Posts Tagged ‘Josh Radnor

01
Apr
14

How I finished “How I Met Your Mother”

I have written before — and often — of my love for CBS’s How I Met Your Mother, which ended its nine-year run Monday night. It was a show of true heart, relateable joys and heartbreaks, and outrageously funny characters that have kept me entertained for nearly a decade. I didn’t want to fire off a knee-jerk reaction to the finale — as the internet has proven time and again, that way lies madness. I wanted a little time to ponder, to sort out my feelings, to understand them before I tried to explain them. Now that I’ve thought it through, I think I’m ready.

Be warned. Spoilers ahoy.

To say the ending left me feeling conflicted is an understatement. There were certainly fine moments, and the structure works. At the end, the show is finally given its true context. The framing sequence, when Ted Mosby circa 2030 is telling the children how he met their mother, is really Future Ted’s attempt to explain to his children why — six years after the death of his wife — he’s considering trying to start up a relationship with their “Aunt Robin.” It explains succinctly why the story started with his and Robin’s first meeting, why so much of the story has centered on her, why over the years Ted and Robin  would backslide to one another so often. It makes sense.

Despite making sense, though, something about the finale left me feeling… hollow. And I needed to decide what that was. It wasn’t just that Tracy, the mother, was dead. I didn’t want that, but I’ve also never thought it was fair to judge a story by what you want it to be rather than what it is. And it isn’t that the ending was, at best, bittersweet, because those are often the most emotionally rich and spiritually honest ways a story can end.

My problem, I think, stems from the fact that the final few minutes of the show thrust Ted and Robin back together again — this after years of Ted trying to get over her and finally succeeding just a few short episodes ago. In the penultimate episode, in fact, he underlined that moment, telling Robin that he was not in love with her anymore. To leap, then, from that point to Future Ted returning to Robin’s apartment with the blue French Horn from so long ago… it felt like all the character development had evaporated. I could deal with Robin and Barney’s divorce, sad as that was. I probably even could have dealt with the Mother dying, as such sadness is true to life, is what ultimately makes the moments of joy all the greater. In the last minutes, though, I felt like we bounced back to square one.

In a way, I think the writers trapped themselves. In any long-running story — especially on TV, where the writer’s goals can be derailed by actors leaving, dying, getting arrested… really any circumstances where real-world events can intrude on the storytelling — there has to be room for flexibility. We all know that Aaron Paul’s character was originally slated to die in the first season of Breaking Bad, but Vince Gilligan changed his mind, and thank goodness. Then we have LOST, which initially hung a lot of significance on a 10-year-old named Walt. The mysteries around that character had to be dropped, though, because while only a few months passed on the show, in real time several years passed. The actor aged and hit a growth spurt. Now I remain a defender of LOST, I liked the ending, but I can’t deny frustration at some of the questions that were never answered because nature necessitated putting him on a boat off the island.

HIMYM’s problem wasn’t as dramatic — there was never a question of removing an actor or one of them leaving the show. Instead, the characters moved in a direction I don’t think the creators anticipated by focusing so much of the show of Ted trying to get past Robin, to the point where many viewers (I’m raising my hand here) wanted to just get past that and get on with the story of the Mother.

But the die had already been cast. To avoid “The Walt Problem,” they filmed scenes of Ted’s kids reacting to the end of the story eight years ago, before they had visibly aged from the scenes they shot for the first few episodes. It was a good strategy, but it kind of locked them into the ending, in which the kids gave Ted their blessing to go after Aunt Robin. With no wiggle room, they took an ending that may have worked in season two, or three, or even five, and applied it to characters who — by season nine — had outgrown it. The ending planned no longer rang entirely true.

I don’t hate the ending. There was, in fact, some fine work in there. Lily and Marshall have always been the stable core of the group (save for a brief period in season two), and having them act as a sort of Greek chorus in this finale, shuffling them between Robin, Barney, Ted and Tracy, all rang true.

Neil Patrick Harris, to use a baseball analogy, gets the save here. One of the best aspects of the show for the past few years has been the slow growth and development of Barney Stinson from a one-note character to someone you truly wanted to root for. When he and Robin broke up and he reverted to form, it was heartbreaking. In his case, though, it was not a question of true backsliding, of him becoming the person he once was. Even sadder, he was trying to return to the person he used to be, and with each protest that his friends “let me be who I am,” it was increasingly clear he was no longer that person.

