Saturday, 19 July 2014

Frust wait for it... rating: The Finale of How I Met Your Mother

**SPOILER ALERT** (obvs) seriously if you read that headline without having seen the final episode and STILL read ahead...

OK, so it's been a while since I've done a post about TV, but being an on again off again +How I Met Your Mother I felt I really had to weight in on how the show wrapped up.
I actually remember when the show first aired here in Blighty on BBC Two (bet some people forgot that) but didn't watch it constantly until it had moved to E4. At one point I did give up on the show, I think it was the end of Season 5, when they had that STUPID episode where Marshall lost his wallet and kept changing between two stories - he was either genuinely mugged or a monkey stole it at the zoo. It wasn't a very funny episode and in the end you NEVER found out which version was true. So at that point I "rage quit" the show until Season 7 when I heard about when the show would end and the draw of finding out who the mother was pulled me back in.

I know, you're probably thinking I'm a mug for waiting for E4 to show it when I could have just download it right after it's broadcast in America, but given Barney's catchphrase it was only appropriate that I "wait for it..."

Admittedly, the disadvantage of waiting meant that when the finale aired and lots of people on the internet got very upset I kind of knew what to expect. Then when a screengrab of an older looking Ted holding the blue horn popped up on my Facebook news feed I knew EXACTLY what that meant. Lo and behold, watching the show over the past two weeks, what I predicted would happen happened. Still didn't make it any easier though.

Assuming you're only reading this because you've seen the show, you already know what's happened, but to summarise, the biggest talking points were:
  • Robin and Barney got divorced, unable to sustain their relationship due to Robin's job as a global newscaster. Robin becomes increasingly estranged from the group while Barney reverts to his old womanising ways and upon completing a "perfect month" (sleeping with a woman a day for 31 days) he discovers his final conquest ("number 31!") is pregnant with his child; 
  • As Ted finishes telling his kids how he met their mother (who we find out is called Tracy McConnell, meaning she shares Ted's initials), we discover that the mother fell ill and passed away six years ago from when Ted is telling the story;
  • Finally, upon hearing the story, Ted's kids decide he only told them in an effort to deal with how he had "the hots for Aunt Robin" and encourage him to get together again with her. Thus he turns up at her apartment with the fabled blue horn. End scene.
So, first things first. Having spent the entire season beforehand recounting the events on the weekend of Barney and Robin's wedding, "Last Forever" skips through the years like nobody's business, which I feel is the episode's first mistake. The minute Barney and Robin's divorce is revealed, it immediately begs the question "Well what was the point of dragging the wedding out for an entire season?"

Certainly this season did have it's moments. I thought the fact that the mother met the rest of the gang before she met Ted was a nice touch - the episode where she met Barney especially was a highlight - and Ted punching out that dick in Tracy's band, earning himself a drink from her (without either realising who they were) was also really cool. And of course, Cristin Milioti has been marvellous all season long as Tracy, and the "How Your Mother Met Me" episode in particular was brilliant.
But undoubtedly one of the most annoying aspects of this season was seeing how many crises of confidence Barney and Robin had about getting married - especially annoying given the time frame - so to see that it was futile in the end is a Slapsgiving-worthy slap in the face.

Don't get me wrong, it's not the fact they got divorced that disappoints me. I'd have been perfectly fine with it if they hadn't have spent so long focusing on their wedding. Couples get divorced all the time nowadays so it's perfectly realistic to have Barney and Robin do so. The reality that not every couple makes it has been ingrained into the show from the start, and is even subtly there when Ted talks of how knew he had to love Tracy "as much as I can for as long as I can". Again, if they hadn't spent all season on their wedding, the only bad aspect of the divorce (the very end of the show aside) for me would have been how easily Barney regressed to his man whore tactics and undid all the character growth we saw from him the past couple of seasons. He did redeem himself in the end when he met his daughter - that scene was excellent, Neil Patrick Harris was fantastic and brought out the best acting I've ever seen in the show.

Another issue I had was with how Tracy's death was handled. The fact it was brushed over so quickly - just one hospital scene, a vague reference to her getting sick and a few lines when Ted finishes the story for his kids - was a major disservice (*does Ted & Robin's salute thing*) to a character we've been investing in for nine years, even if we've only seen her for one. I'd trade one of Barney or Robin's pre-wedding wobbles from earlier in the season for a proper goodbye from Tracy hands down. At best it's a case of poor time management, at worst it's just cruel.
What's worse is that we don't get to see the scene where Ted and Tracy first meet until after it's revealed she's dead. I personally felt this tainted what was a very good scene. Josh Radnor and Cristin Milioti have great chemistry on screen, and the way they almost immediately started figuring out their connections to each other was well played. But coming immediately after the revelation of her death I was left with a lingering dread over what was to come instead of focusing on basically THE moment the whole show had been supposedly building up to.
I mean I know the show is essentially just about a group of friends doing stupid things in New York (the shows creator's have said as much), but given it's called How I Met Your Mother I would have liked to have enjoyed the moment when Ted, you know, actually met the mother a little more.

