Ah, how we all love a good sitcom, a chance to relinquish our cares and laugh at the haps and mishaps of a bunch of startlingly witty people. Seinfeld, Fraser, Absolutely Fabulous, Black Books and Spaced are amongst the classics for me, the all time greats, the ones that didn’t outstay their welcome.
I immensely enjoyed watching Scrubs, Friends and the like but they all fell short because they ultimately drew out for too long and stagnated, How I Met Your Mother has become steadily more guilty of that as the years have gone by and has now cut an overdue exit and left us with what I found to be one the most digressive, appalling finales ever to pollute the eye-waves. So what the hell happened?
The first thing to do is examine the facts. If you haven’t seen the finale yet, I’d actually advise you keep reading, because hearing it from me will be so much more painless, but if you’re a glutton for punishment, feel free to stop here and seek it out. So the whole premise of the show was that the protagonist, Ted, had at some point in his life turned into Bob Sagat and was recounting to his children about how he’d met their mother. Throughout the entire run of the series there’d been misdirection, hinting and foreshadowing about who it would turn out to be. In the end though that didn’t really matter: Ted spent half the series dancing around another member of his core social group, Robin and he actually end up together after all is said and done. She’s not the mother though. Oh no, they killed her.
That’s right, the actual mother of Ted’s children, the love of his life that the entire story has been ostensibly working up to, died off-screen to pave the way for an infuriating final moment in which Ted runs off to get Robin back after a decades-long relationship hiatus. Near as I can figure, everyone’s pretty pissed off about this.
The most obvious reason for this ire is that this ending effectively undercuts the entire premise of the show and makes the whole thing seem like a completely arbitrary waste of time. The ending never needed to be unpredictable, we all knew what was going to happen and we were totally OK with that. More to the point, the actress ultimately cast as the mother (The Wolf of Wall Street’s Cristin Miloti) was fantastic, she had real chemistry with the rest of the cast and she was compelling to watch. To my mind it would have been a lot better to get her involved a few seasons earlier and make her a regular cast member, but since she was only originally slated to show up at the end of the 7th season (initially intended as the final one) I guess that thought processing never really factored in. The entire 8th season was a bizarre, mangled affair which had the show runners drawing what was meant to be a weekend out over a 23 episode stretch and somehow still managing to severely limit the amount of time we got to spend with Miloti. It’s kind of a saving grace in some ways that her character turned out to be meaningless diversion.
It seems more obvious from this perspective that How I Met Your Mother shared a lot of personnel with Friends. Ted and Robin are the new Ross and Rachel, but rather than just being two selfish, thoroughly unpleasant individuals that went around fucking up each other’s lives for years until finally committing to something, Ted and Robin appeared to have matured and moved on with their lives in a believable way. All part of the misdirection, it would seem. Apparently what we can all take away from sitcoms is that we should just run off and get back with our exes because destiny is either going to drive a wedge between us and anyone new and interesting or if all else fails, kill them.
This is the root of the issue then, really, these shows ran far too long with the same core group of characters and never dared to add anyone new to the mix and as a result the main characters end up as saturated tangles of inconsistency. I’ve never met a social group quite as insular as the HIMYM crew, let alone one with such an intimate history of sleeping with each other. Does it diminish the overall appeal of the show though? As a narrative it definitely does but as a taut, amusing distraction, not at all. I guess that’s the beauty of sitcoms, even if the end result is fubar, the surface appeal remains intact.
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