All sitcoms utilize multiple types of jokes, requiring different levels of context. Some jokes are just wordplay and wit, funny in any situation. Insults or quips often fall into this category. Other jokes arise from the situation at hand and would be unfunny outside of that context. (I am thinking, as just one example, of exasperated reactions to absurd occurrences, which only become funny due to the delivery of the actor.) There are also jokes that require an incredibly broad understanding of the context and of the personalities of the characters involved, jokes that only people who have been constant viewers of the show will find funny. (Jokes that incredibly annoying people will use to justify their self-worth through their choice of television programs.)
A great episode will balance all these types of jokes, and probably several other types I’m not thinking of. A generally good episode, on the other hand, can get away with just one or two, as long as they make you laugh. “Glitter”, heavily promoted as the return (again) of Robin Sparkles, is a good, not great, episode.
The wordplay and wit is in top form in the scenes concerning Robin’s old Canadian children’s show, “Space Teens.” The gang takes delight in comparing the cheesy show to a pornographic film, especially since each feature “a delusional woman who thinks this is a step to future success.”
This scene features by far my biggest laugh of the night. When Barney assumes “Space Teens” is porn he launches himself toward Marshall in preparation for an epic slap. Barney had lost his bet that Robin was in porn back in “Slap Bet”, perhaps the best episode How I Met Your Mother has ever done.
The jokes in Space Teens are pretty funny, if really immature, and kind of shocking for a show on at 8pm. I know the family hour concept has been brushed aside, but I’m still surprised you can get away with jokes about “beavers” and “eight inches of wood” that shortly after dinner. I also enjoyed Robin’s defense of the show, especially the “Beaver Song” which is a song about friendship that she will not let the group mock.
The problems with “Glitter” lie in the character-based subplots. Lily and Robin “breaking up” isn’t a bad idea, dramatically, but it had no weight here because there was never a doubt that the conflict would last even into the next episode. (If you didn’t see “Robin’s old friend helps get her back with new friend” coming, you don’t watch enough TV.) The real problem with the storyline is a problem the show often has with Lily. They put her in situations by making her act horribly, thus rendering the audience unsympathetic. Here she’s going on and on about babies when she’s not even pregnant. Last week she’s hectoring Marshall about his compromises, even though it was her massive debt that compelled him to take the GNB job.
Oh, and Ted’s high-school friend Punchy shows up, mostly just to announce he’s getting married and trick (probably) viewers into thinking his wedding is the one where Ted will meet the Mother.
I’m not going to complain too much about a sitcom episode featuring character breaking out of their serious conversation to clap during organ-playing (even if said episode did expect us to believe Nicole Scherzinger could act), but if characters took a backseat to beaver jokes every week, I’d start to worry.