How I Wrecked Your Mother In Like Six Minutes
Wow, that’s some good title-writing on my part. Sounds like a line to piss off your middle school nemesis.
By now, enough time has passed so I’m not worried about spoiling the hell out of the end of How I Met Your Mother. The ending pissed me off and I want to vent. I know it’s just a TV show, but it’s still long-form writing, and it still seemed like the writers think we’re dumb. Besides, most of the fun of pop culture is overanalyzing it later. You can expect no less from someone who does a Survivor podcast.
Executive Summary: We thought we were getting a story about a naive doofus in New York City learning how to deserve that happily ever after moment. What we got was a dark’n’gritty re-imagining of When Harry Met Sally, except stretched from 96 minutes to like 4700 minutes, and Sally dies at the end, probably via fake-orgasm-induced-seizure. Imagine Harry marrying Carrie Fisher in the last scene. Or Bizarro Friends, where Ross finally gets back together with that English girl.
The show I thought I was watching wasn’t what I was really watching
I thought HIMYM was a nine-year quest to find the love of Ted’s life. I did not think it was a 20-year melodrama about how life kicks you in the nuts so hard you need to move to the first runner-up. It changes everything into a huge bait’n’switch.
There is nothing wrong with telling that story (in fact, I applaud adding depth to a traditional three-camera sitcom show — the genre has been long abused by terrible dreck such as Three and a Half Men and now 2 Broke Girls), but you have to tell it delicately. Taking nine seasons to end on a relationship we were all sick of after Season Four smells exactly like what it was: clinging to an idea they had before the initial pitch meeting, regardless of how the show and characters evolved over time.
The show I thought I was watching was better
When we first met Ted, he was kind of a wide-eyed romantic dork. He remained that to some degree, but he definitely learned some lessons. In the first season — maybe the very first episode, I don’t remember — he meets and goes out with Robin, and tells her he’s in love with her about two hours into it. She reacts much like you’d expect, and we all learned that this guy is not emotionally mature enough for a relationship that culminates in two teenagers listening to OlderTed’s story.
I thought after that misstep and several others, the rest of the show was about Ted’s journey to being worthy of The Mother.
It was interesting, because Ted was always the midpoint on a line that connected his two best friends, Marshall and Barney. Marshall had what Ted wanted, except he had it much earlier. He and Lily got together in college and stayed that way. There were a couple of bumps in the road, but we knew they were never going to stray from each other.
Barney, on the other hand, represented Ted’s fears. Barney’s drive for endless and varied physical gratification (and avoiding emotional entanglements) is the opposite of what Ted wants. From the first moments, Ted has craved what Marshall and Lily found, and he’s terrified of being alone and unloved.
(Barney the character would never have worked if he wasn’t played by Neil Patrick Harris. On paper, Barney seems barely human. More of a waking, talking gland. But NPH gave him enough charm and overall likeability that he was kind of endearing, if ultimately tragic. It was even more impressive when Harris came out of the closet early in the show’s run. An openly gay actor portraying this personified male id added an extra layer. What the showrunners ultimately did to Barney was another problem I have with the finale.)
So Ted spends nine seasons looking for someone with whom he could build this Marshall-and-Lily-esque life, while fleeing the traps into which Barney so gleefully leaps. By the time The Mother comes along, he is at exactly the right point in his life for her: he will pour everything he has into their lives together, and has enough perspective to not dissolve into oversentimental goo at every turn.
That’s a show I’d watch. I thought I was. Instead, what I got was “Life sometimes sucks — have a Plan B.” That might be true, but it’s kind of bleak — exceptionally so in this case, because this show actually let us get to know The Mother first.
(We eventually learn her name is Tracy McConnell. So her initials are TM. Which can stand for Ted Mosby. Also The Mother. This was a Nuclear Powered Meet Cute.)
They screwed up via their perfect casting
The cast on this show was outstanding, even apart from Neil Patrick Harris. Alyson Hannigan has been outstanding since her Buffy days. Jason Segal and Cobie Smulders can hold their own against anyone. Josh Radnor hit all the nice/needy/nerdy/passionate buttons in a surprisingly complex character. Whoever did the casting for this show nailed it at every turn, including the guest stars like Sarah Chalke and Kyle MacLachlan.
