Whitney Pastorek
March 28, 2008 AT 04:00 AM EDT

If the best thing one can say about Britney Spears’ March 24 guest appearance on How I Met Your Mother is that her performance did not debase or degrade the CBS show — hey, we’ll take it. In the role of Abby, a dizzy receptionist, Spears utilized a stronger will to live than we saw during last year’s VMA debacle and a greater sense of self than she exhibits in your average TMZ video. Her line readings were generally sharp (though occasionally rushed) and her characterization was consistent. But to her credit — and that of HIMYM director Pamela Fryman — she also disappeared sufficiently into her supporting role. That allowed viewers to revel in the episode’s real guest star: Scrubs‘ Sarah Chalke, whose warmth, intelligence, and skill as a physical comedian were on copious display. Spears may have delivered dialogue without falling on her face, but when Chalke fell out of her chair, Ted (Josh Radnor) fell in love — and so did we. Ah, to live in a world where that sort of artistic achievement merits headlines, too.

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