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Television Collision: How I Never Met Your Mother

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With talk of a possible ninth season of CBS’s How I Met Your Mother currently swirling on the interwebs, it is time to revisit all the reasons why this is a terrible idea, because the show stopped being relevant or witty two seasons ago already.

I am a fairly loyal viewer. More loyal than ratings systems and scheming studio heads sometimes give audiences credit for. Once a show has me hooked, I keep hanging on, even when somewhere in my head I am thinking I might be better off letting go. And by “hanging on” I don’t even just mean “keep watching”. As a TV columnist, I watch a lot of shows to keep in the loop, not because I particularly care (though I care about most shows). But I have never stopped caring about such shows as House, which has been tumbling down for a long while now, nor have I given up on Bones, which played fast and loose with likability and character continuity at times. Generally, I am very forgiving of shows once they have managed to pull me onto their side and make me care.

I don’t like pondering giving up on shows I used to like, but lately I have no choice but to ponder giving up on How I Met Your Mother. The show has been straining my patience for years now, and had any other actress played Zoe this season than my beloved Jennifer Morrison, one of my shoes may already have found the TV screen as I watched this Season 6 unfold and toy with the audience. Zoe wasn’t a likable character, but more than that she was also immediately ruled out as the mother, so there was no reason to ever start caring about her, as she was certain to be disposed of in a timely fashion. At least with Stella a few season ago, we got a glimpse at the bliss that relationship was/could have been. We never got blissful Ted and Zoe, they were yelling at each other from the start.

The creators of HIMYM are hell-bent on not only writing a comedy show, but a mystery show, leaving subtle (or mostly undecipherable) hints here and there and teasing the audience with the promise of a big reveal in the undetermined future (since there is no end date set for the show). Now, the journey to said reveal would be made ever more pleasant if Ted was ever given a relationship with a woman that wasn’t doomed from the start, because it would make him more likable and it would give us something to enjoy on the show other than Barney’s one-liners.

I don’t think I would mind the mystery around the mother so much if there was any conceivable way the hints that are being dropped could actually lead to the audience figuring out who the mother is now already and then see whether they are correct when the reveal finally happened. But since the character of the mother hasn’t even appeared on the show, there is no way we can guess. It’s like watching Sherlock Holmes investigating a murder at a dinner party, where you expect the murderer to be one of the other guests, only to have the murderer turn out to be the mailman of the community, whom we have never met before. A very unsatisfying reveal. And I fear HIMYM is setting itself up for one of those.

This could easily be avoided though, because the reason viewers keep tuning in week after week is precisely not the mystery surrounding the mother anymore, but the weekly antics and the developments in the lives of the other characters. Most of the time, the show acknowledges this fact too, because clues as to the identity of the mother and plot points that actually drive the overall arc forward are only placed in the opening and finales of the seasons at this point, with merely a rehash happening somewhere in the middle, to remind us there still is that big, overarching mystery. But most of the individual episodes of HIMYM are completely mystery-free. For a good reason: you drew out the resolution to that mystery for so long that now no one cares anymore.

Which is all good and well, plenty of shows outlive their initial set-up and go on to become bigger and better shows. Friends got a lot better when the attention shifted from the Ross and Rachel angle to focusing on Chandler and Monica as the show’s unifying center. Cougar Town has moved on from its initial concept of being about a woman in her 40s stepping out onto the dating scene again and is now a delightful collage of oddball characters spitting out one hilarious one-liner after another (albeit none of them being believable as real people).

So my gripe with HIMYM isn’t that we aren’t getting enough hints to the mother’s identity. It’s that we are getting any at all and that all interviews, scoops, teasers and spoilers surrounding the show seem to be focused on this, further nurturing the notion in the creators that this is the part of the show we care about. It’s not. Most of the time Ted is not even the character we care about. Apart from his ongoing battle to build a skyscraper in NYC, nothing has really happened with Ted lately.