Which brings me to my final grievance: Ted winding up with Robin again.
This is nothing against Robin. Many people I know who watch the show HATE her (mostly women) but I've really enjoyed her as a character, and sympathised with her irrational detesting of someone who's essentially only trying to be nice ("Dammit Patrice!!!").

No, my main qualm is that this was the season Ted supposedly got over Robin for good. Hence that weird scene where Ted imagined her floating away as a metaphor for him moving past his feelings for her. The only thing that beats that for the low point this season is that awful episode about Marshall's alleged training for the final slap he was going to give Barney (why do so many of my least favourite moments come from Marshall bulshitting?), featuring a nice bit of casual racism with all the other main players in yellowface and trying to make up for it by playing up to the "Asian people age well" stereotype.

What was most disappointing was essentially how the mother and Ted's children just became plot devices for him to end up back with Robin. I find it a bit nauseous to think about how it was Tracy who convinced Robin to come to Ted's wedding knowing how the show ended. But what sits even worse with me was how Ted's kids encouraged him to go after Robin again. I know it had been six years since the mother's passing, but I still found their whole "Go gettem champ!" attitude a tad unrealistic - what teenagers would really be that understanding about their Dad moving on to someone new in that context? Again, the fact that, essentially, the mother and Ted's children only really existed in order to get him to be with Robin again did them a disservice in my view.

I realise this has been an extremely negative piece so far, so I thought I should reiterate I didn't hate everything about this episode (and this season). In addition to the moments I pointed out as highlights earlier (Barney with his baby daughter, Cristin Milioti being just ace in general), I also really enjoyed Marshall's career trajectory. From trying to remain good humoured about being a corporate lawyer, attempting to not say anything negative about it, to becoming a judge ("Judge Fudge") and making joke rulings about what the guys do on nights out and eventually a Supreme Court Judge ("Fudge Supreme").  I know I gave out about him being the focus of my least favourite episodes earlier, but he was really good this episode, taking offence to Robin being compared to Sasquatch being another highlight: "Sasquatch is a warm and affectionate creature. At this point, Robin's more like the Yeti, cold and aloof.

It was also nice to see the gang watching "Robots vs Wrestlers" again, one of several recalls to previous seasons ("Yuuuu sonnovabeeech!", Sasquatch, the playbook) - one of the things the show always did best.

I know a lot of people complained that there were perhaps one too many scenes where everyone was all *sad face*, but I thought aside from the mother's illness they mostly got this right. Maybe it was thanks to E4 splitting the episode in two. Given the time frame the episode covered,  you'd expect the characters to face some hardships, and with the exception of Tracy most got a silver lining at the end of them.
And you know, even some of the *sad face* scenes had some bright spots in them. Particularly when Lily confronts Robin when she's sneaking out of the last Halloween party at the show's trademark flat. It's a pretty emotional scene (although if Robin saying she should have married Ted wasn't like a massive foghorn warning you where the plot was going, you've obviously not been watching enough TV)  and Alyson Hannigan was tremendous, but seeing a pregnant Lily in her beached whale Halloween costume definitely helped lighten the tone.

Overall, though, I have to say I wasn't very impressed with the way the show ended. After years of hearing many of the characters telling Ted to let go of his feelings for Robin (and for him to finally do it this season) it was disappointing to see the two wind up together anyway (and in such a rush from our vantage point), in the process making practically all of this season feel pretty futile and the titular mother just a vehicle for Ted and Robin's reunion. It was also a bit of a downer seeing several years of character development for Barney almost get thrown away, although the final scene with his daughter does repair much of that damage.

That being said, I'm certainly not going to allow this to sour the fond memories I have of watching previous seasons. Certainly a few episodes are awful enough not to need any more souring, but there's still so much I enjoyed about watching the show. Barney's subterfuge was almost always good value. The dopplegangers running joke was really good fun. "Boats! Boats! Boats!" Some choice guest turns by Wayne Brady, John Lithgow, Becki Newton and Bob Odenkirk.  Plus, Robin Sparkles!

I especially loved how the show would play on the fact that Ted is recalling the story from memory so hindsight and his personal views skewed how we saw the story played out. Like how the ex-girlfriend who's name he couldn't remember was just called "Blah-Blah", or when Robin was dating an older man (read: in his 40s) we saw him as an OLD man (read: in his 60s) to reflect how ridiculous Ted thought the relationship was. Another neat touch was, when Ted wasn't there for certain events he had to go off hearsay from other characters ("Now kids, you're uncle Marshall SWEARS this is exactly what happened..."). The episode that showed (drunk) Robin, (drunk) Ted and Lily attending the Captain's art party from all three of their perspectives was also a standout in this regard.

Little innovations like that make me hope that this poor finale doesn't affect the show's influence and how well it is regarded in years to come. Although it really isn't doing them any favours, and petitions like this show people are clearly upset. Only time will tell...

Leave the memories alone...