Mar 31, 2014

Legen… Wait for It: Goodbye, How I Met Your Mother

By Josh Oakley

I was in 8th grade when I first met Ted, Robin, Barney, Marshall and Lily. Since then, I’ve graduated high school, and I’m nearing the end of my fourth year of college. These five MacLaren’s regulars have seen me through friends lost and gained, broken hearts, a number of moving trucks, national tragedies and personal ones. How I Met Your Mother has been producing new episodes for nearly half of my life, and now it simply isn’t anymore. Save for one or two guys I met in 6th grade, this sitcom is my longest companion. This all sounds a bit hyperbolic, and may lean too heavily on my personal experiences.  But, as I’ve admitted before, I’m a bit of a Ted Mosby myself. When I love, I gush. And I loved How I Met Your Mother.

Nearly every piece written on the end of this series puts at the forefront the years of decline. This is an appropriate job of criticism, and just because a death is imminent does not mean we should ignore the flaws. I just don’t think the flaws were that prominent overall. It seems widely recognized that the show stumbled after its third season, but HIMYM’s fourth year was largely great, and contained my personal favorite episode, “Three Days of Snow”. That half-hour has nearly everything I love about the show from its manipulation of structure to the openly beating heart that it wore on its sleeve. Season four also had “The Front Porch”, a fairly potent look at how we view the future of ourselves and those that we love.

Seasons five through nine weren’t as uniformly strong, though I believe that the first half of season eight is the only stretch that one should actively avoid. And even these years had some of the best episodes of television I’ve ever seen. “The Ducky Tie” and “Subway Wars” were as funny as the show ever was. “Last Words” and “Symphony of Illumination” are genuinely powerful episodes, entries that tapped into lead characters in ways that deepened and strengthened our appreciation and love. The climax of “Last Words” is borderline difficult-to-watch, as the goofy Marshall screams at a seemingly uncaring god. Many have problems with Ted Mosby (so good thing I compared myself to him earlier), but his act of friendship at the end of “Symphony of Illumination” is a beautiful culmination of a stunning story.

Of course, that moment was a piece of the tale of Robin and Ted, one that many, many viewers grew tired of. But, for me, the reveal in HIMYM’s pilot that the two would not end up together allowed the show to explore the minutia of falling in love, staying in love once the other person has fallen out, attempting to be friends with that person, and all of the threads that naturally flow from those conflicts. Their relationship, and Ted’s inability to grow past it, felt so authentic to me, even if it appeared to be a trick nearly every sitcom pulls. But this was never a will-they-won’t-they. “They won’t”, the show said, only 22 minutes into its run.

Of course, Ted didn’t know this. The discrepancy between where Teddy Westside was at any given time, and what Future Ted let the audience in on, led to poignant moments. It is in the way that How I Met Your Mother was a show about storytelling that it became more than a rip-off of hang-out sitcoms before it. This was never truer than in “The Time Travelers”, a silly episode that reveals itself to be about so much more than jokes and visual gags. “The Time Travelers” is about the way our mind warps in times of loneliness, and about the way that our young selves can never know what the future holds. Ted may only be weeks away from meeting the love of his life, but what does that mean to him at that moment? How do we piece together our lives in hindsight, and how does that differ from the actual events we experience? Even in its worst days, How I Met Your Mother never stopped asking, rephrasing and emphasizing these questions.

There are a million moments I didn’t even touch on above: Ted and Marshall’s road trip flashbacks in “Arrivederci, Fiero”; The unconscious reconciliation in “Slapsgiving”; The two-minute date with Stella; Barney meeting his biological father; Lily admitting that some days she dreams of a life without her family; The Mother’s tragic origin story in the middle of the final season.

How I Met Your Mother never stopped creating these moments. Even the second-to-last episode, “Gary Blauman”, was one of the show’s best, a layered story that ended with a magnificent and emotional set-piece. This sitcom created characters worth sticking by for nearly a decade, from the slowly maturing skeezeball Barney to the warm yet stern Lily.

But from the beginning to the very end, How I Met Your Mother was a show about that “I” looking for that love. The hints, from the ankle to the yellow umbrella, were pieces of lore in the same way that the old ticket stubs we collect remind us of our better days. Ted has always been a romantic, often obnoxiously so, crawling towards a finish line that he, at times, doubted the existence of. Ted was few people’s favorite character, but he was the massive, loud heart of How I Met Your Mother. And throughout this nine-year journey, we’ve waited, alongside his best friends and his worst exes. We’ve waited for Ted to reach that point that we all long for. That point in our lives where our dreams and our reality align. May we all be lucky enough to find that person, or that job, or whatever it is we yearn for in all of the brief, vital moments between the distractions of life. Ted has been waiting for so long.

And the waiting is over. Dary.

No comments:

Post a Comment