In 2005, I was pushing two American television shows on everyone I knew: one was Veronica Mars, a teen private eye drama, which, after being cancelled in 2007 is on its way back with a crowdfunded film. The other was How I Met Your Mother, a Friends-esque sitcom that’s now into its eighth season and has a ninth (and last) promised. Seven years ago, I was introducing Ted Mosby and co to all my friends, now I’m slightly embarrassed to admit I ever watched the show, let alone still do. What changed?
A quick recap: the slightly shaky premise of How I Met Your Mother is that in the year 2030, a man called Ted Mosby is telling his two teenage children the story of how he met their mother, with a lot of digressions to the varying antics he and his friends got up to while living in New York during their twenties and thirties. (Personally, if I was telling my kids the story of how I met their other parent, I’d skip all the other people I slept with en route but I’m repressed like that.)
Although American and showing a real lack of ethnic diversity amongst its regular cast (apart from Ranjit the taxi driver and Barney’s Brother of Colour), HIMYM did a pretty good job of showing what life was like for western middle-class, urban twenty-somethings in different relationship situations. It had distinctive, easy to like main characters, comprised of long-established couple Lily Aldrin and Marshall Eriksen, serial womaniser Barney Stinson, career-focused Robin Scherbatsky and Ted himself, trying to find The One. It made smart, snappy observations about modern day life and gave them catchphrase-friendly names. It used its format cleverly – in the episode How I Met Everyone Else, Future Ted was unable to remember the name of a girl he dated, resulting in her being referred and addressed to as ‘Blah Blah’ for the whole episode.
HIMYM was one of those rare sitcoms that, for a while at least, didn’t just make you laugh but made you care for the characters at the same time. Lily leaving Marshall made me weepy and when they got back together again, it made me smile somewhere deep inside.
Have you met Ted? (And Lily, Marshall, Barney and Robin?)
Given the whole premise of the show, HIMYM has a history of potential-mother fake-outs. We questioned whether each woman Ted had a relationship with could be The Mother: Victoria, Stella and Zoey were all possibilities, but it began with Robin. HIMYM’s very first fake-out when way back at the beginning Future Ted told his kids about his first date with “Aunt” Robin.
And in that very first episode was the root of one of things that went sour. I got so sick of the roundabout that was Ted and Robin. We learnt in episode one that Robin was “Aunt” to his children, once round with them was enough to learn why it could never have worked, why did we have to keep seeing them sabotage each other’s relationships? A little bit of foreshadowing works but this tendency has leaked out across the rest of the series. There are now too many incidences of advance knowledge that we are working our way towards, making a lot of plot developments seem pointless.
So, I don’t understand why we had to witness Ted steal Victoria away from her impending marriage, when we knew full well that they were never going to make it as a couple. Or suffer the indignities that Robin is putting herself through to get back together with Barney when we’ve already known for months that she’s going to (I’m ten episodes into Season 8).
Possibly more infuriating than too much advance knowledge given to the viewer, is not enough background established by the writers. Almost every episode features an instance of retconning and it’s very tiresome. Frequently Future Ted tells us about something that the gang “always” did but that we’ve never seen before. The series used to actually build up its plots but when Robin broke up with Nick because he was stupid, there had been no previous examples of his stupidity before that one episode.
The characters I loved so much have become caricatures of themselves. Acceptable personality traits have been exaggerated to the point that I can’t imagine why anyone would want to be part of that group. Ted’s pedantry and snobbishness is no longer just quirky. Robin is shallow, horrible to people and has gone way beyond self-involved. Lily has reached new levels of manipulation of her friends, Marshall is increasingly wet and pathetic – whereas Barney, meant to be the moral vacuum of the group has probably remained the most consistent. Holding him to such low standards means that when he makes a generous and mature action, it’s a pleasant surprise.
I have so many other gripes: how Lily’s bi-curiosity is treated as either a trivial joke or something for the men to drool over; how every single main character has either been left at the altar, broken off an engagement or tried to end someone else’s wedding; the lack of depth to any of Robin’s relationships away from Ted or Barney… so why am I still watching?
Well, familiarity makes for comfort-viewing – it’s the TV equivalent of putting on an old hoodie and it’s not as if I’m putting myself out by trying to keep up with USA pace; I catch up in blocks on 4oD when I’m having a quiet evening. But mostly, it’s because I’ve been sucked in by the whole premise of the show: I’m waiting to find out who the mother is. Even though I expect I’ll be disappointed by however they set about revealing her to us, I just want to know. Which apparently is enough to make me tolerate a once-loved television series that I wish had ended four seasons ago.
And all of this brings me back to the Veronica Mars Kickstarter (you didn’t see that coming, did you?) I’m extremely ambivalent about donating to the project, so ambivalent that I haven’t done so yet. As well as not being thrilled at the idea of paying a media giant for anything other than for my cinema ticket (as previously commented on by Tim), I’m worried that the legacy of a brilliant television series will be damaged by a bad feature-length film. And if something else I once loved is going to be ruined, I don’t want to be personally responsible for it.