'How I Met Your Mother' review: Was John Lithgow truly a 'Legendaddy'?

The latest bit of back-story doled out by How I Met Your Mother was a key bit of the show’s mythology — or, in true HIMYM fashion, de-mythologizing. Barney found out that his dad was John Lithgow — that is, Jerry, to whom Barney had sent a letter earlier in the season. This was the pay-off of that action of Barney’s, and a satisfying one it was indeed.

The way Neil Patrick Harris and Lithgow played off each other was marvelous. The initial scene in the bar, with Barney and Jerry simultaneously ordering the same drink, high-fiving, and fulfilling each other’s fantasies about how cool they both were (“Do you get laid a lot?”: this is the kind of question a man can ask his dad when he hasn’t seen him for 30 years) was almost too good to be true… and it was.

It turned out that that first conversation was a hyped-up version Barney told his pals; the truth was more (excitingly, for the purposes of the show) prosaic. Jerry is actually a suburban schlub (a driving instructor in White Plains) who drinks skim milk and suffered guilt from his cowardice at never contacting Barney all these years. He lives a scant ten minutes away from Barney, with his wife, a daughter and another son, JJ (Jerome, Jr., — another big ouch discovery for Barney).

I want to pause here and add that it was very good to see Nancy Travis on TV again, as Barney’s stepmother, Cheryl. She’s a terrific actress, and one who starred in her own excellent, underrated 1995 sitcom, Almost Perfect, as well as Becker and movies such as Internal Affairs.

Lithgow was superb. These days, he’s most familiar for his award-winning role as The Trinity Killer on Dexter, and this was his first sitcom work since Third Rock From The Sun. HIMYM gave him a terrific showcase in the two parallel bar scenes. In the first, he was convincingly cocky and elated; in the second, he echoed the same physical movements, but with little, witty twists. For example, in Barney’s imaginary scene, Jerry rises from his seat, squares his shoulders, and saunters over to a girl at the bar and scores her phone number. In the second, “real” scenario, Jerry arose, squared his shoulders, but Lithgow gave a little wince of pain, signaling a middle-aged man’s twinge of a stiff neck, or perhaps a touch of arthritis. It was small gestures and intonations of weariness that gave Jerry the air of a man defeated in every way, by the fear-based decisions he’s made in a life full of regret. I’m really looking forward to Lithgow/Jerry’s return, in April.

Neil Patrick Harris was equally excellent. Barney’s bratty wisecracks while visiting Jerry’s drab home, his sneery insults to his 11 year-old step-half-brother, were all the better for the way Harris didn’t play them for irony or delayed poignance — he was in the moment, relishing the pain he was inflicting on everyone, because he felt he’d earned that right after all of his own years of father-less pain.

Oh, and “You ever bang Stevie Nicks?” for some reason struck me as one of the funniest of all the lines last night — I think it was because it was so abruptly rude, crude, and chronologically precise: Bravo, Barney.

As for the rest of the episode, there were two fine subplots. One was about the gaps in knowledge each of the chums have (Robin thought the North Pole didn’t exist; Lily has lousy aim; Ted pronounces chameleon “cham-a-LEE-on”). The other found Marshall wanting the gang to stop treating him with kid gloves since the death of his father; the blizzard of flashbacks, with his pals never chiding him for growing a soul-patch or adopting a possum, was terrific.

What did you think of John Lithgow and his “legendaddy” performance?

Twitter: @kentucker

Comments (141 total) Add your comment
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  • Lauren

    Now, let’s not forget Mr. Lithgow’s performance in the fabulous Cliffhanger!

    • deedeedragons

      I love that film. He’s so evil & greedy but so good at it.

  • Kate

    It was so hilarious and then it made me want to cry. John and NPH were fantastic and believable. It hit me when Marshall told Barney that he was never going to talk to his father again. This season is one of the best!

    • Stephanie

      The episode was filled with laughs but also tears.

      Every scene with Barney and his father was top notch. And Lithgow did amazingly well. Great choice to play the dad.

      The “gaps of knowledge” was hilarious, loved Robin’s North Pole fail as well as Marshall’s segment where he tested the group (his squeaky voice killed me…mostly because when someone’s voice cracks I never let them live it down. I’m cruel.)

