Tuesday, April 01, 2014

(Off Topic) Urban HIMYMs: "Last Forever"

Once upon a time, when the world was young and new, I was part of a plucky start-up pop culture blog called DeadOn.  We wrote about pop culture, as one is apt to do when you're in your mid-20s and have plenty of free time.  I wrote Urban HIMYMs, reviews of How I Met Your Mother, back when it was a struggling, always on the cancellation bubble show.  I stopped doing this roughly about the time that I met Franklin's mother, but last night's series finale rousted me out of my recapping slumber one last time.

"Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans."  If you could encapsulate the mission statement of How I Met Your Mother, it would be this line from John Lennon's "Beautiful Boy".  Ostensibly Ted is telling his kids the story about how he met their mother, but there's a long and twisting road to get there.  Why I think this story connected with me was that I am roughly Ted's age (mathematically, Ted, Marshall, and Lily are all Class of 1996 from high school, so the tie in was strong.)  While there was always a heightened sense of reality, there were always the core small moments of reality that kept it grounded.  I always felt like that for all of the broad strokes that could not possibly have happened, the details and emotional notes were right.

Which is why the last five minutes of last night's episode are so maddening.  We know now that the creators had this idea of how they were going to end the show in their mind forever, which OK, awesome, probably better to have a plan than to make it up as they go along.  (The example of this for me would be 24, where it always felt like the writers would have eight basic hours plotted out, and then realize that they had painted themselves into a lot of corners with no obvious end games.)  But, while they were making other plans, life happened.  Things happened in the show.  For a long time.  For a longer time than they expected.  So when we finally did meet the mother, when we finally caught the glimpses, and got to know her piece by piece, and we got to see her with Ted in the flash forwards, I think we started to like her.  Part of this is that Cristin Milioti just sold being the person Ted would logically end up with, part of this was that the layers had been put there, that all of the grief and heartache Ted had gone through up to that night on the train platform in Farhampton, all of that was going to pay off because as my friend Victoria liked to remind me "It doesn't have to be the perfect person, just the person perfect for you."
And then they killed her.

The hints had been there and we were so proud of ourselves for catching them, and then we all realized "wait, that would suck" so we collectively talked ourselves out of it.  And then they killed her.  And they gave us all of 30 seconds to grieve before Ted's off to win Robin back with a bookend to create perfect symmetry for the series.  But while Ted may have had six years to get to that point to be OK, and while Ted may be a person who can't be alone, we as viewers spent eight years waiting to meet this person, Tracy, the core premise of the show, only to have her killed off in a passing moment.  We don't get to see Ted's grief, we don't get to see this because we spent a season watching the build up to a wedding that was undone halfway through the next episode.  There was no time for any of this to breathe because of the decisions made by the creators.

So much of this boils down to the core issue of American television development.  We don't know how long we're going to get with a show, especially a sitcom, but if it can get in striking range of 100 episodes, we know it will get there because the business model says it should.  But then when you don't have anything as promising in development, you drag things on well past the point where you should have logically wrapped things up.  But you've held on to the way you wanted things to end for so long, you couldn't let go of it now, even if it didn't make any sense.  I suppose this is fair, when you're living inside of something, you can get tunnel vision for the sake of your own artistic creation.

In the end, this was a fun show, it was clever at times, it missed at others, but it's probably one I will have a long-standing attachment to because of that age cohort connection.  But like so many things, it ended badly, because happy endings really are too often too much to ask.