Craig Thomas and Carter Bays had an interesting choice to make this week. The writing duo had the attention of millions of people, both fans of their hit show “How I Met Your Mother” and pop culture aficionados in general; all planning to tune in at 8 p.m. Eastern for the reveal of what was expected to be the moment for which the show was named. It isn’t often the finale of a sitcom is as highly anticipated as this one, let alone a finale which isn’t the end of the series. I remember wondering how they were going to get Ross and Rachel together in one 60-minute episode. I remember being curious about what would become of Jerry, George, Elaine, and Cosmo. I am genuinely interested in whether Jim and Pam stay at Dunder-Mifflin. But those are all series finales. Bays and Thomas had the opportunity to affect the pop culture mindset (for at least a 24-hour period) with a 30-minute episode that wasn’t even going to be the end of their story, and that was all due to the way they brought us to this moment.
Unfortunately, they let us down. A fleeting shot of the actress who once played a sexy baby on 30 Rock[ref]I guess she’s also known as Cristin Miloti in some circles.[/ref] is not the moment we were waiting for and not the moment we were promised. Showing us her face wasn’t enough. It is not called “How You, The Audience, Saw A Shot Of The Mother Buying A Train Ticket,” and I think we can all agree that HYTASASOTMBATT will not do as an acronym. But in the increasingly infuriating words of Future Ted Mosby, we’ll get to that later.
I have a friend named Tom, and we share basically the same tastes in entertainment. If he enjoys a movie, more than likely I will also enjoy it. We have a tradition where we get together to see every iteration of the “Final Destination” series on its opening weekend, even though we now live thousands of miles away. In the winter of 2006, we were living in a small apartment in Denver, and he told me that he was watching a “pretty good” show called “How I Met Your Mother.” I wasn’t interested. I had seen the commercials and it looked like just another sitcom. He told me that the reason I would like it was very similar to the reason I enjoyed what at the time was my favorite show, “Lost”: the unique method of storytelling. “HIMYM” often used an unreliable narrator, played around constantly with the timelines, and Doogie Howser was funny as hell. Plus they called it “HIMYM” for short, and that was catchy. So I watched it and immediately fell in love.
Here were characters in their 20s I could relate to in a story that was told in an interesting way. Those characters got blackout drunk and smoked cigarettes, these stories bounced expertly from bait-and-switch tactics to what remains one of my favorite season finales of all time.[ref]It’s hard to get across here, I searched for almost an hour to find a clip that doesn’t supply the first few seconds of the next season, but was unable to find it. Rest assured, when Barney says “wait for it,” the screen goes to black and the theme song hits, it was one of the few times a television show has made me literally cheer.[/ref] Here was a serialized sitcom that did all the things I appreciated in my dramas and thrillers. They rewarded careful viewers with payoffs in later episodes, provided hints and clues to where storylines were heading, and appeared to have a real road map for where it was all headed. But something happened between the second appearance of Robin Sparkles and the Ducky Tie.
Bays and Thomas lost sight of the Mother.
I, like many people, believed that we had already met the mother, only Ted had not realized it, refusing to believe that complicated, nuanced storytellers like Bays and Thomas would drop something like this into their show without a payoff down the road. Unfortunately, it appears now that they have. Chekhov’s gun had no bullets. Much worse than the way they have treated the Mother is the way they’ve treated the characters they spent so much time molding.
In the past three seasons, they have made Barney into a caricature of a real person, a man who literally disposes of one night stands by dropping them into a tube which empties into the dumpster, “Nothing But Trouble”-style. They have turned Robin from a woman who was one of the strongest, well-written female characters on television into a kowtowing woman who is marrying said man. Ted is easily the worst character on the show, often acting like a small child immediately before making declarative statements about how his life is going to change, and then acting like a small child again. Lily has gone from a kindergarten teacher to an art consultant with job offers in Rome in FOUR EPISODES. Jason Segel is still terrific.[ref]I’m a sucker for Big Fudge.[/ref]
Every season became a stall tactic, every clue a red herring. Every time Ted said “But we’ll get to that later,” we rolled our collective eyes, because we simply didn’t care. The reveal of Barney as the groom in the finale of Season 6 was only slightly less groan-inducing than the reveal of Robin as his bride at the climax of Season 7. Oh, and their wedding day? It’s still 56 hours away three seasons later.
All of that didn’t matter. I, like anyone who had spent eight seasons invested in the lives of these characters, was curious. Most of my friends who hadn’t given up on the show had hate-watched it in order to see where we were going to end up, to see who the Mother was. The consensus was clear, as my friend Michelle said immediately before the finale, “I don’t even like this show, but I am willing to watch as long as they reveal the mother. I don’t want to be the one left out around the proverbial water cooler.” Bays and Thomas had created something truly extraordinary, a water-cooler moment on a show that was leading into “2 Broke Girls.”
I was the rest of America. I wanted to see the titular moment. I wanted to see who they had decided to cast, and I wanted to hear Ted say “and that kids, is how I met your mother.” I had faith that Bays and Thomas had another magical moment in them, one that would make me forget the past three seasons, one that would make me glad that I had shared the lives of these characters. I had faith that they could do something that might transcend a silly situation comedy, and make it worthwhile that I, along with millions of other fans, was genuinely excited for a season finale. I had faith that they could produce something truly legendary. But it wasn’t. It was ordin-
Wait for it.