I’ve seen every episode of Friends. Twice. Three times. I can quote each episode backwards and forwards, name an episode from overhearing it in the next room, and still laugh-out-loud at jokes I’ve heard way too many times…
…but I never watched one single episode live during its 10-year-run.
Thanks to Nick at Nite and TBS, odds are that when I turn on my television, Friends is playing. If an episode ended with a gasp-worthy cliffhanger, it didn’t matter- the next episode would play after the commercial break. I watched the episodes out of order, several times, and never had to wait for a storyline to tie up or to find out the fate of a character.
For better or for worse, this has not been the case with the 9 season long How I Met Your Mother.
How I Met Your Mother changed the rules of the average sitcom. First off, it’s a love story told in reverse. Technically, we never had to wonder if Ted was going to end up OK. We knew- from literally the first second of the pilot- that Ted would be fine. We saw his kids, we heard his voice, and we heard him begin to tell the story of how he found his true love.
Did we still worry? Yes. Did we still think, in the back of our minds that he would end up with Robin? Yes. Did we curse when he broke up or got back together with certain characters, even though we knew all of those women were simply red herrings? Definitely.
Which is why this show is amazing. Despite knowing the ending, we still got so wrapped up in the present, that we totally forgot we already knew (some of) the future.
HIMYM changed the rules in other ways, too. Despite its alleged “racy” references (which I found not only hilarious but genius), the show remained a “family” comedy. Ted, Robin, Marshall, Lily and Barney aren’t just characters on a run-of-the-mill weekly sitcom; they’re real people. They make mistakes, they openly discuss smoking “sandwiches,” they sing catchy songs about hooking up, and they engage in silly, meaningless fights. They drunk call their exes, lose their jobs, and face the consequences. Find me one avid HIMYM fan that doesn’t want a spot at the booth in MacClaren’s.
And despite its billing as a “comedy,” many episodes were anything but. Parents were lost; significant others were cheated on; a potential terminal illness was alluded to (more on that later). It took the element of surprise and milked it. And when the element of surprise reeled its ugly head, I had to wait. Wait to see what would happen, wait to laugh or cry, and test my patience each and every (well, some more than others) week. Even though we may have shed a tear or two or even yelled at our television sets, we remembered those episodes, didn’t we?
All good things must come to an end, and in HIMYM’s case, it comes about a season too late. Dragging an entire season out over the course of one week, well, failed. What I hoped would be several flashbacks and even more flash forwards turned out to be nothing but somewhat stupid, time-filling plot lines with the occasional revelation or clue that would keep me hooked.
So tonight, the game-changing comedy comes to an end. Whether it’s an epic, smart end like its previous seasons, or a cop-out, unfunny mess like its current season has been the question of the hour.
And, Craig Thomas and Carter Bays finally gave us the flash-forwards we’ve been not so patiently waiting for all season long. The first half presented the biggest potential red herring. A few episodes back, it was subtly hinted at that the Mother suffered from a tragic, terminal illness that has Ted in tears. It was placed there, no warning or explanation, for fans to run wild. Tonight, halfway through the episode, we learned Barney and Robin had divorced. The kicker? We spent an entire season dragging out a wedding weekend that would ultimately end in failure. Hmmm. Now, with a Mother potentially dying in the near future, leaving Ted single, and Robin single and regretfully wishing she’d end up with Ted- the theory we’ve been promised would never happen from episode one may very well end the series.
I mean, HIMYM has been subject to many fan theories. This one, however, was nipped in the bud in the pilot. Robin is Aunt Robin. She’s not mom, she’s not stepmom, she’s Aunt Robin.
And Ted, who has talked about true love and marriage the entire series, makes it to 2019, with two kids, still not married. This guy has been the advocate of marriage for 9 seasons. Robin and Barney, two perpetually single people, tied the not (albeit unsuccessfully, but still). Now we learn that the hopeless romantic of the group can’t find time for the one thing he’s been waiting for his entire life? Okay, that’s believable.
One thing that is believable? Barney Stinson, after sleeping with who knows how many women, got one pregnant. Good job, Craig and Carter, one thing you made realistic.
49 minutes in and we haven’t found out much. Well, that’s not necessarily true. Barney has a child, Marshall got his judgeship, and Ted is about to get married after 7 years (not getting over that one). Robin is completely detached from the group and a very young Penny doesn’t even know her (so how we get from that to Aunt Robin has to be a pretty interesting- and fast at this point- story). Am I completely impressed yet? No. Am I hoping this episode presses fast forward and gets to the good parts stat? Hell yes.
Had the episode ended at 55 minutes, I would have been okay, I could have been happy. Ted and the Mother (Tracy, we finally learned) shared an amazing moment in the rain, under the iconic yellow umbrella. They’re funny, charming, cute together, and we see Ted finally getting the ending we’ve wanted him to have since 2005. But then, Ted made the reference to the Mother getting sick, and I began to feel sick as well. As the final scene played out, and Ted broke the fourth wall to conclude his story, a small part of me wanted Tracy to appear behind him and give us all a reassuring glimpse into the future.
The alternative? The Mother is dead. The theory at the back of my mind that I hoped and prayed was just a red herring wasn’t, and the previous red herring of Aunt Robin wasn’t either. The worst part is that the creators filmed the children’s reaction during season two. They’ve known this ending for 7 years (as long as it took for Ted to get married, mind you), and I’m so disappointed. Because Craig Thomas and Carter Bays don’t know their fans as well as they think we do. The love story we’ve been rooting for nine years is no more, and the love story we put to rest in the pilot is just beginning. Smart and funny? Not so much. A complete cop-out? Absolutely.
At least we have old season reruns. And at least I didn’t have to sit through Two Broke Girls afterwards.