Then it was finally time to write and cast Tracy. We knew she’d be pretty, because she was appearing on an American television show. Everything else was kind of a blank slate.
I’d never heard of Cristin Milioti before this. She was perfect. She brought the right level of quirk, charm, goofiness, and empathy to a character who was meant to match up with someone complex, sad, and established. She not only did it well, but she made me wish we could have a little less Cobie Smulders so we had more time with Tracy. (Not something I thought possible. My love for Cobie is profound.)
Thirty seconds after Cristin starts talking, you knew she was the one for Ted. He was going to fall in love with her immediately, and we didn’t blame him because she was amazing. You knew all the time spent with Stella and Victoria and Wendy and all the rest (including Robin) were tough steps on the road to get to this point. This was a woman who could take his dorkiness and doe-eyed optimism and over-the-top romanticism and embrace it and match it. We wouldn’t have spent nine seasons with Ted if we didn’t want him to have a happy ending, and this was as happy as it was likely to get.
If they had run the final credits with the two of them under that yellow umbrella, minutes after Robin’s wedding, everyone would have been satisfied. We knew they would fall in love, because we’d been staring at footage of their children for almost a decade.
But giving us a character we fell in love with as fast as Ted did just amplified what we’d known for a long time — Ted and Robin are not that great together. Seeing Ted interact with Robin and with Tracy just a few minutes apart highlights this as clearly as if Ted and Robin tried to murder each other.
If you want your fans to be invested in a couple, don’t show them a better couple. Who knew?
I think the creators fell in love with Robin Scherbatsky long ago. Long before Cobie came along, even. They never got over the idea that she and Ted would end up together, no matter what. But sometimes characters change beyond your initial conception — probably moreso when they are getting created by a dynamic team of writers.
Imagine 80s pop star Debbie Gibson. She still exists, you know — you can see her in Mega Shark Versus Mecha Shark recently released on DVD and Blu-Ray. I could meet her, befriend her, fall in love with her (that’s the proper order, Ted) and that would be great. I’m sure we’d be very happy. But we wouldn’t be very happy for long if I only thought of her as the girl who sang “Out Of The Blue.” She has changed — she is now Emma MacNeil from the Mega Shark Versus _______ franchise.
It could happen. She’s reportedly single. But she also has Lyme disease. We’ll learn more about that this fall in Mega Shark Versus Infected Deer Tick.
Speaking of 80s pop stars…
My point is that the writers and casting department and Cristin Milioti showed us that while Robin and Ted might both be great people on their own and good friends, they are not a great couple, even if they were meant to be 10 years ago.
Why did they do that to Barney?
As I said, Barney is a tough character. I assume he’s tough to play, but he’s certainly tough to love for anyone who doesn’t think of women as just things to rub on. Barney is an anthropomorphic sex drive. An eternally pubescent Peter Pan.
It’s a joke that starts to lose its punch over nine seasons.
So they set Barney on a redemptive arc. They sent along Quinn to warm him up to the idea of a life lived with one person. Then they matched him up with Robin, because… well, because we’d already gotten burned out on Robin and Ted and the only other male regular was taken. It was never a relationship that made sense to me, but I also never thought of it as a crucial part of the show, as neither of them constituted the “I” or the “Mother” from the title.
But they spent the last two seasons trying to convince us this was a viable couple. Barney was ready to give up the unending ploys to trick women into sex because he was head over heels for Robin. She struggled with his past and even got some cold feet right before their wedding, but in the end and fully embraced the idea. Barney was redeemed because he let himself fall for a women he already knew and cared about and saw as a human with her own feelings. He actually started caring about someone else’s needs with the same fervor he cared about his own. It may have never clicked with me completely on screen, but conceptually it was a satisfying and powerful arc for what could have easily been a throwaway character. Imagine Barney as portrayed by an Ashton Kutcher.
Three years after their wedding, Barney and Robin are divorced because she’s too focused on her career, so he goes back to his tomcat ways. He embraces it fully with a “why can’t you let me be who I am” speech. At this point, the character is in his 40s and still bedding naive 20-year-olds.
