So apparently somebody in the How I Met Your Mother writers room has been watching Noises Off recently. The show got its farce on in last night’s episode, “The Burning Beekeeper,” which sounds exactly like the title for a Broadway comedy of errors. (We can see the marquee now: “The Burning Beekeeper,” starring Tom Hardy, Daniel Radcliffe, Maggie Gyllenhaal and Patton Oswalt. Can someone mount that show, please?) The writers certainly made sure to assemble all the elements for a proper farce -- among them a literal ticking clock (well, okay, a digital timer), a contained set (three rooms) and lots of swinging doors -- but lacked one crucial ingredient: humor. The actors hit their marks like pros and the proceedings zipped along as the theater gods intended farce to play, but for all the energy on display there weren’t a lot of… well, laughs. At least the episode did live up to one crucial rule of the theat-ah: if you introduce ten thousand bees in Act 1, they had better show up in a swarm in Act 3.
The stage was set for the farcical antics to follow in the episode’s opening two scenes. Before the credits, Lily and Marshall were informing Lily’s dad Mickey about their impending housewarming party, which is when Mickey let slip that not-insubstantial detail about the ten thousand bees in the basement of their new home. Other elements established here that would come into play later included: 1) Marshall’s been working long hours at his new environmental law firm; 2) Lily ordered a wheel of gouda cheese of the Internet; 3) This party is very important to Lily; and 4) Once again, there are ten thousand of bees in the basement. Post-credits, Ted and Robin walk through the three rooms (the living room, the dining room and the kitchen) in which the majority of the action will subsequently unfold. They also provide the time frame that all the organized chaos will happen within -- the five minutes its takes to heat a Zabar’s-bought Kugel in the oven. With the set-up out of the way, here’s how things played out on a room-by-room basis.
The Living Room: [Quick note: The use of “Flight of the Bumblebee” as scene-setting music was a nice touch.] Just as Marshall is praising Lily for “pulling off the party of the year,” trouble arises when her hubby learns from his boss, Mr. Cootes (is it my imagination or is Martin Short looking more and more like Sesame Street’s Bob McGrath as he ages?) that they’ll both be heading back to the office in 45 minutes as Mother Earth is apparently one very demanding mistress. Mr. Cootes exits stage left in pursuit of some vegan spring rolls just as Mickey slinks up to remind the two about the ten thousand bees in the basement, which at least are keeping the mice at bay. Ted strides in next and is promptly confronted by Mr. Cootes, furious that the guy has supposedly consumed all of the vegan spring rolls he was so looking forward to. Ted suddenly becomes super-aggressive for reasons that will become clear later and comes thisclose to a fisticuffs-and-kicking match with Marshall’s boss that’s only averted when Lily informs him about the hummus and veggies available for consumption. Now Barney swans in, grabbing every glass of wine in sight. Why is he so out of sorts? Because he loves his penis, or at least that’s the only explanation Robin is able to get out of him. The gouda makes its entrance next, but before Robin can cut herself a slice, Lily throws it on the floor and stomps it to smithereens, thus negating the ten-second rule. She insists that the party is ruined, an impression that Robin tries to counter until a man in a flaming beekeeper outfit runs through the living room screaming. Yeah, that pretty much automatically ruins a party.
Back from commercials, we’ve moved on into The Dining Room and five minutes are back on the clock. Barney is munching on those vegan spring rolls and chatting up Lily and Marshall’s single neighbor with the cat fetish and the big bazooms. Barney, who has adopted his Agent Gary Powers disguise, proposes going back to her place, but she’s not interesting in waiting that long since he’s got to intercept those asteroids. She gives him two minutes to get upstairs guest bedroom instead. Up comes Mr. Cootes looking for the spring rolls and Barney puts the blame on Ted for gulping them down. Marshall decides that he needs to talk to his boss about their after-party work plans, but needs to be warmed up in anticipation of the screaming match that will likely follow. So he turns to Robin, the woman who will happily “scream at strangers on the street at the slightest provocation.” Robin insists that there’s lots of stuff that she doesn’t get mad about, seizing on Lily and Marshall’s decision to serve pigs in a blanket without hot mustard as a random example. Of course, she winds up yelling about that, thus confirming Marshall’s beliefs that she’d be an excellent screaming match coach. Mickey finds Lily and informs her that the bees have escaped their enclosure and that they’re all in big trouble. He also mentions that he doused his suit with kerosene because that’s what all the professional beekeepers do. (Did he read an article in Beekeeper’s Monthly or something?) Mickey departs and comes back in sans suit, which means he’s not the guy that runs through in the flaming beekeeper’s ensemble. No, that guy runs through the room next, thus ending the five minute scenario and sending us to commercial.
We’re back and this time the action unfolds in The Kitchen, starting with Ted and Robin continuing their argument -- which began at Zabar’s -- about whether Robin is too mean or if Ted is too much of a wimp. We’ll agree on both counts. Mickey walks in after a confrontation-averse Ted flees, followed soon after by Barney who drops that pearl of (entirely made-up) wisdom about bees hating the smell of kerosene. Lily comes in next to warn Barney that the woman he’s about to sleep with in two minutes removed a piece of her last one night stand’s anatomy with a cheese knife. So that’s why Barney won’t stop talking about his penis. Horrified at the thought of Barney and her neighbor christening the guest bedroom, Lily knocks her prize gouda on the floor and then sees a pair of mice -- who have fled to basement to get away from those bees -- nibbling away. Ah-ha, all the pieces are fitting into place now! Marshall then summons Mr. Cootes to the kitchen and informs him he’s not going back to work. Cootes gets on his case about his work ethic and Marshall ends up quitting. In the aftermath of losing such a stalwart employee, Cootes starts to wonder if maybe he does need to spend time doing something besides work. Mickey has just the thing for him: beekeeping! He hands him his kerosene-soaked suit, which bursts into flame when the timer goes off and Cootes takes the Kugel out of the oven. He flees through the dining room, through the living room and out the front door directly into a pile of snow. (Incidentally, this can’t be set in the winter of 2012 as the tri-state area has barely had any snow this season, certainly not enough to act as a fire deterrent.)
And with the farcical framing device over at last, we arrive at our denouement. Being on fire makes Cootes realizes that he really does need to lighten up and live a little and grants Marshall the night (and the rest of the weekend) off. Meanwhile, Robin and Ted both agree that their respective personalities are A-OK and the ten thousand bees that were previously in the basement have now spread to the entire house. And that kids, is the story of why Lily and Marshall never threw another dinner party ever again. Exeunt omnes. Be sure to take your Playbills with you when you leave.