      Overall excellent episode to go along with such a good, good season. HIMYM has got it’s stride back!

      • Karate Pants

        I hope that as Marshall was able to convince his friend’s that it’s time to move on from his dad’s death, that show’s writers were convinced of that as well.
        I miss the other characters, let’s move on!

      • Monty

        Is anyone else sad that Barney is soon going to find out that his father is not a normal suburban dude, but rather an emotionally damaged and deranged killer?

      • Enderock

        Actually he would settle for normal suburban dude – that was the whole point.

      • Tintin

        You completely missed the point.John Lithgow’s character is Dexter (Arthur Mitchel, or the Trinity Killer) was was an emotionally damaged and deranged killer, who pretended to be a normal suburban dude.

  • julie

    lithgow was awesome!! he’s such a great actor, him yelling “I KNOW, I KNOW, I KNOW” was just bang on!

    • Molly

      Yes! So powerful.

      • Ines

        I found your pumpkin while okloing for templates for our pumpkin carving tonight. I collect bunny things and I hope you don’t mind us using your idea for one of our pumpkin’s tonight. It looks awesome!! I hope ours will turn out just as neat. Thanks for sharing the picture with the web!

  • Dan

    To see John Lithgow doing comedy again was great, and it was poignant without being over-dramatic, which this show sometimes veers into. Also it was nice to see Marshall back in action, and seemingly getting over it. Glad to see some more of the house that Ted bought, too, which seemed to have been forgotten since the episode in which it was introduced.

  • rox

    Ken, JJ would be Barney’s half-brother if they share the same father. Not step-brother

    • AT

      And Jerry lives 10 minutes away from Ted’s new house, not Barney’s place in the city.

  • kkpjuy

    Love, Loved it. NPH so amazing and he and John had a perfect chemistry.
    10 points
    Looking forward to following the journey of Barney, when we see will see him grown – over time

  • Ashleigh

    Sorry to be nit-picky, but two corrections: Jerry lives 10 minutes from Ted’s house, 10 minutes from Barney. And, JJ is Barney’s half-brother, not step-brother.

    But so true, the way Lithgow and Harris played off each other, esp. in the driveway scene, was amazing. Loved it.

    • Ashleigh

      that should be “…not 10 minutes from Barney.”

      • Orac

        Actually, 10 minutes from Ted’s house.

    • Kw

      That scene almost had me in tears, thanks to John Lithgow’s performance.

    • Sara

      While we’re offering kind corrections for the writer, I’d like to suggest changing the first syllable of Ted’s pronunciation of “chameleon” to “sham”, not “cham”. Since the “ch” is pronounced as a “k”, leaving the first syllable as “cham” suggests he pronounced that correctly, while “sham” is more accurate in this context.

      • Margie

        Or, tcham.

  • Ash

    The basketball hoop scene was spectacularly well played. top marks to John and Neil for a fantastic and convincing scene.

    • Amy

      That scene was amazing. I love it when comedies do serious scenes realistically. It made me cry. I hope we see much more of Jerry in the future.

    • Heather

      This was a good episode and the scene with the basketball hope was very convincing. Kudos to the actors for making it all believable.

  • AAR

    Although I watched 3rd Rock when it was on, for some reason watching Lithgow tonight reminded me more of his role in Harry and the Hendersons. I thought this was a great episode, and I’m so relieved Jerry IS a suburban schlub- it would have been too easy for him to be a cocky bastard. I’m interested to see where this takes Barmey.

    Also, after reading the write-up, I was suddenly hit with a crazy thought, which I hope ends up being wrong. Jerry has a daughter in college. We didn’t see her. Ted teaches college. Please, someone, tell me I’m wrong before I finish this thought.

    • Elsa

      OMG, I think you’re right! And Ted meets the mother at a wedding…. which is rumored to be Barney’s wedding.

      Plus, we know the mother is a college student (she was in a class Ted teached).

      It fits.

      • Kamala

        “Ted teached”? Oy vey.
        I think the word you’re looking for is “taught.”

