How I Met Your Mother has always seemed more about young adults in a city that happens to be named New York than a show actually set in New York. I’m not coming at this from some point of local pride, it’s just a fact that the show doesn’t often go out of its way to establish its setting as a key element of the show. Any large city with bars and law firms would do just as nicely.
“Subway Wars”, then, was a definite outlier in that it tried to be super-specific to New York. That this stemmed from the gang making Robin feel like she wasn’t a “true New Yorker” probably rang true to a lot of people sick of hearing from Manhattanites about how awesome everything is there. True to form, Ted and Lily’s arbitrary rules about when you’re a real New Yorker were just as stupid and annoying as the real thing. (Incidentally, Lily says she was raised in New York, but has Robin been in the city for significantly less time than Ohioan Ted and Minnesotan Marshall?)
The only other New York bit that I liked was the Woody Allen-style title cards before each character’s story (though that might be construed as one of those references designed purely to make people who get it feel smart.) The Maury Povich gag was amusingly odd, and I hope it was part of the joke that Ted’s kids will have no idea who Povich is. But the subway and taxi stuff mostly left me flat. And because I’m no fun, I can’t really find Barney’s wasting the time of emergency medical personnel very humorous.
As for the character stuff, I loved Marshall’s John Henry-style folk song, and the fact that twenty years later he’s still being vexed by cable boxes while trying to get free porn. He and Lily’s fears of infertility/sterility were handled well. I think from what we’ve seen of Ted it is surprising that there was only one bad review on the ratemyprofessor knockoff site, but I did like the shot of him sitting by himself on one side of the bus. The writers gave Barney one of his occasional redeeming acts of kindness, but this was done nicely in a flashback.
As for Robin, I just think they’re really losing hold of her character, and I think the problem is being exacerbated by Cobie Smulders’ limitations as a dramatic actress. Her crying in the subway immediately pulled me out of the episode. It was inauthentic to say the least. Robin used to be awesome, but now they’re trying to make her vulnerable and it doesn’t work.