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Fans of How I Met Your Mother had circled “The Slutty Pumpkin Returns” on their calendar ever since word of the episode broke over the summer. A promise of a callback to any episode let alone one of the show’s first great ones comes with the caveat of exceedingly high expectations, easily the highest since 2009’s “Slapsgiving 2: Revenge of the Slap.”
Appearing early in Season 1, the Slutty Pumpkin not only served as one of the show’s first long-standing jokes with its viewers, but “she” also (and more importantly) embodied Ted’s hopelessly romantic struggle to identify the woman of his dreams — the emotional core of the entire series. After Ted ran into Season 1 flame Victoria in the first few episodes this fall, it became clear this season would see Ted thinking back on his last seven years and moving on from it. The Slutty Pumpkin fit perfectly into this scheme.
The Slutty Pumpkin turns out to be Naomi (Katie Holmes) and though the end of a 10-year search for the “one that got away” leads both to automatically ignite a relationship, Ted learns quickly that the chemistry is not only non-existent, but also downright comically pathetic.
The route the writing took with this much-awaited story felt a bit lackluster. Not disappointing, but lackluster. For casting a big-name guest star in Holmes, Naomi did not seem any more special than any of Ted’s usual “flames of the week.” The episode needed more build up, maybe prepping the big annual rooftop party a bit more, with Ted finally getting his chance to meet this girl but then finding out he can’t shake the idea of her despite not liking her at all. She’s the Slutty Pumpkin after all; the idea of her is so powerful to him, yet devices such as Ted narrating his inner-monologue prior to saying “I love you” (classic Shmosby) kept “The Slutty Pumpkin Returns” from being the fairytale many fans wanted.
Fortunately, the story was still funny and the episode one of the season’s better. Holmes working the Barenaked Ladies’ “One Week” was sure to get a laugh out of those who remember it fondly albeit not in a romantic context. Her general awkwardness as an actress also helped get the point across.
And all this was appropriately aided by the brilliance of Robin discovering Barney is one quarter Canadian. Neal Patrick Harris handles this with absolute perfection, to the point that I think we were all relieved he didn’t wear the Mountie costume to the party so that Robin can continue to crack jokes at him for eternity. Between that and the Ducky Tie it seems the writers have ganged up on Barney a bit, but it has successfully developed Barney into a more multi-dimensional character.
The Lily and Marshall debating a move to the suburbs due to Lily’s “pregnancy brain” subplot had its moments as well, though preferably they would have been part of the Halloween fun. The writing took advantage of trick-or-treating comically, but the suburbs debate could have been included in any episode this season. Although it’s hard to imagine that pregnancy hormones could make anyone put a stapler in someone’s trick-or-treat bag, the concept gave Alyson Hannigan some room to work her more blue-collar comedic chops — and the girl done good.
In terms of other couples, with Kevin and Nora completely absent after last week’s episode pointing out the gang’s “overcrowding” problem, the lack of their involvement this week also felt strange. After “The Stinson Missile Crisis” earlier this season went through all the couples’ costumes that Lily and Marshall have worn (and Ted’s hilarious third wheel inclusions), it seemed odd not to involve the big crowd in Season 7’s most highly anticipated episode.
So as funny as it was, “The Slutty Pumpkin Returns” had some seriously untapped potential as part of the Season 7 story arch. And it’s nothing to be ashamed to admit, because the bar was high, very high. Perhaps Ted’s coming to terms with expectations could have been experienced unilaterally throughout the group with regard to their respective relationships. Then again, would we be talking about the Loonies and Twoonies in Barney’s wallet had that happened? Doubtfully, though a Thanksgiving episode would have probably been equally appropriate for the discovery.
If I have a true complaint based on this episode, it’s that the writing keeps reemphasizing Ted Mosby the goof and not Ted Mosby the romantic. As cheesy as latter Ted is, both Josh Radnor and the writing have made it work for many seasons, so why does the former Ted need to be squeezed in there?
Now eight episodes in, the humor, on the other hand, has been spot-on this season with exception of some bits in “The Stinson Missile Crisis.” As long as the laughs continue to be creative, the other side should shape up eventually and deliver some classic episodes before long.