Review of Britney Spears’s Comeback Role

03/25/2008 AT 12:00 AM EDT

The audience understood from the get-go that Britney Spears's cameo role on Monday night's How I Met Your Mother was more about damage control than acting.

Her challenge was clear: Demonstrate that, even though she seems in recent months to have been traveling through life on the roaring, ragged edge of a tornado, she could still stop and stand still long enough to perform on camera, be as naturally charming as the role permitted, and let the audience conclude: "Well, she SEEMS all right. She seems like Britney."

And she did all that in the space of a few mild comic moments. At least she balanced out that weird MTV awards appearance last fall where she looked like a Bond girl who'd come out of a coma.

Her part on the CBS sitcom wasn't as cartoonishly flamboyant as her 2006 appearance on Will & Grace, as Amber-Louise, the Southern conservative co-host of a gay talk show. This time she played Abby, a humdrum receptionist in the office of a dermatologist.



In fact, the very first shot of the half-hour was of Britney at her receptionist's desk, staring off like some girl in a Vermeer painting, or perhaps more precisely like Scarlett Johansson in a movie about Vermeer.

Frankly, I would have made the entire half-hour an ingenious stunt: Everything was happening IN THE HEAD of this sad, dreamy girl. But that was not the plot: Ted (Josh Radnor), undergoing a series of laser treatments to remove a tattoo, had a crush on the dermatologist doing the zapping (Scrubs's Sarah Chalke), but the doctor kept resisting his efforts at flirtation.

The receptionist, meanwhile, developed a crush on Ted.

The script didn't make much of this potential triangle. Britney mostly smiled with a sort of likable, hopeful pathos (except for one brief moment, when she handed the doctor a file with a bluntness that seemed inexplicably hostile).

Well, what's wrong with likable, hopeful pathos? Plenty of celebrities would kill for even that.

But her best scene came at the very end: Abby, letting herself be seduced by the ridiculously rakish Barney (Neil Patrick Harris), unexpectedly and enthusiastically upped the ante. It was a sort of fantasy validation: This loser secretary, who tried to find herself reading self-help books, was transformed into a fun girl with thoughts only of uncomplicatedly naughty good times.

As she bolted from the office with Harris, it was as if Britney were rushing out to meet her former self. -- Tom Gliatto

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