Monday, April 7, 2014


I think a lot of the people who don't really like/understand sitcoms don't realize that, you really just need, one little twist, something slightly different than what came before, and then, you can pretty much borrow and steal from everyone else, (Well, everything good if you can) and suddenly, a sitcom can become truly special, even a classic. "How I Met Your Mother" borrowed from a lot of places. "Friends", for the relationships among the characters, "Seinfeld", for the comedic freedom in a 3-camera structure, "The Wonder Years", for the flashback voiceover. But, they had that, one little twist that no other show had before, and it's that clever twist that's kept us waiting and wondering for all nine seasons of show.

The conceit of the show, even I laughed at originally, that the entire series was a part of a long story being told to the future kids of Ted, telling them about how he met their mother, seemed strange and ridiculous and, daring at the time. This came on during a period where a lot of shows, dramas mostly, "Lost" in particular comes to mind, where a lot of the show was the finding out of some big reveal about the show. That said, the show was a much bigger undertaking than simply having a gimmick reason to keep watching the show until the bitter end. (Some would say, very bitter end, we'll get to that.) TV series have something called a bible. It's not what it sounds like, it's actually a crucial tool for most series, and what it is, is a book that you write in that basically gives a detailed history of the show. The backgrounds and major events in character's lives, bios, stuff like that, and they're constantly updated as a show goes on, and in some series that may last a long time, (Think those really long-running soap operas that predate television, some of them.) there could be multiple bibles just on the characters, much less the events. They tell everything about the content of the show, and they also keep track of everything. For instance, if a character gets a Christmas gift from his mother, yet, in an earlier episode we learn that that character's mother had passed away, (That's a famous "M*A*S*H" faux pas that I'm referencing) then, that means somebody didn't read into their bible well enough. (And numerous people screwed up in not catching it.) Now, that said, it's not terribly uncommon that there's an occasional error or an anomaly on any series if you're paying attention, but a few shows occasionally, have to live and die by it's accuracy. I always think of one other sitcom in regards to a show really making sure that the bible is kept to the letter to such a degree, and that was "Soap". That show only lasted four years, for various reasons, but that was the first sitcom to use the soap opera format, and more importantly with that show, but it wasn't just, what was on the show that had to be documented; they had to have an explanation for the condition of the characters on that show. It was a rich side and a poor side of the family, despite them being linked by two sisters, as the opening of the show famously points out, but only late in series did we find out why the disparity. A crucial flashback episode revealed the scenario where Chester married Jessica and not Mary, despite Chester having just slept with Mary, in order for Chester to protect his family from going to prison after they were stealing money from the sisters' father. This was a huge, "Oh!" moment for that show, as suddenly, everything was explained, and I would argue that the show, strangely went downhill from there, almost as though we had finally found the key, and now that we've opened the chest, and found what's inside and taken it in, now it's empty.

"How I Met Your Mother" probably learned from this, and decided that, if that's the moment that will explain a series, than maybe that should be at the end, the final explanation. That way, they have something to build up to, and the unique hook that so many sitcoms desperately need. (And it was planned ahead, Josh Radnor has admitted that he's known since season one what the reveals at the end would be.) And since that core of the show, was so strong and so ingrained, strangely it allowed for them to then, play with the structure of the sitcom, and even reinvent the format in other ways. The big obvious way this is done is with the visual format of the show. Technically, it's a three-camera show, and shot on a set like one, but it doesn't have a studio audience, and it takes full advantage of it. A lot of shows used this technique before to some extent, "The Partridge Family" comes to mind, but not, recently, and not the way "How I Met Your Mother" did. They used it to their full advantage, doing all kinds of comedy that usually can't be constrained by the 3-walls of a set, as well as musicals and dramatic moments  that most shows don't. Weird angles, and a certain freedom with set design, quick-cut flashback, and forwards, and interjecting in them and playing with the structure and forms of a sitcom, allowing to seemingly completely get rid of the Bob Saget voice over whenever they felt like, or abandon it's premise completely  to go on numerous divergents and running gags. Strangely, the limitation of the set-up of the show, provided, complete freedom for the show to explore pretty much anything else. They made characters as ridiculous or over-the-top and absurd as they wanted. They could break into songs as easily as they could punch you in the stomach with a sudden emotional cord that can destroy you, sometimes in the same episode. Yeah, sometimes they really caricatured Canada too much for my taste, but they had already set their own structure, they were correct to set their own rules. They're own catchphrases, inside jokes, moments, symbolic objects, etc.. It's already from a skewed point-of-view, so the comedy can come from one as well, or as many perspectives as it wanted to. From the traditional sitcom to the surreal and back again, as long as they can keep the stories straight, and the core premise alive, they were able to do anything. Dropping a hint here and there, and advancing a story, as we get closer and closer, and closer to the moment, that ironic beginning that would end the series. In many ways, while it might not have revolutionized the sitcom, it's definitely become an original and seminal one, not solely for the one little twist in the sitcom structure, but for the ways in which its also expanded the kinds of comedy possible in the 3-camera format (And expanded the format in general). Still, it's tough to put "How I Met Your Mother" on the same line of the really great sitcoms for some reason though, which might be a bit unfair, oddly enough. It really attempted something no other sitcom tried before, and it succeeded at it unusually well.

