Lily loves her birthday, and Marshall loves planning birthday celebrations, so they're a match made possibly in Heaven and definitely in Hollywood. This year, for Lily's 32nd, Marshall has planned a black tie celebration for our fab five -- in the privacy and comfort of DOWISETREPLA. Call me old. Call me Princess Sweatpants. Call me a Glamour-Don't, but lose my number if you want me to doll myself up to black tie standards in order to go to my friend's (formerly) slanty-floored walk-up for a party with her, her husband, and my other two BFFs. WTF?
As soon as the party starts, Lily opens her gift from Marshall -- a new camera. Now understand, Lily has lovingly compiled gorgeous albums full of the gang's memorable moments -- and is not afraid to ruin said memorable moments in order to get a great shot. Barney and Robin groan at her new present, but Lily's excitement at the prospect of celebrating her birthday with only her four best friends is infectious. And then...Ted arrives. But does he bring with him the promised cognac-pumpkin cheesecake? Oh no, instead, he brings Amanda (Brooke Nevin), his latest stepping stone on his way to the mother.
Amanda is a chef (whom Ted met at her restaurant, when he sent back his soup -- after finding a hair in it) and he's brought her to prepare Lily's birthday cake. Ted's friends (particularly Lily and Marshall), are less than thrilled that a complete stranger has come to their intimate gathering. In fact, they're downright rude. But of course, bringing a total stranger to an intimate gathering -- with no prior notice -- is also less than polite.
Amanda is lost playing the Lily-centric games Marshall has created (Lily-al Pursuit and Gilding the Lily), so she retreats to the kitchen to finish the cake. As soon as she's out of sight, Lily hustles to get her real friends into an Amanda-less group picture. When Ted realizes Lily is purposefully excluding Amanda, he is offended, so Lily breaks out her photo album to prove to Ted he doesn't even remember many of the She-Could-Be-The-One girls he's dragged to their friends-only shindigs over the years. Later, when Amanda presents Lily's cake and it reads "Happy 42nd Birthday Lori," Marshall blows his stack and kicks Amanda out of the apartment. Ted goes after her, leaving me alone in my hopes that Amanda shed lots of hair into her masterpiece.
When Ted gets back to DOWISETREPLA without his girl, the gang performs the Ritual Airing of Grievances and Photographic Documentation Review. When they come across the first picture college-era Ted, Marshall and Lily ever took together, we're treated to a flashback of how it happened. Just as a guy is about to take Ted and Marshall's first official roomie shot, Lily wanders into their dorm room, and Ted invites her to be in the photo. Marshall whispers his concerns. "What are you doing, Ted? What if we break up?" Ted replies, "What if you don't?" Awwwww. Back in the present, Lily, clearly moved, insists upon getting Amanda back to the party. The poor sucker returns, they pose for their picture, and live happily ever after... at least until Ted meets his new skank, because, apparently, that's what we're now calling all the young women who deign to date T-Mos.
The B-plot revolves around Marshall's inability to take a good picture, Barney's inability to take a bad one, and Robin's inability to accept the latter. It's neatly wrapped up in the end-tag, so I'll save that for the full weecap, on Wednesday morning.
Why It Gets an A-: I expected to hate this episode. At first, the premise bugged. Ted's faux pas and bad habits aside, Lily and Marshall's reaction to Amanda seems over the top -- nearly irredeemable. But then, that old HIMYM magic kicks in. The premise is subverted, and all the obnoxious behavior fades into the background (which reminds me, Barney is a flavor this week, not the only ingredient -- hurrah). This is my show. These are my people. This is why I watch. We all have inexcusable moments with our friends, but our best friends excuse even those. There are callbacks, and perspective plays aplenty. Also, the lovely and talented Laura Prepon reprises her role as Karen, Duchess of Douchay. And best of all, in flashback, we get an adorable (yet truthful) look at Barney and Robin, pre-breakup.
I'll hit the end tag and all the details in the weecap, so check back tomorrow. In the meantime, come on over to the forums, where you can have your skanks and eat cake too.
On the night before her birthday, Lily sets her alarm for midnight and when it sounds, she springs up in bed, flings her arms wide open and chirps, "It's my birthdaaaaaaaaay!" Marshall leans over the side of the bed grabs a sparkly birthday tiara, places it on her head, kisses her shoulder, and pulls her back down in his arms and dreamland. And at 9:00 AM, when Lily's alarm sounds again, she springs up in bed, again (tiara still firmly in place). "IT'S STILL MY BIRTHDAY!"
