The Emotional & Generational Resonance of How I Met Your Mother
I feel like I’ve been playing emotional chicken with myself.
After watching the first eight seasons of How I Met Your Mother from start to finish – two or three times, I might point out – I just couldn’t bring myself to watch the ninth and final season.
I also put off getting the DVD. You know how these things are – they take so long to come out, and by the time they do, you forget.
But even more than that, I could feel the emotional content ramping up in the series, and that added to my reservations. Plus, I’d heard things. One of my roommates – should I point out she’s Asian? – said, “So serious.”
More recently, she also pointed out, “It ends with the two people you’d suspected all along getting together.”
Hmm… I began to wonder if I could even live with the ending.
Why was I so invested in this series? Well, even I think I’m a tad irrational about this whole thing, but to understand that, we’re going to have to play jump rope with timelines a bit (a style I’m sure my fellow Motherians will appreciate – I’m sorry, I won’t say Motherians again).
And for the sake of everyone’s sanity, I’m not going to do a deep analysis of every season, touch on all of the classic inside jokes and references, or obsess about the little inconsistencies (ever notice how Barney is deathly afraid of driving Ted’s car in one season, and in a subsequent one he’s seen speeding so he can attempt to talk his way out of speeding tickets?).
I’m sure I could talk about that stuff for hours, so let’s move right along.
Oh, and if you’ve never watched the show, there will most definitely be spoilers ahead. Be forewarned.
I’m not going to do a lot of explaining here, because I’m sure anyone reading this is a fan of the show… or you just like to read my stuff (in which case, thanks for reading!).
How I Met Your Mother is a sitcom that ran from 2005 to 2014. It had a really good run.
When it first came out, it was one of those shows that, if it was on TV, I would watch it (that’s a long time ago now – I haven’t had TV in years). I’d catch a few episodes here and there, and I really loved it.
But what really solidified my love for the show was a family trip down to Portland and California (I live in Canada, by the way – insert some joke about maple-glazed donuts and Zambonis here).
While in California, my step sister was having her graduation, and I ended up not being able to attend due to a lack of seats or some such.
So I had a night alone with a laptop… No, it’s not what you think. It was my step brother’s friend’s laptop, and on it he happened to have a few episodes of How I Met Your Mother.
Actually, I’m a little foggy on the details. I think my step brother was around while I was watching, at least part of the time.
Anyway, when I sat down to enjoy a few episodes, I just felt that the show got me. The humor was undeniable, and I was hooked.
That was around 2009. In retrospect, you probably only had to say three names to get my attention. Neil Patrick Harris, Alyson Hannigan, and Bob Saget? I’m in!
But let’s not forget that they also brought us The Karate Kid himself Ralph Macchio and his opponent William Zabka (the true hero), who was present for a good chunk of the final season. Wow, they so get me. I didn’t mind a lot of the other cameos either, even if they felt a little more canned.
Britney Spears, Alan Thicke, Nicole Scherzinger, Mandy Moore, Jorge Garcia, some of the cast from NewsRadio… these were some of the better picks.
So it was around that time, after returning from California, that I started collecting the DVDs. Strange how irrelevant DVDs have become since that time – but I do have the full HIMYM collection now.
And after watching the first couple of seasons, the perfect balance of comedy and sentimentality grabbed me anew. The sentimental aspect was mostly lost on me until I started watching every episode.
In subsequent seasons, the show started getting a little edgier (a little), and began emphasizing the comedy over the sentimental part. But you knew that the emotional content would return. Let me come back to that.
I am convinced that How I Met Your Mother is really the show for my generation. Or, at least, it is for people like me.
It really made me feel stuff – some stuff that, when I was watching the first couple of seasons, wasn’t too distant in my memory.
Amazingly, I was actually able to interpret some of my life events through the show too.
For example, in 2008, for the first time ever, I fell head over heels for a girl I met. Unfortunately, within a three-month time period, we fell out of touch for good (well, I still haven’t heard from her some seven and a half years later – I’m pretty sure it’s not happening).
I was left reeling for months after that… maybe even years. But time did indeed heal that wound.
Anyway, there’s a scene in the show – in the first season if I’m not mistaken – where Robin says to Ted something to the effect of, “you’re giving me those eyes… like you want to kiss, and merry, and have kids, and settle down, but I can’t give you that. I’m not that girl.”
Right there I got the answer and the closure that I surely deserved, but never got from my ex. She wasn’t ready.
But even if not for the eerie parallels that existed between what was happening in my life and what was happening on-screen, I also related to the characters.
Like Ted, I’m a bit of a hopeless romantic. But I’m definitely not an architecture or history buff, wine connoisseur, or, for that matter, a total nerd.
Like Marshall, I’m tall. I also have a frame very similar to Jason Segel’s. But I’m nowhere near as spazzy as the character he plays.
Like Barney, I use catchphrases and movie quotes in conversation without people even knowing it. But I’m not a sociopath, womanizer, or suit collector.
As for Lily and Robin… Well, I’m not a girl, but Robin reminds me of my sister quite a bit. Lily just seems to spend a lot of her on-screen time getting angry (ever notice that?).
And I’m also not much of a bar-dweller like the crowd on the show. What a way to spend your life. But for the intents and purposes of the show, it works.
I’m not sure that I’m totally coming across here, but for these and other reasons, I am making a sweeping declaration that How I Met Your Mother was – and is – an important show for me, and for my generation.
I promised to touch on the emotional content a little more. Well, this also relates to my previous point about how I was drawing parallels between the show and events in my life.
