10 years ago, ‘How I Met Your Mother’ included Hamilton in its most Canadian episode


Published February 3, 2023 at 8:46 pm

A decade ago, Hamilton was part of the most hoser-iffic half-hour in TV sitcom history this side of Letterkenny.

A running gag in the CBS hangout comedy How I Met Your Mother was that the character Robin Scherbatsky, played by Vancouver native Cobie Smulders, had a shameful past as a blond-bewigged bubble-bum 1990s Canadian pop star Robin Sparkles. Her major “double maple” Canadian hit, at least in the comedic universe of HIMYM, was “Let’s Go To The Mall.” The artistic breakthrough-aimed follow-up “Sandcastles In The Sand” was somewhat less of a hit.

Then came Feb. 4, 2013, and an episode entitled, “P.S. I Love You.” One night after CBS had broadcast the Super Bowl, its viewers were treated to a HIMYM episode about “one heartbreaking Grey Cup Sunday” when America’s northern neighbour learned that its “sweetheart had a dark side.”

Over nine seasons, from 2005 till ’14, Canada jokes on HIMYM toggled between the broadest stereotypes or hyper-specificity. “P.S. I Love You,” whose whole plot is a send-up of Alanis Morissette’s rock anthem “You Oughta Know,” hopscotched between both..

‘Hamilton, just outside of Guelph’

It revealed that Robin sabotaged her music career when she tried to reinvent her image during a Grey Cup halftime show in Hamilton.

“In 1996, we booked the halftime show for the Grey Cup — huge gig,” is how Robin’s dart-smoking manager Chuck (Chuck) Gerussi — played by Dundas native Dave Thomas of SCTV fame — tees up the disaster.

“We’re talkin’ Ivor Wynne Stadium in Hamilton, just outside of Guelph. It doesn’t get any bigger than that.”

Thomas’s delivery of the “Hamilton, just outside of Guelph,” line also hit the spot. Ivor Wynne Stadium had just been razed months prior to the episode airing, and the Tiger-Cats actually ended up playing home games in Guelph in 2013 and ’14. So touchdown, and two-point convert, to How I Met Your Mother for a fairly deep Canadian Football League reference.

Also, the character’s name incorporated that of The Beachcombers star Bruno Gerussi. For that, give the writing staff the additional single point that exists in the CFL.

The show included a road map to let the American and international audience know where Hamilton is. This is 1996 Hamilton, before it became a TV and movie stand-in for Any City, USA.

The 1996 Grey Cup was indeed played at Ivor Wynne Stadium. The game was played in a heavy snowstorm as the Doug Flutie-led Toronto Argonauts outscored Edmonton 43-37 in what became the “Snow Bowl” in the lore of the CFL.

(The Edmonton quarterback, Danny McManus, and head coach, the late Ron Lancaster, teamed up to lead the Tiger-Cats to the Grey Cup three seasons later.)

There was no snow in the concert shots where Smulders-Scherbatsky-Sparkles de-wigged and revealed her new persona as Robyn Daggers, a flannel-rocking combat boots-wearing grunge rocker, as was the style at the time. Other touches — such as a concert backdrop reading, “Consider Questioning Authority, Please” contributed to the execution of the segment.

The musical metamorphosis of Robin Sparkles to Robin Daggers — and Canadians might remember that Morrissette started out as a pop singer — is built up into a shock event that altered the psyche of Canada.

“It was tragic,” Steven Page of The Barenaked Ladies says in the show-within-a-show MuchMusic “Underneath The Tunes” segment.

“To this day, you ask any Canadian where they were when Robin Sparkles lost it, not only can they tell you which Tim Hortons they were in, but which donut they were eating. Me? Blueberry fritter, Wawa, Ontario.”

A cavalcade of notable Canadians from the show business and sports worlds — hockey star Luc Robitaille, actor-director Jason Priestley, singer-songwriter k.d. lang, and Rush vocalist Geddy Lee — to confirm that they consoled themselves with the confectionary treat. Tim Hortons, of course, was started in Hamilton, and the first location on Ottawa St. is still there to this day.

Grunge invented in Hamilton in 1996, or so the Canadians would have you believe

The episode allows that Robin Daggers was a rock woman ahead of her time. Apparently — at least according to the deadpan fictionalized versions of themselves that both the late Jeopardy! host Alex Trebek and Geddy Lee play in the episode — grunge was invented that day in Hamilton, Ont., in late 1996.

(Nirvana released its first album, Bleach, seven years earlier.)

Just to complete the Morrissette loop, “Underneath The Tunes” speculated about what Canadian man could have brought that out of Robin. What mystery man made her express her inner anguish through the majesty of song, powered by guitar rock utilizing nihilist grunge energy (or GRUNGE)?

A scrolling list of suspects included, but was not limited to:

  • Wayne Gretzky
  • Neil Young
  • Ryan Reynolds (who actually did date Alanis Morissette)
  • William Shatner (Star Trek)
  • David Suzuki (scientist and environmentalist)
  • Brad Roberts (lead singer of the Crash Test Dummies)
  • Knowlton Nash (news anchor on CBC’s The National)
  • Toller Cranston (figure skater from the 1970s)
  • Mel Lastman (former Toronto mayor)
  • Brian Mulroney (Canada’s 18th prime minister)
  • Danny Gallivan (Hockey Night in Canada announcer, who died three years before the events in the episode)

The episode leaves that to a mystery. Dave Coulier assures the audience, “It wasn’t me. Why does everyone always think it’s me?”

The show also included a full-length music video of “P.S. I Love You.”

Talk about commitment to the (Tim)bit, eh.

(Photos/video: CBS, YouTube.)

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