Meanwhile, Lily and Marshall have been through the works. Their plans to have a baby were rudely interrupted by the death of Marshall’s father, the scene in which Lily tells him about it being one of the very few truly emotionally touching scenes of the entire show. His father’s death then led Marshall to reevaluate his life and quit his well-paid job at the soul-sucking Goliath National Bank to pursue his dream of being an environmental lawyer. Finally, the dopey character of Marshall got some layers that made me understand why a woman as delightfully wacky but grounded as Lily would fall for him. HIMYM is at its best when it centers on this pair, who provide the stable ground every other storyline of the show can launch from.

Tragically sidelined this season was Robin, while Barney got to have the chance for a serious relationship dangled in front of him and reconnect with his long-lost dad. But something tells me Robin was waiting in the wings to play a major part in the season finale, which will not make up for reducing her to a mere prop for over 20 episodes.

So I have arrived at a dichotomy: on the one hand, I want the premise, the “How I met your mother” part, to finally start really going somewhere. Somewhere perceivably closer to a resolution.
And on the other hand I think the show could be much more enjoyable if it just abandoned the premise, or better yet: solve it and yet keep going.

For the latter to work out (regardless of whether the mystery is abandoned or solved) one thing has to happen though: the show has to actually become funny again and work as a comedy. I can’t remember the last time I actually laughed while watching HIMYM. Maybe the cockamouse made me giggle a little, but long gone are the times when interaction between the characters were actually funny enough to have me place the show on my list of Top Ten TV Shows of 2008. My highlight of Season 6 is this conversation, in which the gang tries to look hip in front of Barney’s dad (reversed picture for copyright reasons):

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1hKKp29MpJY

 

Other than that the comedy of HIMYM has largely been reduced to gimmicky set-ups (like Lily and Robin fighting some other girls for the booth at McLaren’s) and an assembly of weird characters the gang has dated (guest star Katy Perry as Honey and Robin’s lap dog boyfriend spring to mind).

I want creators Carter Bays and Craig Thomas to make a decision after this season. They have already told us that they have prolonged the original overall storyline they had in mind by inserting the bit we are watching right now (with the wedding that was teased in Season 6’s first episode), because the show is doing so well and could potentially keep running for a while. I want them to agree on an end date, on how many more seasons they need to tell the story the way they wanted to, and then stick to that and give us back the quality comedy HIMYM once was.

Or I want them to go the opposite route and stop plotting and planning and dropping hints they might giggle at, because they know where all this is going, but which don’t tell the rest of us anything except that we are tired of being jerked around. Abandon the mystery and take a look at what you actually have going already, which is an ensemble of talented, funny actors playing largely likable and multi-faceted characters who are most delightful when they interact with each other and not with outsiders of the group. This was one of the greatest strengths of Friends, the fact that a lot of the times all you needed were the six central characters confined to an apartment interacting with each other and no one else to create some of the finest TV comedy ever.

I want How I Met Your Mother to get back into fighting distance for the title of Champion in the comedy category, because the other contenders (Cougar Town, Modern Family, The Middle, The Big Bang Theory, Parks and Recreation, Community) are playing in a different league right now. In my opinion the only way to do that is to focus on the group dynamic and strengthen what has always been the core of the show again.
Here’s an example how to do it from Friends, Season 3, Episode 2, “The One Where No One’s Ready”:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ag–iJlaymM

 

 

 

Need more TV coverage? Listen to a new “Television Collision: Podcast Extra”, Episode 5 below.

Topics this week include Game of Thrones, House, Justified and a slew of comedies. It’s sweeps time after all.

 

{mp3}Podcast-Episode5{/mp3}

 

Join the discussion by commenting below or following us on Twitter: @cc2konline and @PhoebeRaven!

Author: Phoebe Raven, CC2K Staff Writer

Born in Germany, lived in the US, now in the UK. Always taking my love for TV and writing with me. Life participator. Blogger. Gaming enthusiast.

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