The fifth season of How I Met Your Mother finally provides our first tantalizing glimpse of the "Mother" herself, albeit in the form of a hastily departing ankle. Rachel Bilson appears in the recurring guest role of Cindy, the mother's roommate. Other guest stars include Alan Thicke, Chris Elliott, Joanna Garcia, Stacy Kiebler, Amanda Peet, Carrie Underwood, Jennifer Lopez, and a very familiar house. Yes, while we haven't yet met the mother, we do meet the house Ted's long-suffering kids have been sitting in for five years now listening to their father go on and on about everything in his life except how he met their mother. This is the season of Barney and Robin's ill-fated relationship, which has as many ups as it does downs. But for the progression in the main storyline and some genuinely clever HIMYM moments, including the musical number "Nothing Suits Me Like a Suit," it's definitely worth a spin in the old DVD player.
While the relationship between Barney and Robin is interesting, it cripples one of the greatest characters ever in television: Barney Stinson. I think that's why when they finally end that relationship, they have the instant classic "The Playbook," where Barney pulls out all the stops in possibly the most elaborate con to score with a woman ever conceived. In the same episode, Robin meets her new morning show co-host, Don. He will become a nemesis, lover, and possibly more in the future.
Long-term fans of the series can look forward to the fourth slap of the five Barney agreed to several years ago as part of a Slap Bet. We also see the Lily doppelganger by season's end -- and she is one hot mama -- meaning there is only the Barney double to go. In one episode, smoking is addressed, and it adds a whole new potential layer to the series in that it shows us that future-Ted is likely embellishing the tale for his kids...and I don't just mean by making it drag out quite literally for years. He's glossed over something like the smoking habits of the gang, and it makes me wonder what else might have been slightly edited during the telling. It also gives the producers and writers a brilliant out for any continuity errors that crop up. Future-Ted screwed up. Not us.
As with most seasons, the strength of How I Met Your Mother rests in the cleverness of many of its standalone episodes, such as the aforementioned "Playbook" episode. This year, we get several classics, though mostly clustered in the back half of the season. Things start out front-loaded with the Barney-Robin relationship, which inadvertently changes the dynamic of the entire show. "The Window" features Joanna Garcia as a girl-next-door who has a small window of opportunity to date as she's virtually never single, and Ted is vying with several other bachelors to seal the deal.
In one episode Barney goes for a "Perfect Week," defined as seven different girls in seven nights. Carrie Underwood keeps Ted "Hooked," and we learn what it means to keep someone on "the hook" -- you tease that you might get into a relationship with them for the adoration and favors -- and how to tell when you're the one hanging. In one of the more elaborate callbacks to prior events, the gang goes to see The Wedding Bride, which turns out to be an approximation of Ted's relationship with Stella as written by her fiancé. In it, Ted (Chris Kattan) is the maniacal, comical, and stupid villain, while Stella (Malin Akerman) is saved from making the worst mistake of her life in marrying Ted; in reality, she left him at the altar.
The only real problem with the season is the Barney-Robin relationship, but by the tenth episode even the writers realize they've written themselves into a corner. After that, things take a turn for the better with some of the sharpest episodes yet, including the 100th episode extravaganza focusing on Barney's love of the three-piece suit, and including the dance sequence to the original song "Nothing Suits Me Like a Suit." If you're impatient to get to the answer already, you might be frustrated that we only move a few more steps in the right direction over the course of these 24 episodes, but if you're just enjoying the ride with this cast, there is plenty of love and laughter in what remains one of the sweetest romantic comedies on television.
Considering how much material was covered in this set, I found the extras a little underwhelming. We get the expected breakdown of the 100th episode, including the recording of the song "Nothing Suits Me Like a Suit" and the development of the dance number itself. But there is an equal emphasis on the "Super Date" song Ted sings in an earlier episode, and it just doesn't seem necessary. Particularly, the "Making of" short for it where we see a wider shot of the segment, displaying how scenes were slid in and out, seems rather obvious to me.
Other than those two deeper looks into individual episodes, the set also includes the expected blooper reel, a recap of the first four seasons, and deleted segments from the episodes for the songs "Super Date," "Nothing Suits Me Like a Suit," and "Best Night Ever." For a season of 24 episodes with so many fun and innovative things happening, as well as the significant developments in the "mother" story, these extras are criminally lean.