A few weeks back it was announced that How I Met Your Mother would be dragged out, sorry, renewed for a ninth season. This was met with the resounding sound of millions of fans hitting their heads against the wall in exasperation around the world. It also prompted a lot of internet analysis over just why this was. After all, the show was still killing it in the ratings, implying people were happy to keep following the adventures of Ted and co. So why all the anger?
There are a lot of accusations that the show has jumped the shark, and to be fair, it probably passed its creative peak around the season five episode where the audience was expected to laugh at the unbridled hilarity of Marshall being mugged by a monkey. Comic gold, right? Especially compared to so many of the brilliant ideas that populated the early years; Robin Sparkles, Interventions, Sandwiches, The Playbook, the list goes on. The show was full of great comic concepts, and probably was never expected to go past about five seasons. Like most popular shows, it’s a victim of its own success. However, the biggest creative challenge facing How I Met Your Mother lies in arguably its best innovation. It’s right there in the title.
How I Met Your Mother is original in how it successfully married the classic sitcom tropes of a bunch of likable characters hanging it in a bar and having relationship issues with elements more reminiscent of something like Lost; clues to its endgame and setups for jokes that would not be paid off until multiple seasons down the line (i.e. the goat). It’s pretty rare for a comedy show to have this much internal continuity, all building up to a moment the title already pre-empts. And therein lies the problem; even if the show had remained as funny and consistently innovative as in its early years, fans would be getting frustrated that eight years in they were still waiting to meet the mother. Then, couple that frustration with the fact that, while the show still delivers classic episodes, they are few and far between. Maybe future viewers watching all the episodes in a blur over a weekend won’t notice as much, but watching week by week the failures stand out. Most episodes are at best not very funny and at worst unwatchable.
But the biggest problem caused by the yearly renewals is the way in which the overall plot has been dragged out and filled with such blatant filler. For example, the endless relationships that we know won’t go anywhere. Why, for example, did we have to sit through several episodes of Ted’s reunion with a girlfriend from season one that we’ve all forgotten, when we know he won’t end up with her? The writers tried and failed miserably to make a case for him having to see her again because somehow she was important to him or… something. But it didn’t work. Likewise, Barney’s relationship with the stripper Quinn, and before that with Nora, went on and on despite us all knowing that he would get together with Robin in the end. It’s very simply a symptom of a programme that has been dragged out much, much longer than it needed to be. Think back to the early years, where it became clear how one thing led to another. Ted dating Robin led to him getting the tramp stamp that he had removed by Stella, who he almost married before she was whisked away by her ex-husband who felt sorry enough to get him a college job where he met the mother’s roommate and then… filler. Lots and lots and lots of filler. It’s the closest thing to clear evidence that the writers only had enough plot for five, maybe six seasons of story. The moment the show started dragging out the plot was around the time the quality took a sharp downward turn.
There are, however, signs of life. The last episode showed Ted meeting the aforementioned roommate of the mother who recommends a certain band with a certain bass player to perform at Barney and Robin’s wedding; thus leading to Ted meeting the mother. It was a clever and effective pickup of a subplot from several seasons ago that was clearly meant to lead in to the meeting. In doing so, it’s almost justified itself and showed that it’s still smart enough to connect the dots and respect the audience. It also made very clear that Ted will meet the mother at the end of the current season, by confirming that Barney and Robin’s wedding occurs this May, when the season comes to an end. And yet, that season nine renewal might just mean dark clouds on the horizon.
After all, if Ted meets the mother at the end of this season, that means we will have a season of him getting to know her and the building of their relationship. It makes sense in a lot of ways; Ted simply meeting the mother without any development of their relationship might be seen as an anticlimax, but it opens up a whole host of new problems for the show. Will people keep watching once the mother is met? That depends on whether the vast majority of viewers are sticking around because they love the show or because they just want to know who the damn mother is. But deeper than this; what if the mother simply doesn’t work? It’s hard to know how audiences will react to new characters until they show up. You know how unlikable all Ted’s girlfriends have been? That was never intended by the writers. The actresses just didn’t fit the dynamic of the show. How I Met Your Mother’s greatest strength is the camaraderie of its central group. How will that shift with the addition of a new member? What if she and Ted simply have no chemistry? What if she fails to be likable? Then suddenly we’re stuck with twenty two episodes of a show that has been thrown out of whack by its very central concept and so this much loved series ends on an unpleasant whimper. Once the mother is introduced, she can’t be retconned or written out like any of Ted’s previous poor excuses for love interests.
I don’t envy the production team right now. Unless the mother is an awesome character unanimously beloved by the audience, the show will lose out. It no longer has the ratings safety net of the core group waiting around to meet the mother. This ninth season is the biggest gamble ever undertaken by a show that is notoriously safe with its creative decisions. Ending with the actual meeting might not be tremendously satisfying after eight years of build-up, but it’s the safest option that the show could get away with. Now? It’s hard to guess. Naturally I’ll be sticking around whatever the outcome. I’ve stuck with the show too long, and hey, if I could sit through Dexter’s execrable sixth season, I can sit through anything. Maybe the show will knock it out of the park. But considering the general creative quality of the last few years, it’s hard not to have serious doubts.
Writing words about writing words.