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How I Met Your (Step)Mother

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I stopped watching How I Met Your Mother several months ago. The show had devolved from a fun, witty and emotionally compelling sitcom to something that managed to be offensive on almost a weekly basis. Worse, it had committed the cardinal sin of long-running TV shows — it had become boring. I stopped watching and never looked back.

Until this week, when the series finale finally aired. I stuck with the show for so long because I wanted to see how it ended (with Barney and Robin together, I hoped), and that impulse hadn’t gone away. Yet I’m glad that I quit when I did. It ever-so-slightly softened the blow (although I still shouted “WHAT?!?!” when I first read about the conclusion).

Because, unsurprisingly, the show’s finale stayed true to what the series had become: nonsensical, stuck-in-the-past and frankly sexist and offensive, despite its “true love” exterior.

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Quitting How I Met Your Mother

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How I Met Your Mother has been going downhill for years. What was once a clever little sitcom with fun and likeable characters has become more and more painful to watch, as situations became overblown, characters became unlikeable caricatures, and Ted just would not get over Robin despite the fact that they broke up five years ago and absolutely nobody cares any more.

But when you’ve watched eight seasons of an increasingly bad show, you kind of have to watch the ninth and final one, no matter how painful it is. Just to see how it ends.

So thank you, How I Met Your Mother, for freeing me from those constraints over the past couple of weeks.

The structure of the new season sounds inventive, but fell flat on its face as soon as it left the gate. The entire season, as far as I can tell, is set in one weekend, the weekend of Barney and Robin’s wedding. With twenty two half-hour episodes, we’re barely escaping from watching them in real time here. Add in the fact that one of the few remaining likeable characters, Marshall, is across the country and unable to interact with the characters properly at all, and the fact that Ted’s whole plotline revolves around him moping over ex-girlfriend Robin again, and the fidgets set in quickly. The stillness of it is too much to bear. We’re stuck in the same weekend for months on end, and any “mystery” or even plotpoint is going to take forever to be resolved this way, even if it doesn’t merit such a long wait for a resolution.

And this stillness reveals the flaws in the show that have been growing for years. With so little happening, all the focus is on the characters. And they aren’t real enough to work any longer.

Case in point is Robin. Once, many years ago, Robin was the independent TV reporter who lived in Brooklyn with her five dogs, was anti-romantic, didn’t believe in marriage or want kids, was generally rather confident and in control of herself, loved guns, and was once a glittery teenage popstar. For the past few seasons, she’s been rather a pathetic caricature — caricaturishly moping over Barney, caricaturishly failing at everything, caricaturishly hating Patrice. In the last episode I watched, she caricaturishly struggled to get along with other women. She was, she explained, raised as a boy, and therefore the female sex are an absolute mystery to her. She doesn’t like their shallow, superficial, fluffy, sobbing ways, and whenever she does try to befriend them, she pisses them off because she talks about things like easily losing weight. Because only women can understand and be friends with women, and they’re so competitive that they hate when someone else is thinner than them.

After straining to find a new female friend, Robin does come across one compatible person — a woman who is as into sports as she is. But then of course the show’s other female character, Lily, cannot stand the friendship competition, and jumps in to sabotage their growing bond. Basically confirming the show’s own “women are jealous and incomprehensible” stereotype.

Apparently the following week’s episode involved a battle between Robin and Barney’s mother, a return to Barney failing to meet basic standards for a boyfriend or a human being, and his brother James suddenly descending into promiscuous gay stereotypes despite being the spokesperson for monogamy only hours before in the show’s timeline. But I admit, I haven’t seen it. I didn’t even see the end of Robin’s “finding a female friend” adventure. Because the show crossed a line. It not only annoyed me, it bored me. And really, if your show is going to suck, that is the ultimate sin.

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Motherhood in How I Met Your Mother

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In recent seasons, How I Met Your Mother has become more and more problematic in its approach to its female characters. Robin has become increasingly one-dimensional and irrational, Lily hasn’t had many plotlines of her own, and Barney’s treatment of “dumb girls” has been celebrated far too many times.

