• Gina Denny

2.16 - Petty

Updated: Jun 18

Ted is telling his kids that “when you’re in your late 20s, you’ve dated a lot, but it’s common courtesy to pretend you haven’t”, and we see a montage of Ted pretending he’s never dated anybody but has gone to movies, restaurants, and romantic vacations with his sister. Robin tells him he doesn’t need to do that, he points out a woman he made out with, and she gets angry and storms off. Petty count: 1

Marshall and Barney are doing dude stuff at the bar and Lily walks in, announcing that she’s in a play that she wants everyone to come see. Barney refuses on the grounds that they’re “too old” for this stuff. Petty count: 2

Ted and Robin come over and ask everyone to settle a fight they’re having (in the process we learn that Lily hates the word “moist” - it’s 2007 after all). The fight is about the fact that Ted keeps stuff from women he’s dated in the past. Robin gets ANGRY that she used someone else’s face lotion and then ANGRY that Ted never threw away something that she even admitted is a really useful product. She then gets especially angry that the lotion is more expensive than Ted thought originally. Petty count: 3

Ted admits that kind of a lot of stuff around his apartment was either left behind or given to him by an ex. Lily says this is an “age-old question: when you break up, what do you do with the stuff?”. Ted and Robin decided to let the group decide. The group votes and Ted has to get rid of his stuff.

But this fight isn’t actually about “the stuff”, as demonstrated by the very petty argument they have in the bar. Ted packs up his stuff.

The next day, Ted and Robin are walking her dogs and Robin reveals the dogs are all gifts from ex-boyfriends. Ted, understandably at this point, gets upset. He just cleaned out his apartment at her request and she’s got dogs from her ex-boyfriends. They aren’t just knick-knacks lying around, she feeds them and cares for them and hugs them. THEY SLEEP IN HER BED.

Ted gets super bent out of shape about it and there’s a funny visual gag of the dogs being replaced by men (they’re all very douchey looking guys in Ted’s imagination). Ted suggests a vote and everyone sides with Robin.

Robin eventually apologizes for “not telling [Ted] where the dogs came from” and they decide they’re fine. But Ted’s jealousy comes out. Robin realizes the dogs are hurting Ted’s feelings and takes them to her aunt’s farm upstate (with the caveat that it’s a test run). But then it turns out Ted didn’t actually get rid of any of the stuff, it’s all back in the apartment. They have “the biggest fight [they] ever had” and Future Ted can’t explain how they “got to here” and it’s heavily hinted that they’re going to break up but surprise! They’re moving in together!

Next, we transition to Lily’s “play” that the gang all goes to. It’s worse than “homeless people yelling in the park”, according to Future Ted. The “theater” does indeed look creepy and gross and difficult to access. The play, also, is creepy and trying way too hard to be esoteric and therefore is just plain stupid. Marshall is way more supportive than anyone needs to be and everyone else clearly hates it, but they love LIly, so they’re nice. Except Barney. He’s “honest” because he’s Not A Smurf (this was four years before the Smurfs movie, btw). He’s not being honest, he’s being mean. Petty count: 4

Lily says that if Barney was in a play, no matter how bad it was, she would go see it and compliment him on it. Again: None of this is really about the play.

Barney puts on a one-man show and expects everyone to be there. Lily pretends to be excited and Barney warns them it’s terrible, excruciatingly long, and they should bring a poncho. The play is called “Suck it Lily” (you can see it on the playbill). Barney’s show is genuinely, deliberately terrible. He starts by saying “Moist” for forty minutes straight. Then there’s twenty minutes of random squirts from a water gun. There’s a complicated robot costume that was clearly homemade and a lengthy recorder solo and bad Queen covers.

Lily eventually breaks and apologizes for asking him to come to her show and that he was right. Barney starts really relishing his win and it becomes evident that he’s secretly actually proud of his bullshit show. “It’s a masterpiece of awful”. The crowning moment comes when Marshall steps on stage and slaps Barney, using the second of his five slaps from Slap Bet.

This episode isn’t really about the stuff and it isn’t really about the play. Both are just highlighting character conflicts. Robin and Ted are both deeply insecure about their relationship, searching for anything to prove that they should break up or stay together. Lily is searching for artistic outlets, meaning in her life. Barney is searching for some kind of support. This is his Found Family, but he doesn’t have the language for that and isn’t really ready to accept that kind of support yet, but he yearns for it anyway.

The writers made their characters behave in petty ways, giving them these childish metaphors for the big things that are really bothering them. There are a bunch of ways to accomplish this. I think back to Michael Scott on The Office: he used humor to try to win friends and it often backfired, but it was when he wasn’t trying to be funny that you actually saw who he was as a human.

Writing Prompt: Pick one of the fights from this episode: getting rid of knick-knacks, getting rid of dogs, supporting friends who make bad art, indulging friends in time-consuming hobbies and write a dialog about it that is open, honest, and fair. Remove the pettiness and see how the trajectory of the conversation (and the underlying relationship) shifts.

Listen to the episode here

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