Alright, we've looked at why the show was successful and different, and looked at it's place in television history. Now, to discuss that controversial final episode. (SPOILER ALERTS READ AT OWN RISK) Actually, I've been discussing it for the last week, almost everywhere. I've seen it three times, and the last two times, I was crying, and the more I think about it, the better the episode gets. Yes, certain things get unresolved (Apparently the pineapple incident had more of an impact on others in the internet community than me; [Which is weird on my part actually, since I usually have an instant callback on anything decent involving Danica MacKeller]) and it didn't exactly end the way, that, maybe we wanted or hoped for. But since when did this show ever kowtow to our expectations anyway? Well, we can dissect this episode in dozens of ways. How tearful it is that, when he met Tracy we already had the knowledge that she wasn't gonna survive to see her daughter get married, (Which is partly why Ted's telling the story.) or the numerous real reasons, besides Robin's job that her marriage to Barney ultimately didn't work out, like the knowledge that she couldn't provide him the kid that he really wanted to ultimately settle his own paternal issues. Or to believe that Robin's cold feet was apart of a long realization that she should've been marrying Ted. Some have complained that the show, which used it's entire last season to cover a few days, suddenly decided to jump ahead and cover years in it's one hour finale; that's actually a dumb argument considering the whole structure of the show has played fast and loose with time lines from the very beginning, even in conception. And why wouldn't it by the way? He's telling a story to his kids, they pretty much know the rest of the story already; at this point, Ted's job is to just fill in the last few details The show literally jumped years into the future and past at will to begin with, so I don't understand that complaint per se. I also think, people aren't realizing the parables between Tracy's first love, having passed away years earlier, means that, this was the 2nd time she found the love of her life, but Ted's first, (or second depending on how/when we count Robin) so they both go through the same grieving period and changes before moving on to their next true loves, or attempt. (Something else that's barely mentioned is that, we don't actually get an answer to Ted's question to Robin at the end, nor, if that answer is yes, whether or not that relationship would was gonna work out either.) And that Ted, asking his kids for permission to date Robin, parallels Tracy's looking up to heaven and talking with Max, about whether to marry the guy she was dating before Ted. There's a lot of intricacies to the series finale than meets the eye actually. Callback jokes and references abound, there's quite a bit of emotional parallels in the episode, that only make the rest of the series grow more. Some are more obvious than others. The yellow umbrella, the bass guitar, the ukelele, the ducky tie. In fact, not since "Seinfeld" has a show made so many previously innocuous sayings or jokes or objects becomes such instantly noted references in the American lexicon. Most shows are lucky if just one thing is remembered from them. ("Seinfeld" was another show that constantly challenged the parameters of the three-camera series, and has just as big an influence on "...Mother" as "Friends" does.)

I can, and many have already write an entire blog or two to analyzing the episode, something which normally, I try not to do, and I also discourage it, since I think it best to analyze a series as a whole rather than the parts, and if ever a network show has made us do that more, it might be this show. Strangely, I have half-broken that rule with "How I Met Your Mother," before, I devoted half a blogpost to discussing it's episode titled "The Symphony of Illumination", an episode that ended with such an emotional punch that I felt compelled to discuss it's technique compared to other famous similar episodes once, most specifically the "Scrubs" episode "My Occurance". That post is below:

Now that we have the whole series, we realize how much of a personal and artistic story we've been told, and how rare it is that a comedy can have such an elaborate and carefully configured emotional thread. Drama series make us care about every little reference and point all the time now, but in a comedy, in many ways, especially when it's done this well, it has more relevance. More realistic strangely, more down to Earth, as opposed to up in the stratosphere with Goliath National Bank. For the moment, fans will be split on the final episode, the emotional strain and seeming deception of the central conceit of the show, but the more they, and I think about it, it's a beautiful and perfect last chapter to a landmark show that gave us a lot of what we've seen before, done a lot of it better than before, and showed us a lot of new approaches to the sitcom genre that's gonna be imitated and copied now more than simply borrowed. The series will probably never get the credit it really deserves; it never did win the Awards, only once getting a Best Comedy Series Emmy nomination, and an occasional nomination for Neil Patrick Harris and a few techincal Emmys here and there. When I conducted a poll on the "TEN GREATEST TV SHOWS OF ALL-TIME!", "How I Met Your Mother" got only one vote out of 100 ballots. I bet if the show was made thirty years earlier, it would've shown up on more, as then, we could've really seen just how different and unique it really is. Still, though, it, like many great sitcoms of today, often playback on what's come before and a lifetime or two of great sitcoms that came before and that they've engrossed. So many shows before have been about love, relationships, sex, the emotional struggles of them, even a few have touched on destiny and true love, and marriage and hope, and the search for the one, but how many have fully embraced these ideas and treated them as though they were the literal most important things in the universe? And do it seriously, and not just say they do for a laugh? Not enough frankly. That's the ultimate legacy of "How I Met Your Mother"; it takes that kind of seriousness to that subject matter, that makes a blue french horn, be something so much more than simply, a blue french horn.

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