Sunday, March 30, 2014

How I Met Your Mother: The Final Act

We’re going to lose a monster Monday night when HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER goes off the air. The show is closing shop with a 1-hour finale at 8PM on CBS. HIMYM is the most underrated sitcom of its era. It has not won a single Emmy of significance or spent a second in the Nielsen top 20, but it stayed strong for nine seasons, and that's no simple thing. The most celebrated comedies of the last decade are MODERN FAMILY and THE BIG BANG THEORY. HIMYM is as good as both.

When HIMYM came out, I was finishing grad school and getting ready to start the rollercoaster ride through my latter-twenties. I think I related best with the Barney character (Neil Patrick Harris) back then. I chased women on the weekends. I was certain the worst kind of life was being married and settled down and raising a family in the suburbs. Then I began my quest to find eternal love, and I slowly morphed into Ted Mosby (Josh Radnor). I even wore the sweater with the tucked-out dress shirt underneath. I wanted to find the person I’d settle down with, raise a family. Finding love is a long and complicated enterprise then it just happens. And now I’m most like Marshall (Jason Segel).

In the past decade, I don’t think there’s been a more quotable show than HIMYM. From Barney’s “Legen--wait for it--dary" to the “Bro Code” to “Suit Up” to the hundreds of cracks against Canadian living, it’s carved a prominent place in the vernacular. A few years ago I went to a wedding in Western New York, and one of the usher’s whole picking-up-women shtick was channeling Barney Stinson. He dressed like him, talked like him, high-fived like him. It was pathetic BUT it worked. Say what? The show made Segel a box office star. It reenergized Patrick Harris’s career, and I no longer associate Hannigan with that annoying band geek who said "Holy potatoes" to Jim in AMERICAN PIE. Hannigan is Lily now. Right now HIMYM is #42 in the Nielsen ratings. I don't get it. I never got it.

January 2011: my favorite HIMYM episode. It was called “Bad News,” and focused on Marshall’s and Lily’s quest to get pregnant. Marshall’s overbearing father (Bill Fagerbakke), who lives in Minnesota, wants nothing more than to be a granddaddy. Feeling the pressure from not getting pregnant, Marshall decides to get tested for fertility (or lack thereof). Both him and Lily are convinced that the fertility doctor is their friend Barney in disguise (which is weird because Marshall and Lily had previously agreed that they would not try to get pregnant until they met Barney’s doppelganger and/or twin). Marshall’s dad is so consumed with being a granddad that he travels to New York to see his son. He tells Marshall he’ll love him “no matter what,” even if he can't have children. Turns out the doctor is legit and lets Marshall know that he is able to father a child. After the doctor says this, Marshall says, “I was expecting bad news.” He goes to call his father in Minnesota, but his dad doesn’t answer, and all we see is an unfinished clock and paint supplies on his work bench.

Excited to tell Lily the “good news,” about his ability to father, Marshall runs from the bar where the whole gang hangs out in time to see a cab pull up. Lily climbs from the cab, teary-eyed, and tells Marshall that his father had a heart attack and "didn’t make it." The shot ends with the couple hugging, and Marshall saying, “I’m not ready for this.” Throughout the whole half hour the writers were dropping hints that a devastating ending cometh. But it wasn’t until the show ended and we had time to reflect, that we realized how perfectly it was all woven together. From the scene with his father in New York for the final time, to the shot of the unfinished clock on the work bench next to the ringing phone (representing being out of time), it was all great.

The writers found a way to display a number in every scene (whether it was #46 on Marshall's beer or #6 on the doctor's folder) counting down from #50 to #1 as the show progressed, to again symbolize the loss of time or a ticking clock, as is always the case in life, whether we know it or not. The #2 was shown on the broken clock and the #1 was shown on the cab that pulled up carrying Lily in the last scene. Awesome! It was HIMYM’s Sistine Chapel. And personally it struck a chord. My father died the same exact way, two years ago, to the day of that Monday night episode. So it was certainly an emotional reminder (for me) of how somebody can be here one day, gone the next. When I saw that cab pull up, and Lily climb from inside in the final scene, I said to myself, "Marshall's dad had a heart attack." I just knew it. As Marshall hugged Lily and said, "I'm not ready for this," I was brought right back to that moment/time in my own life. It was a great episode.

That’s what HIMYM did better than any show. It blended comedy--at times absurd comedy--with genuine, heartfelt storytelling. I can’t count the number of times that my chin trembled in the last two minutes of any given episode. It made me want to be a better person and love better, because love is the best thing human beings do. HIMYM taught me that. It was a show about love, devoid of all cynicism. Maybe it outstayed its welcome, ran too long, but I’ll be sad to see it go tomorrow night. A part of me will be going away with it. I don’t care how it ends. In life, the history is better than the mystery.

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Brian Huba

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