Max shows he's up to the challenge when he and Jane fight over ownership of a sweater and end up in another one of their strange competitions; whoever is "less vain" gets to keep the sweater, and the challenge is to see who can wear a horribly unflattering outfit the longest.
Max shows he's up to the challenge when he and Jane fight over ownership of a sweater and end up in another one of their strange competitions; whoever is "less vain" gets to keep the sweater, and the challenge is to see who can wear a horribly unflattering outfit the longest. (Richard Cartwright, ABC)

Nothing puts as much strain on a friendship as witnessing the friend hook-up, especially when you don't approve of the potential pairing. From the onset of this soon-to-be disaster featuring two of your friends, you're keenly aware that nothing good will come of this. But a friend is convinced that you've hidden some rare gem who is clearly the person he was destined to be with all along if only you'd acted sooner, and he's confident that this relationship will work. And while you're no eHarmony or, you clearly know an ill-fated pairing when you see it. But as a good friend, you're there to help your friends pick up the pieces and convince them that just as with every romantic comedy, in the end, everyone has a happy ending. And that brings us to this week's episode.

"The Shrink, the Dare, Her Date and Her Brother," isn't this season's most quotable or memorable, but it explores some fresher pairings and dynamics that will serve the series well in the long run instead of just milking what works until it's no longer funny. Not looking at "How I Met Your Mother's" Barney Stinson at all. Nope, not even a little …


You’re so vain

It's not the equal of the Zombie Survival Challenge from the first season. But Max and Jane's competitive sides get the best of them again as they square off to see who has the most intestinal fortitude to endure a test of their vanity. And it won't be easy, as one gets to pick out the most ridiculous outfit for the other to wear. Jane has the harder task, as Max isn't too well acquainted with shame. Just as she thinks she's found a perfectly heinous outfit for him, Penny reminds her that Max has two of those shirts, one of which he wore to Jane and Brad's wedding. Yikes.

The prize this time? A sweater that only in some odd mirror TV universe can fit both Jane and Max. If ever there was a need for a quick clip, it would be here to show both of them wearing the sweater, as I couldn't picture it at all.

Jane's choice for Max's attire is an all-white get-up complete with fuzzy Kangol hat that she describes as "Jamiroquai just before Labor Day," while Jane is forced to rock what Max calls "Carol Brady right before she gets arrested for molesting Bobby."  Realizing they're too good at competing, the two decide the only way either will win is if they raise the stakes. In this case, that means calling in a fire so they can be checked out by firefighters, who resemble the kind shown as strippers, rather than the ones you'd normally see on the news.  And when the firefighters arrive and ask where's the fire, Max and Jane hit the only appropriate line "The fire is in our pants." Gotta assume doing that in real life would lead to a cold jail cell and big-time fine, but TV world works differently, I suppose…

It's one of those silly sitcom subplots that seems like a bit of a stretch to happen in real life, but Max and Jane make for good competitive foils, so these competitions are fun. They could make for good series-long jokes, but the writers have to take care to not have Max and Jane face off more than once a season and risk it becoming the tired, predictable fashion of having the two interact.

Hanging with the in-laws

At the start of the vanity challenge, Brad and Alex are left in a restaurant and realize they have little to talk about on their own. Jane wants her sister and husband to be close, but the two are comfortable with their interaction as it's been — with the others. In making plans for their first one-on-one rendezvous, they both have Max make an "out-call." Sadly, Max does not in fact have the world's greatest "out-call" as he'd like them to believe, using the good old faithful "a meteor is coming" line … for both of them just seconds apart.

But oddly enough, the two do find something they can in common — a love of romantic comedies! And honestly, if you can't bond over romantic comedies, meteors may as well strike you down. Brad and Alex haven't had a lot of paired scenes, and this was a nice way to work in some interaction between the in-laws rather than trying to create a relationship between the two come Season 6.

Dave’s doctor

Dave's been holding out on the gang with a little secret. He's seeing a therapist. Penny reassures him there's nothing wrong with that, as she still sees her childhood therapist. Cut to Penny showing her shrink where a guy touched her and then where she wanted him to touch her. If you needed any more reason why "Happy Endings" is the most hilariously risque sitcom on network TV, that scene is it in a nutshell.  It only becomes weird for Dave once therapist Rick Rickman (which Alex points out could only be worse if he was named Dick Dickman) takes an interest in Penny and begins using his sessions with Dave as Penny research time.

Penny's thrilled with the prospect of a therapist stalker, but Dave is concerned that his shrink is gonna spill all his secrets to one of his best friends. Clearly Dave doesn't have any married friends. His completely reasonable plan is to bring Penny's therapist and crash Penny's date with Rick. In a nice bit of directing, Alex and Brad's movie has similar beats to the real-life interaction with Penny and Dave. Both shrinks come to the separate conclusion that Penny and Dave have feelings for each other. Whaaaa? Dave's supposed to end up with Alex. He's her lobster! I wonder how many "FRIENDS" fans will catch that one?

So we've got the potential for a brand-new span of jokes with Brad and Alex and their love of rom-coms, the never-ending competition between Jane and Max and the seeds for a Dave/Penny romance. I like a little unpredictability in my sitcoms, and this definitely opens the door on some new directions for the writers.

Line of the week:

"I still don't get how they didn't know they were perfect for each other until the very end!" - Alex, in completely non-sarcastic fashion, as she and Brad leave the movie.

That's mine, but what did you think was the best line? What do you think of a Dave/Penny romance, and what crazy challenge should Max and Jane take up next? I'll post the best suggestions next week. Thanks for reading!