Thoughts before the end of “How I Met Your Mother”

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Kids, let me tell you a story about the time I met “How I Met Your Mother.” It was 2005. I had just moved to Boston to start law school, and (as always), I had to figure out what TV shows I would be watching that season. I saw a print-ad in a magazine, about a love story told in reverse. I explained to my then-girlfriend that any show with Doogie Howser, Nick Andopolis, and the band camp girl from “American Pie” was going to be worthy of my limited time. I remember watching that first episode and thinking two things: 1) This is a group of people I enjoy being around, and I hope that the show gets a full-season pick-up order, and 2) WOW. That’s a great cliffhanger. Aunt Robin? Is she the mother’s sister?

I assumed, perhaps naively, that we’d meet the mother at the end of season 1. When it seemed clear that the show was heading towards a Ted-Robin romance, I thought, “Good, let that happen and get it out of the way early so that we can move on to other business.” I so enjoyed helpless romantic Ted’s journey to meet the mother that I forgave the fact that he had a detour with someone we knew wasn’t his ultimate destination. And, also in that second season, we got such special moments as Robin Sparkles, the slap bet, and even the last line of the season (“Legen-“) bleeding into the first of season three (“dary!”). The show knew how to play with time, and unreliable narrators, and throughout the course of its run, the showrunners have developed a profound belief in consistency. Jokes from earlier seasons play off in later ones, and long-time fans are rewarded for paying attention.
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I don’t know when I stopped capital-L Loving the show and downgraded it to merely a show I watched out of obligation. Maybe it was when Ted became a sad-sack, red cowboy-boot wearing pedant who kept on talking about the power of love but ended up sleeping with women I wouldn’t remember two seasons later. Maybe it was when he dated Zoey – still not sure a whole season has ever been as wasteful as that one. Maybe it’s how, when I think back on the show, all that was good and original ultimately felt tired. It felt like three seasons were spent on Marshall and Lily getting pregnant, and there were so many one-off relationships between the other three characters that ultimately went nowhere: Quinn, Nora, Victoria (the 2nd time), Nick, Don, Kevin, Jeanette, Zoey, etc., etc.

Ultimately, the show’s creators needed an Intervention…for all these bad relationships that went nowhere, and robbed the show of any narrative punch.

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I’ve still never missed an episode, and I still had high hopes going into season 9. Until, of course, I found out the entire season was going to take place over a single weekend, the kind of temporal lockdown that would seem to constrain a show that thrives on playing with time and jumping around. My fears were slightly assuaged when I learned the mother herself would be a series regular, but the dearth of her appearances has all but muted her wonderful screen presence (and her chemistry with Ted) the handful of times she has appeared.

And so now we come to the end. I’ve said since season 8 that I believe the mother is dying. When Ted said that he wishes he could have had even the extra 45 days with her, that’s not just a romantic proclamation, that’s someone who’s in mourning.

Her comments about not being there for her daughter’s wedding, even the ominous “three deep breaths can change everything” line in last night’s episode, all point to a dark ending. In a way, I think it’s a genius move – it provides a motivation for why Ted has been telling this story for so long to his patient children. But, in another way, it makes me really upset. We’ve invested so much time in Ted’s journey, and his mission statement has been clear since episode one: he wants a relationship (like Marshall and Lily’s) where he can be happy, raise children, and grow old together. Now, we’ve seen Future Ted’s kids (from episode one), and he seems quite happy in a number of the flash forwards, so maybe it’s too much for me to ask that he and the mother ride off into the sunset. After all, he literally rode off into the sunset with Victoria at the end of season 7, and that turned out poorly at best. But after 9 years, if I told 2005 me, sitting in my apartment in Brookline, that the whole show was told because the mother was dead, and even though it would be a great journey for Ted, ultimately it’s all for naught? I’m not sure I’d ever have invested so highly in the show.

There are moments with How I Met Your Mother that will stick with me. The first Halloween episode, where Ted waits on the rooftop in his hanging chad shirt, waiting for the Slutty Pumpkin, listening to Nada Surf’s “inside of love.”

Stealing the blue French horn. Making it rain. Barney’s one-minute summation. Marshall’s pie chart about bars, and bar graph about pie.

Shrimp fried rice. The two-minute date. And the recurring characters/cameos: Chris Elliot as Lily’s dad; Bryan Cranston; Jenkins; John Cho; Martin Short; Taran Killam as Gary Blausman (steak sauce); James Van der Beek; Danica Mckellar and Busy Phillips; Mandy Moore; Nick Swisher; Joanna Garcia; PATRICE; The Captain; Boats Boats Boats; Laura Prepon; Ranjit; Britney Spears; Sandy Rivers; Joe Manganiello; Sarah Chalke; Jason Jones; Stuart; Bob Barker; Carl the bartender and Wendy the waitress; Barney’s whole family; and, most importantly, Billy freaking Zabka.

Overall, though, what makes me sad is that the show started out as legendary. And now it’s become a show I’m just hoping sticks the landing. Not good enough. Barney always said to wait for it. I’ll be upset if I’m still left waiting for something better.

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