I enjoy stories. And I enjoy TV. And one of the big disappointments of serialized television is how often the story-telling is disappointing. I've written before about the propensity of some shows to sacrifice character to plot, which is the weekly way of being a bad story teller. But the worst have been when it was writ large - Battlestar Galactica and Lost. The viewer is hooked in by something the narrative tells you, repeatedly and with grand style, is really important. But that thing was never important - it was snake oil; the first one is on the house.
Which leads me now to How I Met Your Mother, a show I started on because it seemed like a fun hangout show; comfort food, something to watch while I did the dishes. But the longer I stayed with it, the more I appreciated (and enjoyed!) its narrative commitment. Nothing was snake oil - the clever call backs and narrative loops and, god, the smash cuts! They all served the story - the story of a grand romantic, an entertaining but unreliable narrator. Even the narrator served the narrative in that show. And everything that happened served the same story.
There were times when I felt guilty for liking it so much. Every time Lily made some "you're being a girl" joke to one of the guys. And, god, Barney is a troubling character to pull for as a feminist...shoot, it's hard to pull for him if you're a decent human being. But he was so beautifully acted by Neil Patrick Harris and he was given a backstory that made him make sense. And not a last minute shoehorned excuse - it was organic. It was always in vastly entertaining service to the story.
Ample spoilers follow (I mean, obviously!)
So, the internetz were abuzz for the past several months with the theory that the mother was dead and that Ted was going to end up with Robin. And as I read that, I HATED the idea. As I watched the finale and it grew more and more clear that this is where it was going, I though, "Dear sweet Jesus God, don't do this!' But somewhere, with like 10 minutes to go, I realized, "this has always been the story," and I mentally slow clapped.
Every detail led up to that end - it was always going there. Forget about all the clues from the previous eight seasons (the biggest being, of course, why the mother doesn't even show up until the end game) but think of how when we finally met the mother, we meet her after the love of her life (up to then) had died. The show was always telling us that there is no "the one," there's just this guy Ted whose belief in that romantic palaver was so integral he spent nine goddamn years unconsciously trying to convince his kids to disabuse him of that notion.
And let's just take a moment for the other male lead - everything the show told us about Barney made it clear that romantic love wasn't going to reform him. Barney was always the guy who never got a real childhood. Of course it would be parenthood that resolved his character arc. It was always there.
HIMYM wasn't perfect television, but they did something bold and they did something so satisfyingly tidy. They walked in with a story, and they told it, and they were damn funny telling it.
And if you didn't like it ... well...