Forget The MotherPosted: September 27, 2011
How I Met Your Mother abandons its concept and still succeeds.
By Bryan Berlin
“Kids, this is the story about how How I Met Your Mother completely abandoned its concept and still turned out to be an awesome TV show.” No Bob Saget, narrating as Future Ted, never said that in How I Met Your Mother, but he just as well may have. Over the last six years, HIMYM has become a TV comedy staple, alongside shows like The Office, 30 Rock, and *shudder*, Two And A Half Men. The funny thing is, at points in the series, HIMYM completely abandons its original concept, and most people don’t even care. Now that the seventh season is underway, the big question I want to look at is: how do they pull this off?
By writing good comedy. HIMYM is very much an updated, edgier version of Friends; each show is about a group of friends living together in New York City and the relationships and (comedic) hardships they’re involved in. Neither show really did anything that groundbreaking to comedy, but both will be remembered as successful shows about friends.
But wait, what about the mother? Based on the 138, 21-minute episodes, Ted has been telling his kids the story of how he met their mother for 48 hours. What if these kids have never met their mother and they decided they are finally ready to meet her, but Ted has taken two days to tell them her identity? I would be so pissed. Or what if it was a Mamma Mia situation and they were trying to figure out which one of Ted’s close female friends is their actual mother? Either way, Ted is a dick.
It’s amazing HIMYM has made it six seasons revealing nothing about the mother other than who her roommate is and that she owns a yellow umbrella. You would think viewers would be showing up with pitchforks at Carter Bays and Craig Thomas’ houses (the creators) demanding the identity of the mother. They should be, frankly. The majority of the episodes of the season have no mention of the potential mother or potential plotlines that would lead to the identity of the mother.
Initially, I thought HIMYM would introduce the mother by the end of the second or third season, show their relationship for a season or two, have them get married, and then continue the show as they all were. You’d still get the storylines between the characters and the comedy, but you’d have the satisfaction of knowing who the mother is. Instead, they have drawn out that first element of the story, allowing the characters to develop and the humor to hit a good level. There was even a part of me that thought they could introduce the mother, get married, etc. and then have a great spin-off show following the kids sitting on the couch with Bob Saget as their dad – an updated Full House even: Marshall and Lilly living in the attic and Neil Patrick Harris as the awkward Uncle Joey. But alas, that’s probably not going to happen.
Instead of disappointing viewers, HIMYM has perfected the ‘friends’ sitcom. Often playing out a relationship do’s and don’ts (“The Platinum Rule,” “Lemon Law,” and “The Naked Man”) or life concept (“The Chain of Screaming” or “Slap Bet”), HIMYM’s ideas have kept people coming back for more. The genius of how they do it is by giving Ted a girlfriend. By giving Ted a love interest who is obviously not the mother (through reference or writing), you accept the fact that this is going to happen for a while, and don’t wait on every word of who the mother is. Ted’s got a girlfriend now, so you can sit back and watch the show, laughing along the way.
The other way HIMYM has succeeded in keeping viewers without getting pissed is by taking the show off Ted. Truthfully, Ted kind of sucks; he’s whiny, expects love to just come to him, and is pretty boring. Yes, you want him to find a nice girl, but you don’t need it to happen. Instead, you’d rather watch Barney play out a ridiculous pick up strategy, Marshall and Lilly adjusting to married life, Robin being awesome and attractive, or all of them sharing stories about past relationships/life topics. The writers have found a way to make the show succeed without the main character always being the focal point. I would even argue that HIMYM could lose Ted at this point, and even though the show name or premise would not make sense in any way, people would still watch it.
Do they need to start giving answers? Yes. Not because the audience needs them, but because they have to finish the story. At this point, HIMYM is signed on through an 8th season, and there is talk about that being it. The creators have stated they’re starting to wrap things up and get in a position to tie together loose ends, so it’s only a matter of time before you finally find out who the mother is and those kids can get on with their lives.