HIMYM (How I Met Your Mother, for those of you playing at home, who have more time to type the full name repeatedly), is a show that once was a tightly-scripted, clever enough comedy, but now feels a little like watching Julius Caesar’s death in Rome, as dozens of senators stab him over and over and over until there is virtually no part of his body left unstabbed. He’s dead, guys. Come on.
An unfortunate pattern with American sitcoms (looking at you Scrubs, Frasier, Friends) is that there reaches a point where narrative takes precedence over laughs, and the show ceases to be a comedy, because it ceases to be funny. A comedian once told me that comedy should make you laugh, make you cry, make you horny, and make you think. Writers can try to make up for the lack of laughs with the last three, but when the laughs fail, the show fails. This is the unfortunate place we find ourselves as HIMYM wraps up its eighth season (well, to be fair, I did laugh, once, during the finale).
The problem that arises with sitcoms is that we have shallow, predictable, funny characters who, true to narrative form, are expected to “grow up” as the show progresses. For some reason, once this happens, writers almost invariably struggle to mesh plot with comedy, and the comedy suffers. I’ve had screenwriters tell me, for example, that it’s known the birth of a baby usually spells the death of a sitcom. See Friends’ Rachel or Scrubs’ JD. The only sitcom that didn’t encounter this problem was Seinfeld because the characters never learned from their mistakes, never changed, never grew up – and that was why we loved them. HIMYM hit the baby tipping point a year ago and any investment we still have in it is for closure on the characters’ narratives, and there’s a limit to how long we will hang around for that.
Show runners Carter Bays and Craig Thomas realised about three seasons in that this was no longer Ted’s show, it was Barney’s. Neil Patrick Harris and his legend-ary-ness are the forces that have driven this show. HIMYM’s quality carried through solidly to round about season five, when they explored Barney and Robin’s relationship the first time around, and there’s been a sense of increasingly lethargy since then. And now we are reaching the conclusion of Barney’s arc – his marriage to Robin – the show feels as if it is Return of the King-ing its ending. And we all desperately want to go to the bathroom already.
Bays and Thomas had plotted this season to be the last, while including an option to extend this already ridiculously long-winded narrative for another season - which really tells you all you need to know about how unnecessary season nine will be. In an attempt to inject life into Ted’s story – the foundation upon which this show was originally based – the writers decided to finally give us a glimpse of the enigmatic “mother” in the season finale. This “shocking reveal” -what Huffington Post punned as “the mother of all reveals” – ultimately did nothing but show us the face of a nameless woman we know is the mother. That information, on its own, given her anonymity, is pretty unengaging and doesn’t truly provide us with any new material. And it was juxtaposed with the penultimate episode of the season, which ended with yet another obviously doomed “moment” between Ted and Robin, who we were informed by Ted in the pilot episode was not the mother. Which, fond as I once was of this show, leads to an inevitable conclusion. The show has been stabbed enough, guys. It’s dead.