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'How I Met Your Mother': Wait for it ... an appreciation
After this day ... wait for it ... no more "wait for it" jokes here. Promise. Meanwhile, here's my appreciation of "How I Met Your Mother," ending Monday after nine seasons.
"How I Met Your Mother" series finale, WCBS/2, Monday, 8 p.m.
What it's about: That long -- very long -- weekend on Long Island finally wraps Monday night, along with one of TV's beloved comedies, ending after nine seasons. CBS has given few clues about "Lasts Forever Parts One and Two," though puckishly offered this recently: "Wait for it...Ted finally finishes telling his kids the story of how he met their mother."
We do know this much: Robin (Cobie Smulders) found the locket that was buried in Central Park; Barney (Neil Patrick Harris) is finally ready to tie the knot with her. Marshall (Jason Segel) and Lily (Alyson Hannigan) have their own chores on this momentous occasion. And Ted (Josh Radnor) wraps the shaggiest dog story you ever heard. (That "long weekend," by the way, comprised the ninth season.)
My say: "How I Met Your Mother," ending eight-and-change pretty good seasons Monday, was the rarest of birds in the TV kingdom: A sitcom based on a philosophical principal.
This principal is the law of causation, or causality, which holds that a second event is caused by the first. It sounds ridiculously trivial -- except that it's been a staple of Western philosophy going back to Aristotle, who probably never envisioned that the law of causation would one day lead to something as exotic as a show starring Neil Patrick Harris, whose character liked to have sex -- a lot.
But in the hands of creators Craig Thomas and Carter Bays, and longtime director Pamela Fryman, the adaptation of the law has often been amusing, occasionally exhilarating -- and at the darndest moments, unexpectedly moving.
The future Ted Mosby (voiced by Bob Saget) offered a reasonably concise overview of causation-as-applied-to-sitcom back in the fourth season when he told the kids, "the universe has a plan for you and that plan is always in motion. A butterfly flaps its wings and it rains. All the little parts of this machine are working, making sure you end up exactly where you're supposed to be exactly when you're supposed to be there."
And in that observation lay an entire series: A vast interlace of plot-points, fake-outs, red herrings and MacGuffins. In fact, the clever conceit that is "HIMYM" is the suggestion that every single detail over the last 200-plus episodes -- a countless number of details, by the way -- leads right up to the last second before the closing credits. They don't, of course, but that's why it's called a "conceit."
"HIMYM" was born in 2005, when time-frame manipulation was in the air, and experimentation was prized ("Lost" had set the standard just the year before, when it launched.) "Mother" has dazzled with its time manipulation, and often confused -- zipping forward and backward in single episodes with such abandon that you'd need a Marshall chart (Marshall loved charts) just to keep track.
But it was also implicit in the philosophy: That the eddies and currents of life will take you in strange, unexpected or funny directions.
Linda Holmes, a commentator for NPR, captured this spirit nicely in an essay some years ago, writing: "'How I Met Your Mother' engages in a certain amount of magical thinking. It believes in signs, in the power of coincidence and the broader meaning of things that seem unimportant. It's not afraid of fairy dust and the idea that if the sad, difficult things hadn't happened, the good things wouldn't have happened either, because everything is part of a whole."
Rain, for example, has been a key plot point AND metaphor for "HIMYM" because, remember, Ted would never have met their mother -- and her famous yellow umbrella -- without it.
And we all know what's behind that rain cloud, right?
Wait for it ... A silver lining.
Meanwhile, all the clever philosophical principals in the world -- even those with deep (or deep-ish) metaphysical and theological implications -- would be just plain hooey in a sitcom if you didn't care about the characters, and on the most fundamental level of all, fans cared ferociously about these characters. They were the friends they had, or thought they had, or wished they could have -- with their "slap contests" and endless romantic entanglements and de-tanglements, and the long, luxurious, twisted conversations over beer and food.
Never has a sitcom been so food-or-beer-centric as this one. (Beer and philosophy go together quite well.)
But as smart as "HIMYM" could be, this show never won Emmys, and the reason may be this: It could be mawkish, silly, vulgar, overwrought (the ninth season in particular) and maddeningly inconsistent.
Nevertheless, it was always -- always -- kind and gentle. This was one of those rare shows filled with a boundless sense of optimism and the redemptive power of love, romantic and otherwise. "HIMYM" never lost faith that Ted would end up with the right woman or love would conquer all.
Remember, as if you could forget, his words to Robin just last week: "Love doesn't make sense. It's totally nonsensical, but we have to keep doing it...Love is the best thing we do. You love Barney. He loves you. That doesn't have to make sense to make sense."
Makes perfect sense. After nine seasons, so -- surprisingly enough -- did this gem of a series.