Other Ten Percent 5/15/13

May 15 2013

Guys I’m super sorry again about yesterday’s post. I’ve been receiving my usual amount of feedback and all of it was negative today…in that nobody said a word about it to me and I really didn’t like that half-hearted post. Once again I regret writing it when I did because it turns out what I actually wanted to talk about with How I Met Your Mother is much better illustrated discussing what the show’s probably going to do with its 9th and final season than it is describing it as a class of sitcom with Community and then doing absolutely nothing to establish what that classification means and then getting bored and quitting halfway in…I’m really sorry about yesterday’s post.

Anyway, let’s dig deep into the aftermath of the season finale of How I Met Your Mother because everybody is super angry about it in a way that makes perfect sense if you think of the show as a hangout show and seems absolutely insane to me because that isn’t how I view the show at all. Needless to say if you really want to go into the 8th season finale of How I Met Your Mother “pure” then I’m about to spoil the shit out of it and you probably should just go watch it now because it’s just 22 minutes and it’s pretty good.

The big thing that changes the formulation of the entire show is that we’ve finally seen the mother in the last few moments of the finale after 184 episodes of delaying that reveal. From what I’ve heard she’s going to be a big part of the last season since they tested her chemistry with all the other characters before they cast her which pretty much rules out her just popping up here and in the series finale. This news thrilled everybody who felt the show’s been running in circles for seasons on end. But, while everybody was pretty thrilled on Monday evening on Tuesday morning CBS sent out a press release that explained the plan for season 9 and everybody pretty much went insane in the other direction.

See, the season finale established that the “now” of the show’s universe was 56 hours out from the big wedding of Barney and Robin where Ted, after the ceremony while waiting for a train, will finally meet the mother. Apparently the backbone of season 9 will spend 24 episodes exploring those 56 hours. They’re going to stretch the 56 remaining hours before Ted meets the mother (we get a glimpse of her as the audience but Ted still doesn’t) and make that the entire season.

There was a time it would have driven me insane as well. I was a huge advocate of just introducing the mother already around season 5 or 6 because I thought a new character dynamic would do a lot to liven up some of the characters that had grown kinda stale. From the perspective of a hangout show this is basically the worst idea in the world. For any other sitcom it’d be an unquestionable disaster. You’re stranding all your characters in a situation that isolates them away from the familiar situations that the audience likes seeing them in and plotting-wise. You’re basically cornering them into a soap-opera dynamic where everybody has to have an absurd number of emotional revelations in the space of two and a half days.

Even worse from the perspective of some critics, instead of doing the proven formula of the last season victory lap that provides a nice coda for all the major characters, instead of directly exploring what makes this new character so important to Ted that he’d stop the eternal love triangle two-step with him, Barney and Robin the show’s been doing for half a decade at this point it’s going to spend the last season on more temporal shenanigans and structural fuckery.

The problem is that this entire show IS structural fuckery. The entire premise of the show is that all the action we’re watching is a flashback from the year 2030. This has let the show pull off bits with regularity that even relatively daring and experimental comedies would leave alone outside of an odd “off-formula” episode or two. Seinfeld pulled off one episode where the narrative progressed backward in time, How I Met Your Mother does this practically every week for at least part of the story. Most sitcoms experiment with an unreliable narrator on occasion or produce the customary Rashomon episode but I can’t think of another show that regularly lets its characters take over as narrator and break the reality of the story randomly within an episode.

See, what makes How I Met Your Mother a puzzlebox sitcom (and what made Community one back in the heights of its Dan Harmon fueled seasons) isn’t that it’s capable of doing bizarre punchline->setup constructions or could have a scene derailed by an unreliable narrator it’s that those tricks are actually how these shows communicate with the audience. How I Met Your Mother’s relationship with time (just like Community’s relationship with genre) actually ends up being the fundamental storytelling tool for Ted’s growth . Without doing all that jumping around in time to give a sense of perspective on his actions the show is just the story of an awful guy who makes tons of terrible relationship decisions refusing to get over a girl who’s repeatedly told him she can’t commit to their relationship. It’s not surprising that’s many people’s opinion of the later seasons verbatim because if you’re reading recaps of the show as a linear narrative THAT IS FACTUALLY THE STORY BEING TOLD.

So, here’s the thing that I find so bizarre about these complaints: the season everybody seems to want, the season where we learn all about the mother and watch Ted grow into a good husband and say goodbye to everybody and basically have a Mary Tyler Moore finale, this is how you get that on this show.

Everybody seems to assume that a show obsessed with jumping forward and backward in time is suddenly going to turn into 24 as overwrought comedy, slowly marching directly forward toward the inevitable ending at a snail’s pace, which is insane. In fact, by announcing the entire last season takes place at the wedding I think HIMYM has pretty much announced that the Mary Tyler Moore ending is EXACTLY what they’re going for and that wedding is our goodbye to these characters. If you assume that the show has already told you its ending (it has, we’re ending with the moment Ted meets the mother) this is the structural fuckery equivalent of basically promising you the entire final season is going to be a long series of goodbyes disguised as hellos before they even get started. Of course, the only way that’s going to work out satisfyingly for fans is with a whole ton of jumping around in time and it’s going to play out pretty much like this:

Ted in the future, already prone to digressions from the main narrative, goes full Tristram Shandy as he approaches what he considers to be the single most important moment of his life and realizes the story’s almost over (and he hasn’t even told the kids about ______!) we start jumping all around forward and backward in time closing off odd narrative digressions from earlier in the show (okay so it’s not FULL Tristram Shandy since there’s going to be some closure) and seeing how our favorite characters turn out in the future by reading the signs of all those future and past events from the weekend of Barney and Robin’s wedding. The core plots of the season will all take place during two days but those two days are going to spin out into Barney and Robin’s married life, Marshal’s professional life and the future of his marriage with Lily and of course Ted’s relationship with the mother after the wedding ends even as the season itself slowly tells the events of the actual wedding proper.

Will they be able to pull that off? I have absolutely no clue. That’s a pretty ambitious final season structurally even for a show that managed to pull off using the first half of a running joke as a season ending cliffhanger. It’s easily possible that they simply don’t have enough ideas for the two days until the wedding and every moment spent NOT jumping forward or backward through time is a horrible slog of melodrama that moves forward by just a few paces. They could also screw stuff up on a smaller scale by botching a character arc in the last season or something.

It is however the only final season that lets the show even attempt to do what the audience wants though while still remaining recognizably How I Met Your Mother. I understand the desire for the show to dispense with meeting the damn mom and then spend the back half of the season with Ted blissfully happy with his new destined wife but that’s How I Met Your Mother fan-fiction not a final season of television for a show that’s always been more about the telling of the story than the story itself.

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