It started innocuously enough and was probably never meant to last nearly a decade. Nine years ago, nobody really knew Josh Radnor, the main character. Neil Patrick Harris, Colbie Smuders and Alison Hanigan were kind of known from other places. Jason Segel has gone on to become the most famous of the bunch. Before the start of How I Met Your Mother, he had been in Freaks and Geeks a couple other not as noteworthy movies and TV roles, and that was about it. So how was a TV show with a rather strange format and relative unknown actors/actresses so successful? They accomplished what many have tried and failed at: Connecting with the younger audience.
The writers/creators even stated they had a backup plan in case they only got one season. Knowing how quick of a trigger exists in today’s TV marketplace, that was probably a wise idea. That being said, it was given a chance to keep going, and going, and going. Granted it probably could have, and should have been killed off a few years ago. There were a few good episodes that came out in this period, but they were few and far between. (One Spoiler)
This past season we finally “meet,” the mother, has been very hit or miss. There have been some good concepts of storylines, a lot of shoutouts to previous gags and even more killing previous gags. It honestly felt way too predictable, which is where I feel it got a lot of its hate. That being said, plot-wise there were some nice twists and turns in the final season that do totally advance the entire story more than you would think could happen in a season based on one weekend.
In true How I Met Your Mother fashion though, let’s hop back a few years. Season One had some awesome episodes, I could list them, you can Google other people’s lists just as easily, and it’s just your opinion in the end. That being said the writers did provide some awesome memories and even lessons to their target audience in season one. Season one birthed the Slutty Pumpkin, the yellow umbrella and of course the blue horn. The blue horn also seemed to birth (eventually), that you don’t get good things by breaking the law. This point was hammered home even more with the, “Good things never happen after 2 am.”
It was wisdom like that, and Thomas and Bays illustrating a long-standing kinship between friends, that seemed to connect with the younger audiences. The show at some point (fairly early in fact) veered into being more about young adulthood than the show’s original concept of being about Ted finding his future wife. Granted the show remained grounded in that concept, and it times to a fault. I feel the show annoyed, and lost, viewers who were expecting the show to literally be about finding the Mother. At some point after about the fourth or fifth rug pulling plot twist, the show became way more about the adventures of Ted and his gang of friends than it did about Ted and his misadventures in finding his future wife.
An episode that seems to perfectly illustrate this is the Barney Stinson March Madness Bracket of girls he had one-night stands with. This episode had almost nothing to do with Ted’s hunt for a significant other. Instead, it exposed an aspect of his friend’s life that was less than spectacular. Going through the episode, they try to figure out what girl had the most reason to be mad at Barney. (Another spoiler, but only if you have missed all of season nine):
Looking back, this probably sparked Barney to change how he looked at and approached life to the point of getting engaged and eventually married to Robin. We also see Lily struggle with balancing her art life and her family life with Marshall (and eventually Marvin). We also see Marshall balance his desire to help the earth with the same family life. Even more seems to change in Marshall’s demeanor and decision-making when he learns that his dad tragically passes away due to a heart attack in season six. He of course goes through a mourning period, but it is more of the long-term life decisions that in retrospect appear to be impacted by this tragic loss.
In the end, Ted was shaped by his adventures, misadventures and his oftentimes rambling and sometimes pointless story. Where this seemed to succeed was connecting it to a fan base that is often mis-targeted, something that seems to be easier in concept than in reality. In most sitcoms things are often wrapped up neatly in short little story arcs. That is great, and needed most of the time. In HIMYM, they do have story arcs, but in general they all advance the main plot forward with the bigger themes of the arc. In doing so, they connect with bigger ideas of getting older.
Most of all, How I Met Your Mother seemed to hammer into anyone who stuck around the whole time that life is messy. This mess doesn’t always fit a traditional sit-com or it’s traditional storytelling methods. This is where I feel the writers and cast succeeded the most (it’s also where they generated a lot of their hate). In the end How I Met Your Mother was probably a lot of things to a lot of people. I’m sure some people probably didn’t connect with it and tuned out. I’m equally sure that people lost interest in it over time (seriously, it wasn’t hard to do in seasons 7 and 8). With that being said, my friends and I still at times discuss which character each of us would be if the show was about us, which besides making us giant geeks, means that Bays and Thomas succeeded, at least with us.