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How I Met Your Mother- Party of One

April 10, 2013


Warning: This post contains spoilers for the March 2tth episode of How I Met Your Mother

There’s been a lot of criticism of the last few seasons of How I Met Your Mother. Claims that the show is milking the idea of the mother or that the premise of the show has worn itself out or put plainly that the show just isn’t as funny as it once was.

Some of those complaints are valid, but I think the overall problem is a disagreement about what the show is, because critics are right if the show is exclusively about Ted finding his wife then it’s a failure—I just don’t think that’s what the show’s about.

Yes, the show’s basic premise is that Ted is a lovesick romantic who wants to find the love of his life, but that’s just the shows basic framework—the wrapping paper that showcases the way it sees the world around it. Instead HIMYM is really about how Ted and his friend s go from point A to Point B. How they grow up and create their own families from scratch.

In the same way that Buffy The Vampire Slayer was never really about slaying vampires How I Met Your Mother isn’t about the wife that Ted ultimately finds- it’s about how he became the person who could handle the things he claims he wants.

How I Met Your Mother’s story structure is important because it helps provide a place for the show’s philosophy and allows the show to tell stories few others can.

It believes firmly that everything happens for a reason—both good and bad. And one of the only shows I’ve seen that has a belief in life and fate that claims that we end up where we’re supposed to even if instead of taking one right turn we take four lefts.

At it’s heart the show is about the belief that life is about enduring the hard or sad times because that’s the only way to also reach the good things. It’s not literal cause and effect, but it is illustrative of the way life often works out.

In a recap of the show a few years ago, NPR’s Linda Holmes’ wrote:

“However your life goes, that’s the story of how you ended up where you are, and therefore, every turn your story took, whether sad or happy at the time, is part of how you achieved whatever joy you have. It’s not really How I Met Your Mother that Ted is explaining to his kids. It’s How I Got Here, and How You Were Born, and How Everything Turned Out Okay.”

“The story is a story of how things work out, and it’s always had a lovely philosophical fascination with the fitting together of small pieces to make big things happen. There aren’t a lot of TV shows that so emphatically make the point that bad moves often lead to good moves; that you can use a sequence of left turns to get to the same place a right turn would take you.”

That belief is what episodes like “Right Place, Right Time” when Ted traced all the pieces of a day or “The Optimism of Inevitability” where Robin’s infertility is discussed so crucial to the show’s love of it’s own history.

It also led the groundwork for “The Time Travelers” – with Ted as the only person in his gang of friends who isn’t in a relationship. He’s alone –completely fort the first time in his life. At its core “The Time Travelers” is about living through the melancholy that proceeds finally finding what we’ve been looking for.

The episode begins as a fantasy with Ted and Barney surrounded by future versions of themselves offering different advice on how to handle the next few hours. It’s zany and funny and the type of conceit the show excels at, but what got me were the last few moments that get at the heart of the show.

It’s a thesis statement for the series, a much shorter one than I wrote above, and it articulately what I’ve been arguing. Relieving your personal history is a mixture of regret and joy.  The past moments of daring and surprise seem that much bigger and the paths left untaken remain mysterious. The potential that laid in simple decisions seems greater if only because you know what comes next. We all wonder what might have been. We all romanticize what once was.

It’s why I still like Ted despite his many foibles. If you were telling a story about yourself, wouldn’t you be the one to see your mistakes and miscalculations must clearly. Wouldn’t you be your harshest critic? Wouldn’t your friends be sweeter and funnier? That’s the side effect of a show about nostalgia—you never really have it for your own cringe inducing behavior.

And it’s what led to the conclusion of “The Time Travelers” and to Ted sitting at the bar alone feeling sorry for himself and thinking about all the times with his friends that seemed out of reach.  What 20-Years-From-Now Ted wishes Present-Day Ted would have done was enjoy what he actually had at that moment—his friends, his baby nephew, his bachelor apartment, because in 45 days nothing will be the same. That’s the thing about your saddest moments; they’re often just a preview of the happy accidents ahead.

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