So the way I like to imagine this episode coming about is that Carter Bays and Craig Thomas were sitting around their Doritos and beef jerky-strewn writers’ room conference table and one of them said, “Hey, remember that diner scene in Looper where old Joe met young Joe? Wasn’t that awesome? How could we do something like that, but totally fuck it up?” And the answer to that question became “The Time Travelers” -- a bottle episode with a fake time travel twist. The upside of the characters never leaving the confines of MacLaren’s is that it makes the events of episode that much easier to recap. The downside is that the characters and the writing were really going to have to drive the proceedings and neither has been particular good of late. The obvious solution would have been to hire Rian Johnson to ghostwrite the episode; he could have scripted a scenario wherein Bob Saget popped into the present day and insulted Josh Radnor for twenty solid minutes or, alternately, told an episode-long “Aristocats” joke, both of which would have been a lot more entertaining than what we wound up getting.
Anyway, we open on an April evening in the year 2013 (mark that date -- it’ll be semi-important later) and Ted is manning the gang’s favorite booth at MacLaren’s nursing a beer, while Bob Saget’s Future Ted voice informs us both how near and far away he was from the unlucky woman who will eventually become the mother of his children. Barney enters wielding two tickets for that night’s edition of “Robots Versus Wrestlers,” the self-explanatory event introduced way back in Season 5. Ted begs off, but Barney persists, insisting that they need to attend and enlists the help of an expert to persuade his reluctant pal: 20 Years From Now Barney (hereafter referred to as 20YFNB) who looks exactly like Present Day Barney (PDB) except he’s clad in some kind of full-body leather outfit, suggesting that the future will look an awful lot like the leather bar scene from William Friedkin’s Cruising. Present Day Ted (PDT) predictably reacts with bewildered confusion (his default setting) and gets even more flummoxed by the post-theme song appearance of 20 Years From Now Ted (20YFNT). Both 20YFNB and 20YFNT tag team to chip away at PDT’s less-than-ironclad resolve to skip RvW (is this an episode of television or alphabet soup?), with 20YFNT taking the time to prank PDT by pretending he’s still not married. Nice to see that you’ll still be an asshole 20 years from now, dude.
Just as PDT is on the verge of total capitulation, these oh-so-wacky time travel shenanigans enter another dimension with the sudden arrival of 20 Hours From Now Ted (20HFNT), who shows up nursing a giant cup of coffee and a wicked hangover. 20HFNT informs the increasingly crowded table that, while RvW is initially awesome, it results in an alcohol-induced headache, a sprained wrist and second hand smoke-induced cough. (Hurling is also involved, as is some kind of sexual assault on a female robot, which sounds like the worst crime to be perpetrated against robot-kind since A.I. Artificial Intelligence.) More bickering ensues, followed by the arrival of yet another time traveler, 20 Minutes From Now Barney (20MFNB), who advises that Ted remain seated for… well, 20 minutes so that he’ll be there to witness the return of Coat Check Girl, who last appeared on the series back in the glory days of Season 1 and who is also played by Jayma Mays, currently of Glee notoriety.
But don’t worry, Gleeks! Despite what 20MFNB seems to be implying, she’s not ditching Will Schuester to become PDT’s main squeeze. PDT does consider making a move on her, but before he can awkwardly chat her up, he’s waylaid by two versions of 20 Months From Now Coat Check Girl (20MFNCCGx2), who convince PDT that like all of his past relationships, this one is also doomed to bitter failure. (One of them even pulls the fake pregnancy trick on PDT, which you’d think she’d stay away from having been on the receiving end of that via Terri Schuester.) So he slinks back to his table, where PDB informs him that all of the non-events that have happened tonight haven’t actually happened; they were all a figment of PDT’s strange, sad imagination and, in fact, he’s just been sitting at MacLaren’s alone this whole time staring at a lone ticket to RvW. He exists the bar and wanders out onto the street, whereupon the episode takes yet another leap into fantasyland, having Ted run uptown to the apartment inhabited by the still-unseen mother, whose arrival -- we’re informed -- is now a mere 45 days away. Remember, that’s in show time, though; the way this series drags things out, it’ll be closer to 400, give or take another surprise renewal. Ted proceeds to launch into a goopy speech that sounds like a bastardization of Emily’s lovely final monologue from Our Town (seriously, did anyone else feel that sounded more like a eulogy than a declaration of everlasting love?) and it’s a good thing we don’t see the Mother’s face in this moment, because her expression would likely be one of shock mingled with horror at the unwelcome knowledge that she’d be spending the rest of her life with this maroon. Imaginary Present Day Ted (IPDT) is then punched out by 45 Days Earlier Mother’s (45DEM) current boyfriend, which sadly won’t be part of the show’s actual continuity.
I suppose I should mention that Lily, Marshall and Robin were also in this episode, acting out a five-year old drama that involved Robin claiming authorship of a drink that Marshall invented -- the Minnesota Tidal Wave, known around MacLaren’s as The Robin Scherbatsky. (The writers performed a valuable public service by giving us all a peek at the ingredients list -- Coconut Rum, Peach Schnapps, Vanilla Vodka, Strawberry Crème Liqueur, Cranberry Juice, Sugar, Maraschino Cherries -- allowing viewers at home to get wasted on their own Robin Scherbatsky’s, thus making these late-period episodes a heck of a lot easier to sit through.) All you need to know about this storyline is that it culminated in Marshall hiding out in a stall in the ladies restroom, because Jason Segel really hasn’t been humiliated enough by this point in the show’s run.
You know, there is one thing that “The Time Travelers” has that Looper didn’t and that’s the sight of three Neil Patrick Harris’ (and, to a lesser extent, three Josh Radnor’s) singing Billy Joel’s “The Longest Time” right before the credits. Nice way to go out on the proverbial high note, fellas. As for the rest of it… well, Rian, you’ve got nothing to worry about. 20 episodes down, 4 more to go... for this season.