This is not a review or a recap of the “How I Met Your Mother” finale, just some general fuckery I need to get off my chest. As I’ve written before, I fell in love with “HIMYM” midway through the first season, during the Victoria storyline (she was the wedding cake maker). It’s there when the show transitioned for a formulaic “Friends” knock-off into a hilariously sweet “Wonder Years” for young adults. For the next two seasons, the CBS sitcom entrenched itself as one of the most consistently funny and effectively poignant half-hours on television. In fact, but for Jim and Pam, it’s featured the only good relationship comedy since J.D. broke up with Elliot during Turk’s rehearsal dinner at the end of “Scrubs” season four. Indeed, “HIMYM’s” writers perfectly handled Ted and Robin’s burgeoning relationship and the subsequent break-up — their post-romantic relationship has been written perfectly without tarnishing either character.
Unfortunately, the show has begun to unravel over the last half season. There have been a few good episodes, but overall, it now spends too much time calling back gags from earlier episodes (the intervention, the slap bet, Robin’s Canadian heritage) and not enough time formulating new running jokes. And as the central focus began to move away from Ted’s dating life and toward Barney’s obsession with Robin (a relationship that would never work, really), the show began to lose some of its sweetness.
Look: I realize that for a lot of people, the biggest appeal of “HIMYM” has been Barney’s prickery, or even Marshall and Lily’s relationship, which has been mostly a brilliant example of a solid relationship that works, even when the characters don’t have to split apart every half season to keep it compelling (and Lily’s absence this last half of the season has been felt). But it’s been Ted’s storyline that differentiates “HIMYM” from a regular sitcom you can tune in and out of from a sitcom you watch each week to see where it takes you in the course of his romantic life. I liked the Stella (Sarah Chalke) arc last season, and their eventual break-up was almost as gut-punchy as Ted and Robin’s break up. But this season, the Ted character has floundered. It’s become Season Three of “Lost.” With no eventual end in sight, there’s not much left to do with Ted until he finally meets the mother of his children.
My biggest complaint: They completely fucked up the woman in the yellow umbrella. In the first episode of Season Three (two seasons ago), they all but suggested that Ted’s eventual wife would be a woman, barely glimpsed, holding a yellow umbrella. After 40 episodes or so, they finally returned to that yellow umbrella. It was one of the best episodes of the season, mostly because the entire time, I actually stupidly thought that we were about to get an answer. When it was finally revealed that Stella was the woman with the umbrella, I was actually OK with the idea that Stella would ultimately be the mother of his children, even if it wouldn’t happen for another season or two. At the very least, we were finally getting somewhere.
But then the episode ended, and the writers struggled mightily to square the woman with the yellow umbrella (Stella) with Ted’s eventual wife. And it’s been a mess. And in the season finale, we finally got the most ridiculous of answers. For two years, they built up that woman with the yellow umbrella, only to finally reveal that she, Stella, was the woman who broke up with Ted on the altar for her ex-husband; the ex-husband felt so guilty about breaking up Ted and Stella that he got Ted a job as a professor at a college, where he would eventually meet the Mother, who is going to be one of his students, someday.
So, basically: One huge letdown. It also suggests that the writers have had no idea what direction they are taking the show — that they’re just making it up. Fine, right? Seat of their pants. It’s a sitcom. A comedy. What we’re we expecting? A hydrogen bomb explosion that would send everyone back to Oceanic Flight 815? Maybe I’m expecting too much. But, damnit: I got involved. I bought into that yellow umbrella device. And I expected more than this. And I expected way more than a full season of Barney pining over Robin only to learn that he’d lose all romantic affection for her the minute she expressed her love for him (even if it was fake). I understand that sitcoms have a tendency to return to square one after each episode (see Bart Simpson, a 4th grader for life). But I guess I wanted more than rendering all of season four completely moot. I didn’t want square one. I wanted Pam to be pregnant. Or Winnie to move to France. Or Chandler to wake up in Monica’s hotel bed. Damnit: I wanted more than “and I would eventually meet your mother in that classroom, but that’s a story for another day.”
Where’s the story for today, goddamnit.