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How I Met Your Mother did a full-on salute to parents in Episode 7.7, one that had decidedly more to offer long-time fans of the series than those who’ve simply followed the recent exploits. As for being Nora’s namesake episode, the events that unfold suggest quite a bit about the course of the season.
“Noretta” gets its title from combining “Nora” (Nazanin Boniadi), Barney’s girlfriend, with “Loretta” (Frances Conroy), his mother. In a seemingly random, but welcome (yet entirely too brief) guest appearance from Wayne Brady as Barney’s brother James, we are told that Nora is almost exactly like the boys’ mother. This triggers similar realizations in the rest of the gang, especially Lily, who’s getting self-conscious about her barely noticeable baby bump.
The characters imagining their significant others as their parent triggers a string of guest appearances from Bill Fagerbakke (Marvin Eriksen, Sr.), Christine Rose (Virginia Mosby) and Chris Elliot (Lily’s father as seen in Season 5’s “Slapsgiving 2”). Those familiar with their characters will likely find their presence in sexual scenes to be quite amusing. Considering the show has earned its seven seasons by amassing inside jokes, there’s nothing negative one can say about the choice.
As an episode centered on Barney and Nora however, it didn’t quite measure up. The episode begins with how crowded the MacLaren’s booth has gotten now that everyone (except poor Ted) has someone in their life. Boniadi has appeared in eight episodes, more than any other temporary love interest on the show except Ted’s Season 1 girlfriend Victoria (10) and Season 3 fiance Stella (9). Yet Nora feels less a part of the group than Kal Penn’s Kevin, this being just his fourth episode.
“Noretta” gave the writers the chance to include Nora in a big way through her and Barney’s first adventurous date and how it all goes wrong, but they kind of play her like a “Ted’s date of the week” girl with all the mishaps that occur and with Barney’s realization that she’s like his mom never truly coming between them. She doesn’t feel like she has any dimension yet and here we are, eight episodes and climbing. How anyone could expect Barney to marry Nora after this episode failed to elevate their relationship is beyond me.
Boniadi is not a bad actress, but she’s not a comedian. With Alyson Hannigan and Cobie Smulders, How I Met Your Mother has two of the funniest women in any sitcom and Boniadi doesn’t measure up. In the scenes that are supposed to be funny, Nora comes off as awkward; when she loses her tooth ice skating in this episode, you want to pity her like a wounded animal rather than try and enjoy the blue-collar joke.
If Nora’s the one Barney marries, that would make Boniadi a regular. Even if she could hang with the big girls, the writers aren’t giving her enough to work with and as a regular they would have to. It’s just not working and that’s without the writers trying. All signs point to Robin and Barney come season’s end unless something radical happens. If it ends up being Nora, I can’t imagine most viewers will be satisfied.
In other relationship drama, Kevin finally voices his disapproval of Robin and Ted living together and the nature of their relationship. The end result is that everyone feels bad for Ted, to whose list we can now add “lover of ‘Weird’ Al Yankovic.” It’s not a bad handling of that situation by any means, especially because it avoids being melodramatic, but it does feel like an opportunity for actual conflict has been spoiled — at least to this point. It seems pretty certain that Penn is on for the Season 7 long haul, but given how things are going with Barney and Nora and the unresolved feelings we know Robin has for Barney, his exit from the show could be ugly or at least a bit sad.
Fortunately, the episode is structurally sound; the character subplots all connect through the idea that pretty much every character sees their parent in their significant other. Lily and Marshall fight through this in a supremely awkward and comical fashion. Starting with all the characters together and then having them branch out into subplots centered around a theme or motif helps with the cohesiveness and just makes for a better episode.
With Ted’s loneliness coming out as a highlight, one would hope we get a bit more for him. Fans of the show never want to lose sight of his quest and we get frustrated when the diversions with the other characters grow too large. Had “Noretta” not highlighted Ted’s current situation, it would have been one such instance. With the return of the Slutty Pumpkin on tap for next week, we should have some progress (and one heck of an episode).