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Essay: Oh, Mother: The Trouble With ‘How I Met Your Mother”s Final Season

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The MotherThrough six episodes of How I Met Your Mother‘s ninth and final season, there’s been exactly one memorable scene. For a series that’s been near-brilliant at times and a candidate for sitcom immortality, that’s a bit of a problem.

I was skeptical going in about the decision to set the entire 24-episode season over the course of one wedding weekend, although the word from creators Carter Bays and Craig Thomas that the season would include plenty of flashbacks and flash-forwards gave me some optimism. I also appreciate the decision to bring the Mother (Cristin Milioti) on screen, and her first scene with Ted (Josh Radnor), set in a  flash-forward, was  beautiful, and showed tremendous chemistry between the two of them.

The Mother hasn’t been seen since, and we still don’t even know her name. And with a couple of minor exceptions, the season has gotten away from what the series does best. It hasn’t been funny, there’s been almost none of the patented storytelling tricks  and it’s made us dislike characters we’ve loved for a long time.

Robin and Barney (Cobie Smulders and Neil Patrick Harris), as a couple, are smug, awful people. Nobody cares anymore about the Ted/Robin/Barney love triangle, Marshall and Lily’s fight over his job plans, or the various travails of longtime bit players (why is the Wayne Brady character, always a sweet, likable guy in eight years of previous appearances, suddenly a cynical jerk?)

Worst of all is that the series has had to run in place and stall for time, often needing to backslide into the sort of cringe-worthy B.S. that used to be beneath a show like this. The road trip adventures of Marshall and Sherri Shepherd are especially a disaster- the next funny thing that comes out of that plot will be the first.

Look at Monday’s episode, titled “Knight Vision.” It’s a rare sitcom episode in the which A, B, and C plots were all terrible. It’s about Ted trying to decide which woman to have sex with (?), Robin and Barney trying not to upset the priest (Edward Hermann) who’s supposed to marry them, and Marshall trying to figure out how to tell Lily that he accepted a judgeship.

None of these are the slightest bit funny. None of them in any way advance the plot of the series and besides, this is another example of Ted telling his kids about other women he had sex with. And even more weird, why would Robin and Barney, neither of whom has ever given a single indication of having any religious faith, insist their wedding be performed by a certain cleric, especially one who’s so stuffy and uptight about anything sexual? (No, his church being “cute” isn’t a good reason.)

And the twist that he dies? I’m going to read that as another of the show’s many direct homages to Cheers. But that’s a series that managed an instant-classic episode in the 25th episode of its 10th season.

Can HIMYM right the ship? It’s had very weak stretches before and recovered, and we know we’ll be getting a lot more Ted/Mother stuff. And since How I Met Your Mother probably has more invested in its endgame than any other sitcom in history, those of us who have followed this show for years can only hope it sticks the landing. But the season so far? Yikes.

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