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Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Why I'm Glad How I Met Your Mother Lasted this Long, Even If the Ending Doesn't Satisfy (And I Think It Will)

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For the last few years, I have heard the same thing from How I Met Your Mother ex-fans:
"That stupid show should have ended a long time ago."
I will not deny that at points after the fourth season, the show has gone through some uneven stretches. Few shows that have run for nine seasons have not. But is this proof that this show should have not gone on this long? Nope. If HIMYM had not gone on this long, we would have missed out on the mostly excellent, penultimate eighth season. As the show begins its ninth and final season this weak, it has been placed into perfect position by this previous season, which found series scoundrel, Barney, finally settling down and getting his life in order, while Ted, the series protagonist, found himself emotionally hitting rock bottom. I found Ted's depression and loneliness to be surprisingly resonating for a half-hour sitcom. I don't think these moments from late in the season would have been so powerful, if the viewers hadn't been on this very long ride with Ted.
In the eighth season, the Ted character is essentially placed in the same position as the viewer--after all this time, all these experiences, and all these relationships, what was the point of all this? All his friends now have satisfying lives and are happy, but Ted hasn't found any of the fulfillment he has been looking for. The show fully recognizes the toll that the length of finding the titular mother has taken on Ted. If it had ignored this, I would jump on the anti-HIMYM bandwagon, but it hasn't, and in embracing this, it has created some of the show's most powerful moments. I don't think any episode has done this better than season eight's "The Time Travelers."
This episode is essentially one big feint. It presents itself as just another night of wacky hijinks at the main characters' favorite bar. As the night goes on, things get more and more ridiculous and convoluted. The show has often embraced off-kilter humor, but in "The Time Travelers," things seem to be going off the rails. In the last five minutes, the episode reveals itself like a slap in the face. Everything that is happening only exists in Ted's imagination. The majority of events in the episode actually happened five years ago. This whole time, Ted has been sitting in the bar, drinking alone. He is so lonely and lost, he has deluded himself into thinking he is having a great night with friends, when in fact his friends are all doing something else without him.
The moment Ted realizes what is actually happening is brutal. This point in the episode had already drawn tears from me. I've watched this show from the beginning, and at the time of its premiere in 2005, I was exactly where Ted is at the end of "The Time Travelers." As series-hero, Bob Saget, narrates Ted's next thoughts, the viewer's tears go from trickle to flood, as HIMYM pulls off a trick it's done better than any other show: authentically presenting an emotional experience most other shows would fail at by becoming overly sentimental. Future Ted reveals that instead of moping alone, he wishes he would have visited his friends and spent quality time with them. But even more than that, he wishes he could have gone to visit his future wife that night--it turns out she was only a few blocks away (though he admits he will meet her in only 45 days)--and spent the time with her. Ted then imagines this moment, which showcases some virtuosic acting from series star, Josh Radnor. If you Youtube search this scene further, you will find reaction videos of people watching and crying, but without eight seasons of the show behind it, the moment loses some of its power. It works so much because those of us who have watched this show for nearly a decade have experienced all of the hurt and pain and hope behind it. Bravo, show. May your ending be equally powerful.

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