Which is why I was really surprised to see the show take quite a bold and honest approach to motherhood in last week’s episode, Band or DJ? How I Met Your Mother became the first show I’ve seen that admits that motherhood is hard. Even though Lily loves her son, and loves being a mom, sometimes, she tearfully admits, she just wants to run away from it all. She misses being her own person, with her own ambitions. She used to dream of being a painter, and now that all seems to have disappeared in the way of motherhood.

It was an emotionally powerful scene, not least because Lily was admitting things that a person (especially a TV person) is never supposed to say, or even think. It was an admission, first and foremost, that motherhood is hard. It’s not always an amazing, loving experience where a woman feels nurturing and selfless by her very instinct. It was an admission that women, even mothers(!), have ambitions of their own, outside of their children, and that they need to be able to pursue those as well to feel happy and fulfilled.

It’s an interesting statement in a show that is all about chasing down the elusive “mother,” a figure who, in our imaginations, is defined by the fact that Ted will love her, and that she will be the mother to his children. It seems unlikely that “The Mother” will ever be anything more than that, as assumedly the show will end as soon as we actually meet her, so I think it’s really valuable that the show considers the other side of motherhood, and what it actually means, through Lily.

I only hope that we’ll see this perspective continue (possibly with a change of career or a return to art for Lily) in the next few episodes.

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The Problem with How I Met Your Mother

I’ve been a fan of How I Met Your Mother for years. The show has always had its problems, but it was a fun comedy about friendship, with the optimistic perspective that everything happens for a reason and that things are leading towards happiness in the end.

I’m still watching the show, but I’m finding it harder and harder to bear. And although the show’s quality in general has gone downhill, my problem can be summed up with two words: Barney and Robin.

I’ve been supporting Barney and Robin’s relationship almost since the beginning. She was a fun, career driven character who could bro out with Barney and who didn’t want marriage or kids, and he was a caricature of a player who was, arguably, a good friend with plenty in common with Robin, who saw the harm that his games could cause, and who turned over a new leaf when he fell in love with Ms Scherbatsky. But then things fell apart.

After Barney and Robin broke up, Barney went straight back to his womanizing ways, but the tone was very different. Barney was no longer an amusing caricature. He had been given a plot line of emotional growth. And then he went back to the person he was before, with us once again expected to laugh at his sexist comments and at the young women who were stupid enough to fall for his tricks. Worse, to me, the show eventually decided to give Barney some more traditional romance stories, first with Nora and then with stripper Quinn. He even gets a brief engagement. But unlike in his relationship with Robin, his personality remains the same. He remains a sexist jerk who tries to get his fiance to sign a prenup promising to get repeated boob jobs and dreaming about his own personal harem. It’s difficult to support his future marriage to Robin when this is his attitude.

Meanwhile, Robin has suffered severe character degeneration over the past few seasons. She’s ceased to be a realistic character who is driven in her career and knows how to handle a gun. Instead, she is a screeching cartoon of a woman in a breakdown. She rarely has plot lines of her own, and when she does appear, she spends most of her time shouting and being overemotional (particularly at her poor coworker Patrice). Robin has changed from a character that we connect and laugh with to a character that we are supposed to laugh at. Unless, of course, they’re using to for ratings-related fake pregnancies during November sweeps.

I do still watch How I Met Your Mother, and I frequently enjoy at least parts of the show. But if the writers don’t seem to care about the characters or treat them as real people, why should we?

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How I Met Your Mother Season Finale

How I Met Your Mother has become more and more like a soap opera this season, with implausible plot-twists and misleading cliffhangers thrown in for the drama. The characters often ceased being well-rounded people and became pawns, moved from place to place for the convenience of the plot.

Which is a shame, because I’ve always loved this show.

The Magician’s Code did have some fun elements. The “tell me a story” setup allowed the show to play in the crazy, anecdotal structure that it does best, and new baby Marvin Wait-For-It Erikson is beyond adorable. But far from telling a genuine-seeming story, the episode delighted in underestimating viewers’ intelligence and playing tricks on their understanding of the plot.

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Problem Aborted!

Well. It’s definitely November sweeps time.

In last night’s episode of How I Met Your Mother, Robin tried desperately to talk Marshall and Lily out of moving to Long Island, and Barney and Ted considered adopting a baby as “bro-parents” after deciding they are sick of trying to find happiness with women.

The episode was, in general, funny, sweet and adorable. And then the last 30 seconds went full-on watercooler drama.

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