Wednesday, February 05, 2014

How I'm viewing How I Met Your Mother

How I Met Your Mother is ultimately the story of lead character and narrator Ted's (protracted) journey from meeting the woman he thinks is "the one" (Robin) through to the eponymous meeting of the mother of his children (to whom he is telling the winding tale in the year 2030). From its beginning in 2005 that's been the framework of the show. We know in the first season Robin is not the Mother (because narrator Ted tells us so in voice-over), so it's all a matter of him getting over Robin (which, as the series draws closer to its finale, in has… in theory—we'll get to that shortly).

When the series was new my wife and I were only dating, and HIMYM was a show we came very much to enjoy. It was probably more for the characters of Ted's friends Marshall and Lilly (and lothario friend Barney). By season 2 we were tuning in every Monday night. As the years have progressed we've gotten married and even had a son (just like Marshall and Lilly did on the show), and we've also kept watching (as I've written about before). We have a long-established relationship with the show.

That's what has made us stick with it (as I've also written about before) even though for several seasons it has not been anywhere near as good as it was in those early seasons that got us hooked.

Despite being a new dad I still squeeze in a few moments for thoughts on subjects other than my son. Now we're still seven episodes from the end of the series, and that's probably why we're making the effort to see it through. Alas, I must say thus far this ninth and final season has not been particularly good. Because I don't know when I may get another chance to get this out I'm not waiting for the season (and series) to conclude before I offer this (probably final) report.


Given how sub-par the show has been for the past three or four seasons the only hope for this ninth one (as I hoped in this post from last May) was that because they'd actually introduced the Mother at the end of the eighth season in number nine we could get a chance to get to know her.

Through the first fifteen episodes we hadn't seen much of her, mostly just little scenes. In many she wasn't seen at all. But when she was on screen she was an overwhelming highlight of an otherwise disappointing string of 22-minute installments.

In a recent interview in The Hollywood Reporter, creators Craig Thomas and Carter Bays admitted to not using the Mother enough in this final season, something they claimed to "correct that error nicely" in the last nine episodes.

[Spoiler alert, for those who care.] 

The tenth-to-last episode ("Unpause"), which answered many outstanding questions from the course of the series and was generally regarded as the best of Season 9. Complete fan service, but we'll give them one for that.

The ninth-to-last episode ("How Your Mother Met Me"—essentially a backdoor pilot for the rumored spin-off How I Met Your Dad, showing the story from her perspective) was the first where they spent any significant amount of time on her, focusing on her story. However, they sped through years of the tale (covering all the near-miss interactions between she and Ted over the span of the show) to get to a decent last five minutes. I can only guess they didn't want to use too much of what they aspire to be a spin-off series; otherwise they utterly squandered what could have been the best part of this final season—and yes, I'm factoring in the inevitable eponymous meeting in the finale. (At this point I kind of expect that to be perfunctory, not the highlight.)

This past Monday's episode ("Sunrise") gave us Ted confessing to Robin (in the wee hours of her wedding day) he still thought her "the one"—and hence he was moving to Chicago in part to get away from her. The scene ends with him claiming to "let her go" (which is represented in a both figurative and literal sense with her floating away like a balloon). Clearly this was supposed to be an emotional interaction between them, freeing him up for the Mother, whom we already know Ted meets at the wedding later that day (but she didn't appear in this episode at all).

And that's really it.

Because of the frame and what has been revealed already regarding the timing of the impending meeting the way they have Ted still hung up on Robin this close to that supposedly momentous event makes it seem like the Mother is merely Ted's rebound. And from last week's episode we know the Mother too had been hung up on a former beau who died and for whom she'd carried a torch for years, only finally deciding to move on just before the wedding as well (which I'm sure is supposed to correlate with Ted's situation). They're both "clearing the decks" in order to have space in their hearts for the other, which is fine and a necessary step to allow their relationship to blossom.

But not less than 24 hours ahead of time.

I'm not saying it's impossible to get over what is ostensibly "the one" and meet "the real one" the next day, but somehow after nine years of watching the show I don't feel convinced that's how Ted would. Perhaps I've not been paying attention as closely as I should, but as an actual fan who has written about the show multiple times (favorably) I don't think I was being too glib in my viewings. It feels more like the creators are merely going for what seems emotionally wrought rather than what is plausible and organic to the well-established story.

Like many others I find Ted's lingering romantic obsession with Robin to be tired and pathetic. I can see Ted being lonely and wanting to meet "the one" (as we know he did) and I can see how things could be a bit challenging just before the wedding, but he doesn't seem open for new love if he's still saying Robin was it this late in the story.

(Admittedly, it's not like the conceit of the series—that in the future Ted is telling his teenage children this story over the course of over 200 half-hour installments—isn't terribly realistic upon analysis (not only is much of the subject matter—all the other women he dated, etc.—inappropriate, but who believes the kids would sit through all that?). However, to the extent we've accepted the verisimilitude of that, it's somewhat implausible that Ted gets over Robin just because he says he does.)


Sure, the way this season is really just three days stretch over 24 episodes makes what is for the viewer months only a matter of a day or so for the characters, and Ted was still pining for Robin at the end of season 8, so one could argue that consistency of story. Thus one could say the real issue with this season is not Ted's annoying status with Robin but the dragging out of the timeline in a way that is completely inconsistent with the previous eight seasons. Perhaps the creators got too enamored with what they could do, rather than consider whether that served the viewer.

Of course, part of the other trouble with the "extra" seasons is they got the chance to "wrap up" stories that didn't really need further attention. Last night's story with Barney "passing the torch" of The Playbook to a couple shlubs he meets staggering down the road at 5 a.m. seemed pretty much a waste of time. Even other nods to things that were good in the past (the slap bet) are at best only amusing for a second, then remind one of how things used to be good; the fan service relies too much on nostalgia rather than being good now.

Marshall and Lilly's fight over him taking the judgeship without discussing it has seemed the only thing with any real emotional heft, but Monday that got resolved a bit more quickly than it probably should have (but no doubt needed to for the amount of episodes left). And let's not get started on how Barney and Robin still don't seem like they should be getting married (and maybe they won't go through with it, for all we know).



For those who are enjoying this season clearly more than I have been, that's great. Really. For me, alas, I have more or less abandoned my hope for this season, and regardless of how Bays and Thomas wrap it in the finale (or what they do in the intervening six episodes) I don't believe this season could redeemed, at best salvaged—granting them the most benefit of the doubt I can.

(Hey, maybe the same way I seem to affect the outcome of sporting events by not believing in a given result can have a similar effect on a TV show.)

All that said, I'd still take the worst HIMYM over what could be considered the best episode of its lead-out, Two Broke Girls.


The series is closing in on its finale (on March 31), and that's best for everyone involved. The actors and creators can go to other projects, and we can focus that half-hour a week on something else (as parents our time will get more and more limited for things like TV shows). As Ted did regarding Robin, we all need to let go and move on.

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