Recap and review of How I Met Your Mother – Season 8 Episode 7 – The Stamp Tramp
While we don’t get much advancement on the Barney (Neil Patrick Harris) and Robin (Cobie Smulders) romance until the last thirty seconds of “The Stamp Tramp”, and the latest How I Met Your Mother is better off for it, in some respects. The Barney/Robin pairing has always been divisive amongst the show’s fanbase. Many either love it or hate it, with hardly any room for middle ground. I don’t really know why this is, other than that some fans feel the relationship takes two awesome, individual characters, and makes them sappy and lame by pairing them together. I don’t agree that Barney and Robin are weaker characters for the pairing, but I can see how some people would be turned off by the off/on romance drama, as the pairing is very inert, in a way. That is to say that the show keeps inventing reasons for them not to be together, while simultaneously continuing to make it implausible for them to ever really be with anyone else (last season was especially egregious, in that regard). Robin will have her Nicks, and Barney will have his Quinns, for sure, but it all feels like a placeholder, in much the same way any Ted relationship suffers for not being The Mother. There’s a stink of inevitability about the relationship’s failure because we know that’s not his endgame, and that’s how it is with Robin and Barney, who spin their wheels because the show doesn’t seem to know how to let them just be together, and so the courtship drags on interminably, which can get really frustrating, if not downright annoying. This is why the episode is better served by letting the romantic component of the Barney/Robin relationship take a back seat, at least until those final twenty seconds or so, as we really need a break from all the melodrama. Ostensibly, this show is a comedy, after all.
Much of “The Stamp Tramp” details how Marshall (Jason Segel) is too free with his “stamp of approval”, which causes friends and colleagues alike to question his judgment when his recommendations pan out disastrously. Case in point, old law school friend Brad Morris (Joe Manganiello), who Marshall recommends for a job at the firm when he happens upon a destitute Brad roaming the streets. The storyline definitely works, mostly in how it draws the ensemble together and veers out into several branching paths: as Marshall tries to prove that his “stamp of approval” has merit, Ted (Josh Radnor) tries to prove to Lily (Alyson Hannigan), whose “stamp of approval” is bulletproof, that he’s not a “piggyback stamper” (i.e., a person who gives his “stamp of approval” to something only after someone else has already recommended it). This leads to an amusing series of vignettes in which Ted goes through his old college video diaries (an idea he got from Winona Ryder in Reality Bites) to look for proof that he gave his “stamp of approval” to 90s alt-rock band Dishwalla before anyone else. This absolutely worked for me, if only because I don’t think I’ll ever tire of College Ted, whose ridiculous, noodly hairdo and self-important, wannabe attitude can always be mined for comic gold. There’s something about the arc that Ted has never had an original idea that just rings true, and the fact that it rings as true as it does is hilarious, to me. I love Ted for all his fuddy-duddy characteristics, even if he can be a bit of a tool sometimes, such as when he swipes the idea from his college roommates of hosting his own pirate radio show under the name “Dr. X”.
Ted-as-tool works mostly because while Ted may be a tool, he’s our tool, which is a characterization that pays off when Ted ultimately shows real heart. Ted is a character of considerable warmth and comfortable familiarity, more often than not, which is why his emotional arc resonates at the end, as we learn through the videos that Ted’s stamp of approval actually has worth after all, when we see that he gave his stamp of approval to Lily when Marshall was uncertain about their relationship in college. It’s a sweet cap-off to the storyline, with Lily thanking Ted for the life she enjoys today, before the video adds a comedic sting when College Ted goes on to suggest that Marshall should maybe take a month off and sleep around before committing fully. Yet while things work out for Ted and Lily, Marshall ends up blowing it with his boss when Brad continually proves himself to be a guileless, uncouth jerk. Worse, it’s revealed that Brad is a sleeper agent for a rival firm, and used the job interview to gain access to the firm to do reconnaissance on their rivals. His credibility now shot, Marshall turns to Ted and Lily for help on rebuilding his “stamp of approval”. Again, these storylines work because they’re woven together throughout the episode and feel like natural extensions of one another. They’re also funny, well beyond simply being amusing, particularly the visual effect of Marshall and Lily’s separate stamps of approval, and Marshall eventually having a conversation with his “stamp” self. These are the kinds of stories How I Met Your Mother used to tell all the time, and also the kinds they should be telling more often, blending two disparate narratives together to form a solid whole.
The plot with Barney and Robin is also strong, since it relies on their effortless comedic chemistry, as opposed to their occasionally-shaky romantic chemistry. Ever since splitting up with Quinn, Barney hasn’t been able to go back to his old strip club haunt since Quinn has started dancing there again. And so begins an NBA-esque bidding war from local strip clubs to draft Barney to their client roster, with Robin as his high-powered agent. The strip club names (Moneyballs, Golden Oldies) get progressively more ridiculous, and Robin gets deeper into the “sports agent” role, culminating in Barney’s decision from his “bro-dium”, in an announcement that mimics a sports press conference/draft, after he relieves Robin of her duties for accepting bribes. It’s great stuff, although it gets somewhat derailed by the ham-fisted way they tack the romance subplot onto the conclusion.
Barney and Robin are walking home from a bro-like night out at the strip clubs. They’re both hammered, and when Robin gushes about how much fun she had, Barney adds that, personally, he always has fun with her. And then, like that, Barney swoops in for the kiss. Robin relents for a few brief moments before pulling away, stating that they can’t do this. And that’s that. It’s a kiss, which is more meaningful contact than they’ve had in at least a season, but it doesn’t really feel like plot movement. It merely feels like another wrinkle in the story, a needless complication between two people who could have this entire thing sorted out if they’d just sit down and talk for five minutes. Of course, if they did that, we wouldn’t have a compelling storyline to follow. But dragging a story out further is hardly a worthwhile alternative. Let’s hope that, if Barney and Robin are each other’s endgame, this is the beginning of the ball being rolled in that direction. However, with all that said, it bears noting that “The Stamp Tramp” is one of the funnier episodes of this season, telling stories in which the comedy is rooted in character, beyond simply the characters’ situations. How I Met Your Mother would be well-served in continuing with this approach as the season progresses.