Marshall, who loves planning birthdays as much as Lily loves celebrating them, delivers her breakfast in bed, and although it seems to be a belgian waffle topped with strawberries, he says, "The theme of today's birthday breakfast in bed is Spanish Interlude." Lily: "YAY!" Marshall leads a tocaor into the bedroom, who plays his guitar (Lily: "YAY!") as Marshall pulls open the drapes to reveal the picturesque posters of Spain that he's taped up over the windows. Lily: "YAY!"
Marshall tells Lily about his plans for her 32nd birthday party that night. "Just the five of us, black tie dinner, and Ted is picking up your favorite cognac pumpkin cheese cake from Edgar's. ME: Black tie to hang out at your place and eat cheesecake? LILY: "YAY!" Marshall announces that he's off to run a super-secret birthday errand. LILY: "YAY!" He looks at the tocaor who is considering Lily with bedroom eyes, waits a beat, and then: "And I'm taking this guy with me, because I don't like the way he's looking at you." Lily nods as if to say that's a great observation and excellent idea and then lets out a much more subdued, "Yay." A word about the tocaor, before I move on. Don't you think he looked a lot like a younger, smaller version of Josh Radnor, with just a wee bit of Zach Braff and some young Rob Morrow thrown in the mix?
Nighttime; DOWISETREPLA: Lily opens her gift from Marshall -- a new camera. He tells her that as a bonus, he took some nude shots of himself, "Before I wrapped it -- put a bow on it." Lily says there wasn't a bow on it. Marshall: "Wrong it." Predictable, yet saucy. When Lily says she can't wait to get some great shots of the gang, Barney and Robin groan. Now understand, Lily has lovingly compiled gorgeous albums full of the gang's memorable moments -- but she is so not afraid to ruin said memorable moments, in order to get a great shot.
We cut to a photo of the day Robin became a U.S. citizen and then flash back to the moment the group shot was taken. As Lily sets up her camera, Robin and Barney (who were still together then) get all snuggly-wuggly on the couch. When Lily asks Marshall to sit between them, Robin wants to know why. Lily bluffs. "Uh you know, light, color, balance, aperture." Robin says, "You're just saying camera words.... Wait, you don't want Barney and me to look like a couple in this picture, do you?" Lily drops the pretense. "Of course I don't. You two aren't going to last! I'm going for timeless here." Barney: "How dare you?" Robin: "That's so rude." Barney: "It's true..." Robin: "It's totally true; we're running on fumes here, but still rude." Lily sits down on the arm of the couch and the timer goes off. Snap. Picture! Marshall, I see, went to the Cindy School of Modeling. You can tell by his telltale shut eyes. Sigh.
Saget!Ted notes they all hated Lily's group shots as we flash forward to the present. Lily allows that she gets a little bossy, but she just wants to remember special times. "Like tonight -- I can't imagine a better birthday than being here with just my four best friends. YAY!" I'm am so not one of those birthday people about my own birthday, but her enthusiasm is endearing and infectious.
Then...Ted arrives. But the cheesecake he brings with him is not the promised cognac-pumpkin. It's Amanda (Brooke Nevin), Ted's latest stepping stone on his way to the mother.
Marshall fakes up his best welcome for Amanda, even as he chides Ted for not bringing the cheesecake and for bringing a stranger into his home. And he does this right in front of Amanda! The vibe goes right over Ted's head, but I think Amanda is just too polite to let them see that she's feeling it. Ted explains that Amanda is a chef. They met when Ted sent back some soup. "Luckily, she's got such pretty hair I didn't mind eating a little of it." Gag. Amanda blushes. "They call me The Shedder at work." Ew. Lily manages to choke out that she's go glad Amanda will be making her cake.
Amanda, who doesn't know Robin from Lily, is totally lost playing the Lily-centric games Marshall has created (Lily-al Pursuit [Lily trivia] and Gilding the Lily [Lily tributes]). Why they didn't just let Amanda team with Ted makes no sense to me, but no biggie. Eventually she excuses herself and returns to the kitchen to continue working on Lily's cake. Who makes a cake at the birthday party, you ask? TV people do. It's just like cutting down and then decorating the tree on Christmas Eve, or starting a 22lb turkey Thanksgiving afternoon.
As soon as she's out of sight, Lily hustles to get her real friends into an Amanda-less group picture. When Ted realizes Lily is purposefully excluding Amanda, he asks her about it. She tries to bluff with more camera words, but finally says, "I'm not going to let another one of your dumb skanks ruin my precious memories." She shoves him into the photo pose, the camera clicks and everyone looks horrible. Except Barney. Commercial.