      • Enderock

        Seen like nobody teached you proper English. just j/k=)

      • EroSenninJL

        It’s PUNCHY’S wedding…. not Barney’s

      • Luc

        Caesar was a great character his tasloiion was what made the first half interesting, as opposed to the absurd ape uprising (Ape-rising?). I simply cannot look past gorillas dying melodramatic deaths, conveniently placed spears and the apparent immunity apes have to broken glass and bullets. You’ll say these are inconsequential details, but for me, this is just sloppy writing.You cant even say this was supposed to be Michael Bay flick. The first half made us think it was supposed to be taken seriously.

    • Claire


      • Jaunayyee

        I think that Michael and Jennifer are an awesome clupoe and I hope that they remain together. I love the way they play their characters on Dexter. Jennifer has a wonderful personality on screen and I have a feeling it follows her off screen as well. I love the way she dresses, her potty mouth and her aggressiveness. She has a sex appeal that she can turn on and off when when wants too.She does not take any crap from anyone, not even her brother. I can’t wait until Series 6 . You go Dexter Olivia

    • lefty

      Yeah I was definitely thinking about the missing daughter. Either Barney has a gross run-in with her or she’s in Ted’s class/the wrong class.

    • Cat

      Why is Ted dating a college student at this point in his life? Or someone he could be the professor of? That is creepy and yes I know he did it before but that was 5/6 yrs ago which means he is that much older. And how old is Ted when he is telling his kids this story in 2030? 67?

      • tina

        You do realize that not all college students are 18-22, right?

      • yans

        You do realize that to be 67 in 2030, he would have to be 48 now, right?

        Your gap is obviously maths…

      • Enderock

        I am freshman and I have a several classmates of approximate age of 30 45 and 55. so no, age is not a problem.

    • Emily

      That would mean “Uncle” Barney really is Ted’s kids’ uncle. Wow.

      • Ann

        And if Barney marries Robin, then Robin really is Aunt Robin….pretty cool!

      • BlimPinPin

        I await the end of this show for one reason only. To see Barney and Robin live awesomely ever after.

      • Enderock

        that actually don’t thin that it’s true because there is no way that marshal and lily are real uncle and aunt. and i think hell probably marry nora than robin.

  • TaMara

    Yup, probably one of the best episodes of this show. Lithgow can do no wrong…I’m old enough to remember him in The World According to Garp, thinking, who is this amazing man?

  • sean

    The Mother could be Barneys half sister if the wedding at the end of the season is in fact Barneys. She is a college student and would most likely be at the wedding.

    • Sharon

      That is so spot on! I hope it is. Then it would make all the little things that have happened to the rest of the gang that much more important to show. Marshall’s dad has to die so that Barney is willing to give his own father a chance, thereby giving Ted an opportunity to meet his future wife. I love it when things work out. =)

      • lefty

        Uncle Barney and Aunt Robin.

      • Cat

        yeah that’s the magic of writing a story. There are no coincidences in scripted tv.

    • Kate

      The wedding didn’t seem that far in the future (and really can’t be given the dates shown with the kids at the beginning of the episodes). I’m pretty sure Ted mentions that their mother was in his class, but it seems a little weird/creepy that Ted would be dating a college student given that they’re all in their thirties. having the dating/marriage take place one she graduates seems to push it all too far into the future and I hope we’ll find out whose wedding that was by the end of the season. they can only drag it out for so long, right?

      • T

        Great episode, the basketball net scene was amazing. Probably one of the best scenes of the series. At this point I’m leaning heavily that it is Barney’s wedding (where Ted and Marshall are best men). Reason being this season is about Barney growing up (only character to progress). I think end of season we see Barney in his wedding attire with the best men. I think writers will leave Barney’s wife out end of season as we need to see him move towards marriage and his wife part of that build up, I think its Nora (why spend that much time building Nora’s character). The half-sister is now a great idea, she could be a Phd student much like The Mother’s roommate.

      • Adam

        The wedding is Adam Punciarello’s (a.k.a. Punchy).

      • AAR

        To Kate- Exactly! It’d be really creepy, even if she was a 22 year old senior, Ted is still ten years older. They gang has teased Robin for dating someone younger, they would do they same to Ted.