I didn’t know the showrunners had such disdain for Barney. After all that effort to change him and all that time he spent learning how rewarding a committed relationship can be, they put him back in emotional high school and set him on a road that’s going to see him alone. Sure, one of his nameless conquests has a daughter, but that just means he has to skip a hookup every alternate weekend. Barney had the saddest ending of everyone, except for Tracy. And that’s just because hers was short.
I do not understand. This seems like something else scribbled on the back of a napkin before pitching it to the CBS execs and never got revised as Barney matured.
Ted and Robin are doomed as a couple
On its face, Ted and Robin getting together again after a divorce and a death seems like a happy ending, if bittersweet. But it’s probably not. They spent some time in and out of love in their 20s, but so what? Robin married and divorced one of Ted’s closest friends when Ted was still pining for her. Ted married a woman even Robin knew was a better match for him, and given a choice he would still be married to her. There will be pictures of her everywhere, in addition to two walking, talking teenaged reminders who call her “Aunt Robin.” Robin and Tracy even look similar.
I am not saying divorced and widowed people can’t fall in love again. (I am the last person who would say that, believe me.) But that’s a lot of baggage to bring in the door for the sake of a relationship 20 years in the past. It would be an uphill climb at best, and if it didn’t work, they would both feel even worse.
Why is Robin+Ted=4EVA an acceptable fairy tale? What I thought I was seeing (and what made me think this was different from other sitcoms) was “you have to learn a lot about yourself before you’re ready for forever.”
Is this how TV shows win?
Not long ago, the guy behind True Detective gave an interview where he addressed all the conspiracy theories about the end to his show’s first season. He said (paraphrasing) “we’re not trying to outsmart you — TV is obsessed these days with trying to trick its viewers about what it’s doing. That’s not us. Our ending will be something you will think you could have seen coming.”
Does anyone remember the last half hour of the last episode of Battlestar Galactica with fondness? I understand something similar happened with Lost, though I never watched it. This “we have one last chance to turn everything on its ear” attitude is exhausting. Did all of Hollywood recently re-watch The Sixth Sense or something?
Not everything has to be a fucking Agatha Christie story. Only her stories do, really. Telling your loyal viewers they were fools to trust what they were told isn’t clever. It’s not “Bruce Willis was dead the whole time,” it’s Bobby Ewing getting out of the shower.
Oh, look — all you people thought this was building up to a happy ending? Fools. We are going to remind you that life sucks and sometimes Ms Right goes away and you have to turn to Ms Doesn’t Want To Be Lonely Any More. Didn’t see that coming, did you? WE WIN!
All that said, the finale was powerful. This cast has always been excellent. The scene where Lily and Robin are having it out in the empty apartment while Lily is in a shark costume was especially good. Up until a few minutes before the end, when I started sensing something was wrong, I thought this was going to be one of the best sendoffs ever.
But in the end…
…it took them about six minutes to rewrite nine years.
A story about Ted and Robin growing up until gradually realizing they were meant to be together is a fine premise for a show. I would have watched that with this cast. It might have been a blend of When Harry Met Sally, Friends, and Same Time, Next Year, but it could have worked.
But I resent being treated like an idiot. I am sure Carter Bays and Craig Thomas don’t actively dislike the viewing public, but having a show with this title and then killing off Tracy just before the end reeks of a “ta-daaa!” moment. They had this clever three-card monte plot device and nothing was going to shift them off of it.
I still got plenty of enjoyment from this show during its run. It had moments of brilliance and I would watch any of that cast do anything else. But it bothers me that they were deliberately and intentionally misleading us right from the very beginning.
If you feel differently about this, great. I hope you found something enlightening, heartwarming or redemptive that I missed. But I view it as an example of how you can destroy something in seconds with words as easily as you can with explosives.
Ironically, I’ve been re-watching Chuck on Netflix recently. It does kind of the same thing at the end of its run too.
Note: The views here are mine, but some of them were crystallized from other blogs and podcasts, most notably ion.com, previously.tv, and overthinkingit.com.