A Little Ways Down the Road: How I Met Your Mother, Five Years Later
I’ve always felt a kinship with How I Met Your Mother. Not only was it a show that I watched from the beginning but I was just the right age for it to have an impact on me. Sixteen years old, I was desperate to move out of my small town. How I Met Your Mother was a show that depicted modern relationships and friendships. It married the warmth and romance of Friends with the wry and sardonic observations of Seinfeld. How I Met Your Mother was also a show about New York City, perfectly placing the fantasy of Manhattan into my subconscious. To me, it was the life I wanted.
I followed the show through college, and for a few years after that. I stopped watching, sometime during its eighth season. I still liked the show, but somehow the magic of the show from my high school days had dissipated. I was actually living in NYC, and slowly realizing that life was not like the show. Since then I’ve marathoned the entire series twice, finding all the same joys in the early seasons and enjoying parts of the later seasons. I still have an attachment to Ted (Josh Radnor), Robin (Cobie Smulders), Marshall (Jason Segel), Lily (Alyson Hannigan), and Barney (Neil Patrick Harris). The show makes me feel nostalgic for my teen years and for the promise of what adulthood could look like.
Like most sitcoms, How I Met Your Mother has not aged well. Even in the five years since its series finale, the language we use for LGBTQ+ people and for women has changed significantly. Now the show has an almost regressive view of sex and non-heteronormative people. How I Met Your Mother is uncomfortably casual about Barney tricking women into bed with false identities, and elaborate schemes. While the show does make an effort to call out Barney’s behavior — and he does have a redemptive arc over the course of the series — the show still treats Barney’s conquests as objects of ridicule.
Aside from that, however, the legacy How I Met Your Mother has left us is the colossally disappointing finale. After spending an entire season at Barney and Robin’s wedding, and finally introducing Tracy, the titular Mother (Cristin Milioti), creators Carter Bays and Craig Thomas unravel their entire series in a matter of minutes in the last moments of the final episode. It’s an incredibly puzzling decision because the Ted/Mother pairing worked like a charm after eight seasons of buildup. Robin and Barney were less universally accepted as a romantic pairing, but they had earned a happy ending together. “Last Forever” is a dizzying episode of television, taking the audience through an entire season’s worth of story in a single episode. Why the creators had elected to spend a whole season on a single weekend, only to stuff decades of plot into one hour is beyond my comprehension. Could the finale have worked had it been given more time? Maybe, but the story they planned is still a harsh disservice to the Mother.
Towards the latter half of the series, it became clear that Bays and Thomas hadn’t expected How I Met Your Mother to last over 200 episodes. While the show struggled in ratings for its first three seasons, by season four it became a big hit. Even with the extended series length, Bays and Thomas held fast to the ending they had originally planned. Robin, Ted, and Barney were stuck in a quagmire long after anyone really wanted to see Robin and Ted end up together. The creators couldn’t see that their show was different in season nine than it was in its early seasons. In the back half of the series, the Mother had been built up as a mythical figure, with little teases here and there. The audience wanted to see this woman, who had, with Ted, built the Grand Love Story that was craved for so long. And so it was a weird betrayal to kill her off, and pair Ted up with Robin at the last minute. Even if this was the plan, it shows a lack of awareness of what the show had become at that point.
Even with all these elements, on an episode-by-episode basis, How I Met Your Mother is pretty fun to watch. The cast seems committed throughout (all except for Jason Segel who famously wanted to leave the show before its final season). Currently, Jason Segel and Josh Radnor are both working intermittently. Alyson Hannigan is probably enjoying her vast wealth from several hit series. Neil Patrick Harris has for better or worse emerged as an archetype of the Cis Gay White Man. I think Cobie Smulders benefitted the most from the show’s popularity, with a promising selection of varied roles in film and TV. I still have a fondness for How I Met Your Mother, because it did mean a lot to me at specific time in my life. If only the show had lived up to my affection for it.