Essay: It’s Not About the Mother

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CBS’ How I Met Your Mother aired its hour-long, seventh season finale Monday night and (spoiler alert), protagonist Ted Mosby still had not met the mother.

The episode- featuring the birth of the son of Marshall and Lily, Ted running off with old girlfriend VIctoria, Barney proposing to girlfriend Quinn, and the flash forward reveal that Barney will marry Robin- ended another strange season for the show.  “HIMYM,” as fans call it, is clearly past its prime and needs very much to proceed to its endgame- yet somehow, it’s more popular and higher-rated than ever.

I’ve been in on HIMYM since nearly the beginning. At its height, I’d put it on the short list of my favorite sitcoms of all time. It’s got an amazing ensemble cast, sharp writing, and a sophisticated mythology and continuity laden with flashbacks and flashforwards, not unlike that of Lost.

The best episodes have often jumped back and forth in time, with flashbacks within flashbacks, mixed in with the occasional unreliable narration. But the show has always had an underlying romance, sweetness and idealism to it too.

I’ve also found lots of the show relatable- the characters live in New York City in their 20s, as I did, Jason Segel’s character is a Minnesota-born transplant to the East Coast and Vikings fan, as I am, and Ted’s relationship tribulations have often reminded me of the ones I used to have.

While I still love it and wouldn’t dream of giving it up, I acknowledge the show has slipped a bit the past two or three seasons, with the series knowing exactly what it wants its ending to be, but needing to tread water before it can get there. Each of the past couple of seasons has had more than its share of dud episodes, although the show’s old brilliance still occasionally resurfaces- the first half of the finale being the most recent example.

But a funny thing has happened- as reruns of the early seasons have begun to appear on various cable channels and Netflix Instant, more and more people have caught up and begun watching the new episodes too. And while the show has been renewed for an eighth season next year, which should really be the end, its newfound popularity may extend it even further.

Yes, it’s sort of ridiculous that a show called How I Met Your Mother has reached its seventh season and we have still not met the mother. My wife, in particular, has mentioned this literally every single time we’ve ever watched the show. And like I said, the show really needs to get to its endgame sooner rather than later.

However, there are two things most HIMYM fans realized early on: That the show isn’t really about the search for the mother, and Ted is the least interesting of the five characters by a large margin. There’s a reason all four of the others have considerable careers outside the show, while Radnor is stuck directing little-seen indie movies.

The best things about the show are the characters, the relationships, the ensemble, the writing and the structure. If you view Ted’s search for the mother as more of an extended, recurring subplot than the driving  force behind the series, it makes much more sense.

Jason Segel is now a huge movie star, Cobie Smulders was in “The Avengers” and Neil Patrick Harris is, literally, everywhere. None of them will likely want to stay on a TV series for long.

Carter Bays and Craig Thomas, the real-life Ted and Marshall who co-created the show and still run it, are clearly under tremendous pressure to deliver a satisfying payoff- I can’t think of another show in which so much of its legacy will ride on how it ends. But since the ending was likely conceived years ago, I’m confident they won’t let us down.

So in the meantime, I raise a glass and toast the birth of one Marvin Waitforit Eriksen, my new favorite fictitious half-Minnesotan baby boy.

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