        To T: She COULD be a PhD student, but then Jerry would have said “daughter in graduate school,” or just “school,” not college. I’m in grad school, as is my younger sister, and my parents definitely don’t tell people we are still in college.

      • chocolateislove

        She could be a grad student, they weren’t exactly specific about her age.

      • Liz Mo

        To Adam: The wedding could be punchy’s but I think that is a fake out b/c punchy still lives in Ohio so that will most likely be where the wedding takes place, so it would be strange that the mother would be at that wedding. Also, Punchy is Ted’s high school friend why would he invite Lilly and Marshall to travel all the way to his wedding.

      • Lisa

        Just because she’s in college, doesn’t mean she has to be in that 18-22 age range. I know lots of people that are in their mid to late 20’s and also 30’s for that matter, that are college students.

      • Fred

        Probably only 10 years if she is a traditional student. She also could have taken a few years off between high school and college.

      • AT

        She isn’t in Ted’s class. She was in the classroom he accidentally went into. A class which, IIRC, was a high level econ class. That means either seniors or possibly graduate students.

      • Teresa

        Let’s hope she is a graduate student, otherwise really all a bit creepy.

      • Ann

        I’m pretty sure she’s a graduate student. Rachel Bilson’s character was a doctoral student, or at least a graduate student. And she mentioned she was in the ECON class that Ted accidently taught. And since we know the mom was also in that class…that would mean the mother is also a graduate student. Besides, I don’t know too many doctoral students who would room with an undergraduate unless they were related. Therefore, the mother is currently a graduate level student.

        @AAR, I am currently a graduate student. I tell people I’m in college. Then if someone asks for specifics, I tell them I’m in graduate school. So, it’s not unusual to refer to “college” in a broad sense.

      • EroSenninJL

        @Liz Mo: in Episode 1,last scene Lily called out:”Best MAN, you’re being summoned…” and not Best “MEN”… so it can still be punchy’s wedding… and even if Ted is the only best man, that doesn’t mean his friends can ride along… :D

    • MTr

      I actually thought that might be the case, even before watching this episode.

      • lefty

        No you didn’t.

      • MTr

        Um….yeah I did. I know it’s kinda funny. But we knew Barney was meeting his Dad this season, we know he might be the one getting married, and we know Ted meets the Mother at the wedding. I thought it might be a half sister.

  • Amy

    First, I am so glad EW.com wrote about this episode. I thought it was one of the best episodes in a long time. The way NPH played it was heartbreaking. Especially when he tells his father that if he were going to be a boring suburban dad, he should have been his.

    Second or third- I took driving lessons in White Plains and would have loved if John Lithgow was my teacher!

    • Ash

      I agree! I really enjoyed Marshall’s pet possum. I think this whole episode was a perfect example of why I love HIMYM. Perfect miss of comedy and heart.

      • Teresa

        Great episode. JL was awesome as was NPH. The scene that had me laughing the hardest though was when Lily threw the keys to Marshall and they went into the woods. For some reason, I couldn’t stop laughing after that scene.

      • ttb

        “seriously, i’m like eleven inches from you.” LOLOL

        And when NPH said that to JL in the driveway I was heartbroken for him.

      • Kairi

        Ppl like you get all the birsan. I just get to say thanks for he answer.

  • chocolateislove

    Such an excellent episode. HIMYM has gone really serious lately, but this episode seemed to balance both drama and humor really well. John Lithgow was great, I missed him on sitcoms.

    • HIMYM Fan

      I totally agree. There were times that were very moving but others were laugh out loud funny. They did a good job at breaking up the tension with some classic HIMYM comedy.

  • chris c

    Everything I thought it was going to be and more.I loved it.

  • Mike

    I want to echo virtually everyone else’s thoughts. One of the best HIMYM episodes ever. So well played by Lithgow, and the other subplots were so well done too. Love how Marshall and his father still play a prominent role, and isn’t played as a throwaway thing.

    • Heather

      Agreed. HIMYM is having a great season.

      • Tasneem

        Mommy is more eager than the little one!!! *laugh*cos’ you don’t want the video to end up being 20mins ianetsd of 2mins???! *laugh*good job Roy!*clap clap clap*my elder one has a gift in puzzles too, I think they’ll make great friends! *wink*

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