Then he held his daughter and professed his truest, most sincere love. In that moment the old Barney — the Season One Barney, the Barney he put back on life support when he and Robin called it quits — well and truly died. And as sad as his split with Robin was, I don’t think the new Barney, Daddy Barney… hell, the real Barney… ever could have existed without her. It was a phenomenal moment, and although we didn’t get to see much of Barney as a dad, I have no doubt that it was Legend — wait for it…

And finally, Cristin Milioti as Tracy, the Mother. She gets this season’s MVP award. To come into a show in its ninth and final season would be daunting under any circumstances. To do so in such a way that makes the viewers feel for her and care about her as deeply as the five characters the audience has known all this time… it’s heroic. She was simply magnificent. We accepted easily how quickly Ted fell in love with her, because we did too.

I believed Tracy as the love of Ted’s life. Which is initially why that ending felt like a gut punch. upon reflection, though, I think I also see a seed of redemption in it. I can use it for a little perspective. Ted, after all, was the one who turned down Robin when she tried to take him back at her wedding. Tracy wasn’t his second choice, like I felt at first. Even though he didn’t know her yet, he gave up Robin to look for her, and he was rewarded. And it’s not like he ran back to Robin as soon as his wife died — he took six years, a more than respectable amount of time, before he decided it may be worth pursuing. Even then, he put the wishes of his children — Tracy’s children — before his own. Through that prism, I can see it as Robin and Ted finding solace with each other after her unexpectedly lonely life and the loss of his true love.

It’s not what I expected. It’s not how I would have ended it. But it has some truth to it nonetheless.

So while I’m not fully satisfied, I’m not really upset either. I’m certainly not angry. How could I be? For nine years, I’ve been allowed to join in on the adventures of characters right in my own stage of life, allowing me to grow with them. As Ted’s friends married and had children, so did mine. The first time Ted ever heard Tracy’s voice, she was singing “La Vie En Rose,” and as Erin and I prepare for our own wedding, they’ve given us the song for our first dance.

So thank you, show creators Carter Bays and Craig Thomas, and thank your writers, for nine years of joy. Thank you to Pamela Fryman, who directed nearly every episode of the series (a Herculean feat in and of itself). And thank you to our six incomparable friends, and the countless supporting players, for the pop culture milestone you’ve created.

For robot wrestlers and the Kennedy package. For slap bets and for Swarley, duckie ties and dopplegangers. For never buckling to peer pressure and explaining about the pineapple. (Yes, I’ve heard the rumors of a DVD extra. Shut up.) For making interventions fun again. For extending the cultural significance of the hanging chad by a good 13 years.

For making me cry more than once and never making me ashamed of it.

For blue French Horns.

For yellow umbrellas.

I request the highest of fives.

 

–dary.

Yeah. Totally worth the wait.

15
Jan
13

“How I Met Your Mother” – take the title literally

How I Met Your Mother Season 7As I’ve mentioned before, I’m a big fan of the show How I Met Your Mother. And following the last few episodes, I’ve seen a lot of speculation online about the show… with next year’s season nine pretty much confirmed to be the final season and the second half of season eight already bringing us tantalizingly close to the actual meeting of Ted Mosby (Josh Radnor) and “The Mother,” there’s a lot of chatter going on about who the titular Mother is. And while that’s by no means unimportant, I don’t think it’s as important as some of the other factors at play here. Things like the Mother’s job, her background, even her name are only important in how they play into the story of Ted Mosby.

So here’s your spoiler warning. I’m about to talk about specific plot points up to and including the January 14th episode. If you’re not caught up, you may not want to read.

Too many people are concerned about who the Mother is. They approach the story like it’s a murder mystery, trying to use each clue as it’s revealed to narrow down the field of suspects and find the Mother before Ted does. There’s a problem with this approach, though. Unless both the producers of the show and the show’s narrator (Ted himself in the year 2030) have constantly lied to us from the very beginning, the Mother is not someone we have ever met. We can’t narrow down the field because the list of potential mothers includes virtually any woman on Earth who has not previously appeared on the show.

Well, that’s not strictly true. Seven and a half seasons in, we actually know several specific things about the mother. But true to form, those details don’t actually point us towards a specific person, but rather to the circumstances of Ted meeting her. The genius of the show is that each fact we learn about her explains why one (or more) of the series’s many side-stories, subplots or tangents are not actually side-stories, subplots or tangents after all, but actually are integral to explaining just how the complicated tapestry of Ted Mosby’s life finally leads him to his true love. Let’s look as a few of the things we know about the Mother and Ted’s encounters with her, and how those clues actually point backwards rather than forwards.

