Thursday, September 22, 2011

How I stick with How I Met Your Mother

Note: This post is recommended for fans of How I Met Your Mother. But if not and you have some time on your hands, I certainly encourage you to read on anyway.

On the latest Talking TV podcast* they discussed the state of How I Met Your Mother. Contributor Maureen Ryan recently wrote a piece over on her AOL TV blog about the show, and her "trust issues" with it given the way the show keeps putting energy into the played-out "mystery" of the identity of the eponymous mother, and now how the show is creating a sub-mystery by flash-forwarding to Barney's wedding but not revealing who he's marrying. (It's going to be Robin, by the way, but let's not digress to that.) It strikes her as a contrivance that was interesting in earlier seasons but now is merely annoying; I fully concur the strength of the show is the characters, not the framing of the narrative, and any focus on the latter can result in taking away from the former.

I imagine the creators feel compelled to reveal the mother in the series finale.  (My wife is convinced that it will further be revealed that in the frame of 2030, where narrator Ted is telling his teen-aged children this story of how he met their mother, that the mother has actually passed away, and thus the reason why Ted would be telling all these stories. That does seem like a downer, but it would explain why in all the cutaway shots of the kids how the mother had never popped into the room while Ted is regaling the children with such tales; conceivably she'd want to hear them as well, were she around.) I cannot imagine that if that's how they're going to play it that the show can go more than the two more seasons for which it's already been renewed (this 2011 season and 2012).

In an interview co-creator Carter Bays did note they have a plan through that far, but if they were picked up for more seasons they wouldn't turn it down. That strikes me as a mistake, but that's just me; I think every show should know what stories it has to tell and should go out before it starts to go downhill (and way before there's any shark-jumping even on the horizon). Leave 'em wanting more, not just going through the motions because the network considers the show profitable.

I find the mother mystery at best mildly amusing, but the thing is: Even having been a fan of the show since its second season (we met HIMYM a bit late) the weakest part of the show has always been Ted. Even though it's ostensibly his story, and he's the one narrating the tale, and the initial "hook" of the show in its first season was his pursuit of Robin, the thing that turned us into fans and has kept us fans all these years has been the rest of the group and the skills of Jason Segal, Alyson Hannigan, and of course, Neil Patrick Harris (the latter two being the "names" among the cast, given their roles on Buffy and Doogie Howser). It's not that Josh Radnor's portrayal of Ted is poor; he services the show adequately well, especially given that his character's role is to be the one who keeps getting his heart broken with each romantic interest who turns out not to be the mother. It's not a bad part of the show, but relative to the Marshall and Lily's adorable compatibility and Barney's charming womanizing it's the conventional center that cannot quite compete; however, it's always been part of the deal.

I do understand the weariness from the mother mystery being dangled in front of us for six seasons, but I suppose it's something to which I am accustomed after all this time, so I don't really think about it critically. However, given her role as a TV critic I can see how Ryan cannot help but do so, and she's certainly not to be disparaged for expressing concern over that aspect of the show. To a great extent I find myself feeling pleased that somehow I have avoided unleashing my analytical side on the show. It's in a comfortable place in my brain where I am invested in the characters without being overly invested in the supposed overarching "mythology"; I think that's the best place to be with any show.

With Lost—to which, Ryan mentions, HIMYM has been compared due to the narrative risks the show takes—I was always somewhat more invested in the mythology, and never got as invested in the characters as would be what proved to be necessary for how that show ended. By contrast, with Battlestar Galactica, I was much more invested in the characters than the mythology, and thus I wasn't so worried about the ending. So I'm glad to be in this place with HIMYM with at least this season and next before it's likely I may need to consider how I feel about finally meeting the mother.

But those who responded to Ryan's piece by declaring her "a joyless harpy" because she said anything critical of the show are the people who enjoy the show by completely turning off their minds, relaxing, and floating downstream with it, and presumably have never taken a moment to come to grips with why they like it. If your pleasure from what makes you happy cannot withstand a reasoned argument that questions it in the slightest, it's pretty fragile. And dismissing that questioning of it out of hand seems unlikely to make you happier. However, that probably reveals more that in the era of the internet with its ease of sharing one's opinions most people who are spouting opinions never got the hang of logical argumentation. But let's not digress on that.

Ultimately, that there's something that can even be questioned is proof of its worth, and more than can be said about Rules of Engagement, which inexplicably won't die.

If the show-runners of HIMYM have any sense they'll end it after next year's eighth season, knowing that the end is the end (as happened with BSG and Lost) and let it be the end. But if they reveal the mother (or at least resolve the mystery in some satisfactory way) and can think of a good direction to take the show after that, I'd stick with that, too.


* That's right—I italicized the names; have you not noticed I italicize most names, whether that follows MLA style or not? This is not a term paper.

1 comment:

  1. I've never really gotten into that show. I like Neal and Alyson as actors, but the show leaves me cold.


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