvin have them paying for it in the morning. But the ending is more poignant than simply a handful of friendships resolved. We see Lily and Marshall signing the names of the godparents they’ve chosen, with Lily stating how she’s glad they decided to keep it in the family: reveal the names of Ted, Robin, and Barney as co-guardians. Sure, it’s cheesy (and a little implausible. Who would get custody?), but it works, because HIMYM has had eight seasons to tell this story, to build this cast, and to make us care.