  • In the episode “Definitions” (Season Five, Episode One) we learn that the Mother was a student in the first class Ted taught when he became a professor at Columbia University. However, on that first day he went to the wrong classroom – he was giving his opening day spiel to a class of economics students rather than his architecture class. While he no doubt couldn’t pick out his future wife in the auditorium of students, she would most certainly remember the strange young professor who boldly humiliated himself teaching the wrong subject. This justifies the season four story arc in which Ted almost marries Stella (Sarah Chalke). If not for their relationship Stella wouldn’t have reconciled with her ex, who then got Ted the professor job out of guilt, and therefore the Mother wouldn’t have seen Ted that day. I would be very surprised if this isn’t referenced when the two of them finally, officially meet.
  • In “Girls Vs. Suits” (Season Five, Episode Twelve) Ted dates a woman named Cindy (Rachel Bilson). Their relationship crumbles when Ted finds that all of the stuff in her apartment that he actually finds appealing belongs to Cindy’s roommate, and Future Ted reveals that Cindy’s Roommate is, in fact, The Mother (although at that point he does not actually meet her). Interesting information, to be certain, but considering how many one-episode girlfriends Ted has had, it doesn’t appear to be particularly significant at the time. As of this week’s episode, however, that is no longer the case. But we’ll get to that.
  • In “Big Days” (Season Six, Episode One) we learn that Ted will meet the Mother at a wedding, in which he is the best man. Important, but not enough of a clue to build on, except that it turns a storyline from later in the season — in which Ted is best man for his old high school buddy Punchy (Chris Romanski) — into a red herring… because it isn’t Punchy’s wedding after all.
  • In “Challenge Accepted” (Season Six, Episode Twenty-Four) we learn that Ted will meet the Mother when he’s the best man at Barney’s wedding. Now we know why so many of the Barney (Neil Patrick Harris) stories, going all the way back to season one, matter to the arc. It’s important we know that Ted is Barney’s “best bro in the world.”
  • In “The Magician’s Code Part Two” (Season Seven, Episode Twenty-Four) we learn that Ted will meet the Mother when he’s the best man at Barney’s wedding…  to Robin. This is probably the biggest, most important bomb dropped on us yet. The HIMYM story begins, in the pilot episode, when Ted Mosby meets Robin Scherbatsky (Cobie Smulders), because he literally would not have met his wife if he wasn’t at Robin’s wedding. This explains the significance of huge swaths of the show, including all the stories about Ted and Robin’s relationship, Robin and Barney’s relationship, and even those stories about Ted and Victoria (Ashley Williams), an early Mother candidate whose path with Ted was derailed twice because of Robin. (It’s okay. Victoria turns out to be Beinaheleidenschaftsgegenstand anyway.)
  • In this week’s episode, “Band or DJ?” (Season Eight, Episode Thirteen), we learn the Mother will be the bass player in Barney and Robin’s wedding band. She gets the job because the first band they book will cancel just a week ahead of time. Disaster, until Ted just happens to run into Cindy again, who tells him that her old roommate’s band is available for that weekend.

I could go on, but the point is that none of these things are about the Mother’s identity as much as they are about how all the dominos of Ted’s life were arranged to get him – both emotionally and literally – in the right place at the right time to meet her.

The Mother’s name? Where she grew up? How long she and Ted will date before they get married? If that’s what you’re focusing on, you’re going to be disappointed, because the narrative structure of the story isn’t pointing towards these things as being part of the Big Payoff. Even the actress who ultimately gets the role is largely irrelevant, as long as she’s talented and has chemistry with the rest of the cast.

The emotional core we’ve been building towards for eight years now has not pointed to the revelation of any specific cast member. We’ve only encountered the Mother, whoever she is, in fleeting glimpses here and there. Structurally, this show has more in common with Se7en than an Agatha Christie mystery: the final character reveal is not nearly as important as what happens to our hero as he searches for that character. The emotional punch at the end of HIMYM isn’t going to be seeing Kevin Spacey’s face, it’s going to be finding out what’s in the box.

And that box, by the way, is where the writers have wiggle room for season nine, even if the meeting is at the end of season eight. Even once they meet, that doesn’t mean the story ends right there. Maybe she’s going out of town for a year and Ted doesn’t know (at that point) if he’ll ever see her again. Maybe he’ll do something outrageously stupid and have to find a way to win her back. Maybe any of a dozen obstacles will pop up that will allow us to end season nine, and the series, with a final emotional jolt equal to that of “The Final Page” (Season Eight, Episode Twelve), even if we’ve already known exactly who the mother is for a whole season at that point.

And that’ll be okay.

Because remember, the show isn’t called Who’s Your Mama? It’s called How I Met Your Mother.




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