Ted (Josh Radnor): Did you and Barney ever ...
Mary (Erinn Bartlett): There's not enough money in the world.
Ted: Oh, thank God!
The situation that was portrayed in the episode of How I Met Your Mother that aired 10 years ago tonight, "Mary the Paralegal," did not ring true for me. It simply did not describe a situation like any in which I have found myself. But that doesn't mean I didn't find it amusing.
I guess that is what sitcoms are about — the comedy of the situation is derived from exaggerated circumstances. After all, the funniest jokes involve one thing that is way out of proportion to everything else.
As I observed recently, a previous episode of How I Met Your Mother dealt with Ted (Josh Radnor) and his decision to break up with his long–distance girlfriend, Victoria, a decision that was accelerated by the opportunity to sleep with Robin (Cobie Smulders). It all backfired on him as he alienated both girls.
Victoria was in the other hemisphere so Ted knew he wouldn't interact with her on a regular — or even semi–regular — basis. Robin was different. She was still in New York — and still had the same circle of friends Ted had.
And, on this occasion, Robin had been nominated for a local broadcasting award. Actually, she had been nominated a few months earlier, and she had asked her friends to come to the awards banquet in a show of support, and they had agreed. Ted told her he would be bringing a date — at that time, presumably, Victoria, but they broke up, you see. So Ted wondered if he should bring a date.
Because of the lateness of the hour — the awards ceremony was in two hours — Barney (Neil Patrick Harris) suggested going with an "escort," which Ted interpreted to mean prostitute, and he rejected the idea. Nevertheless, Barney showed up with a beautiful blonde named Mary. He identified her as a paralegal from his building — and introduced her to Ted in his classic "H-a-a-ave you met Ted?" fashion. Ted continued to reject the idea — until Robin came in with her date, a local TV news guy named Sandy Rivers.
That was when Ted decided to bring Mary as his date after all — in spite of his misgivings about prostitution.
The awards banquet was about what you would expect from a Local Area Media Award, as it was called — or "LAMA," pronounced lame–uh by Lily (Alyson Hannigan).
As Vampire Lou went through the awards, Ted and Mary flirted with each other and got to know each other better. Ted concluded that he really liked her, in spite of what he believed that she did for a living. Lo and behold, Barney had arranged for a room in the hotel for the two of them, and once again Ted found himself faced a moral dilemma.
Ted was weighing whether to take Mary to the room and spend the night with her when Robin's category came up. This wasn't like Ted Baxter in the Mary Tyler Moore Show, who always had a broadcasting awards acceptance speech ready but lost nearly every time. Robin won for her story on Pickles the Singing Dog, and her acceptance speech was basically a confession that winning was a surprise to her. She thanked her friends for being there — deliberately naming everyone but Ted, who decided at that point that he would take Mary to the hotel room after all.
After they left, Barney announced that, "in keeping with tonight's award show motif," he was recruiting Vampire Lou to read the contents of an envelope that Barney produced containing the evening's surprise twist ending.
Mary, Vampire Lou announced, was not a prostitute.
Mary really was a paralegal from Barney's building. And Ted, Barney told the group, had no idea she wasn't a hooker. They all stared at him. "If you don't laugh," Barney said, "it just seems mean."
In the end, Ted couldn't go through with it. As they stood in the hall in front of the room, Ted told Mary he couldn't sleep with her because she was a hooker. She protested that she was a paralegal. They went back and forth that way until Ted finally realized she was telling the truth. By that time, however, she had decided she wanted nothing more to do with him.
As Ted was telling Barney and Marshall (Jason Segel) about his experience with Mary, Barney giggled uncontrollably, then tried to defend what he had done. Believing that Ted was in a slump, he told them had arranged for the date because it would restore Ted's confidence.
But the twist ending turned out to be that Ted went ahead and took the room for the night — the expensive one that Barney had put on his credit card for Ted and Mary. "Never checked out," he told Barney.
"You know what's super fun?" he asked Barney. "Pouring Dom Perignon down a bathtub drain." Then he announced that he had a massage appointment and left.
Marshall looked at the stunned Barney and delivered the punch line. "Come on. If you don't laugh, it just seems mean."