Marshall loses his dad. I also lost my dad, though it was much earlier in life – when I was 13, in fact. I’ve since lost my grandpa, a cousin, and an uncle too.
Robin finds out she can’t have kids. I have no basis for relating to that, but the episode where she says to her imaginary kids that they aren’t “real”, wow.
Like Ted, I’ve considered giving up on the idea of love altogether, though there’s a part of me that wants to hang on. I’ve also experienced prolonged periods of loneliness.
And I can also remember leaving friends behind. Shortly after my dad passed away, my family moved back to Canada. Up until that point, we were living in Japan. I had built some amazing friendships as I was going through grade school, but after my dad passed on, we had to make some choices that were right for the family.
So, this type of emotional content was building, particularly in season seven and eight. It made you wonder what was coming in the final season – what they were liable to pull off. To quote from the commentary track, “we felt like we’d earned that with our audience.”
Look, at the risk of sounding like a softie – and maybe I am – the show has brought me to tears multiple times. I could relate to what many of the characters were going through.
It seems silly to say in reference to a sitcom, which is why I’ve held off on saying it until now. But things got real ‘o clock fast.
That’s why I was so hesitant to delve into the final season.
I know I’ve been jumping around quite a bit already, but I’m going to veer completely off track for just a moment (it still relates to the subject matter at hand, however).
The reality is that I’ve always had this kind of relationship with the arts and entertainment. “Real life”, it seems, is monotonous. I feel kind of numb about it at times.
Don’t get me wrong – I still have intense moments of elation, sadness, or anger. I have a lot going on in my life, and one thing I can say – with a lot of gratitude, in fact – is that it’s never dull.
But there is something about comic books, TV shows, movies, or video games that have really pulled my heartstrings through the years, at least periodically. Let me show you my work.
I remember playing through the PlayStation 2 “classic”, Final Fantasy X (definitely not deserving of the high marks it earned with gamer mags, by the way) for the first time, probably around 2003. I’d bought and moved into my first house around that time.
There’s an emotional moment where the main characters, Tidus and Yuna embrace in the Macalania Spring (well, some call it a love scene – it’s not that graphic).
If I remember right, it had something to do with the fact that Yuna was going to die, and Tidus learned it for the first time. I could be wrong on the exact details, but you’ll have to forgive me as it has been a while.
Here’s what I’m getting at. After watching that scene, I couldn’t even play the game for a month or two.
No, I wasn’t disgusted. The emotional content was so real, so resonant, and so heavy that I just couldn’t bring myself to go on. It was a really odd experience, even for me.
One more example, if you’ll permit me – Californication.
Yep, it had drugs, it had sex, it had nudity, it had suggestive language, and it was even a tad violent at times (look, I’m not telling you to watch it). But there was something about that show that was very real for me as well.
I think what it showed me, in a weird sort of way, was that there is life after your 20s. There are things to look forward to, like marriage, kids, work, opportunities… Well, I guess that depends on who you ask.
But when I was watching it, it was kind of a dark period in my life. I wasn’t exactly feeling ecstatic about where things were going at the time, and for some reason I just couldn’t seem to comprehend why I was even here – like I had outstayed my welcome on earth or something.
I’ve since come to the conclusion that you have to attach your own meaning and purpose to life.
Californication made me realize that there could still be fun times ahead, things to look forward to.
I’ve been saying, for a while, that there are two shows that ruined TV for me – one is Californication, the other is How I Met Your Mother. Well, it’s really the latter that did a number on me.
I guess all I’m really doing here is painting a picture of how sensitive I can be, and how uninvolved I can be at other times. I care deeply about the outcome of some things, but could be totally detached in other situations, for reasons that aren’t totally apparent to me.
There are actually several other examples I could bring up from my past, but I’m sure you get the point.
I’ve come full circle, so let’s get back to the topic at hand.
So, can I live with the final season of How I Met Your Mother?
As it turns out, the answer is “yes.” I just watched the final episode last night, and I think I will sleep just fine (I didn’t).
Before I say anything else, don’t you think they did a great job with the final season? The callbacks, the characters, the inside jokes, the new jokes, the references… they really went all-out here, and it makes me – watcher of every single episode – very happy.
But they did do a couple of things I wasn’t expecting. And no, I’m not referring to the final scene with Ted and Robin.
The first is the mother whose name we don’t even learn until the very, very end (Tracy). She was built up for so long, you just knew that she had to be a heck of a woman – and she was.
But not revealing her name had a way of dehumanizing her, almost as if she wasn’t even there. It was creepy. In an earlier season, Lily went on about how she would be “the same size” and get to share clothes, but she barely even acknowledges her existence once she’s in their lives.
But in the end, it’s exactly like Ted’s kids say. He was always more invested in Robin, and Tracy was (unfortunately) a much smaller part of the story.
The other surprise was how they kept moving the story further and further into the future. I guess it was necessary to “kill off” Tracy and break up Barney and Robin for Ted and Robin to wind up together. That story probably couldn’t have been wrapped up any other way.
But, as for me, I think it would have been okay if it had ended at Ted and Tracy getting together at the train station. This is actually what they did with the alternate ending on the DVD – it was simple and cute, very in character with the entire series. But then it sort of makes “the rest of your life” portion less meaningful.
And I also can’t help but feel that the fast-forwarding killed the generational and sentimental resonance a little bit. We could – or at least I could – relate to the characters because of how close in age they were to me.
With that in mind, this is the story that Ted was sharing with his kids, so it makes sense that it would end many years ahead of when Ted met his wife-to-be.
So that, as they say, is that.
I probably seem obsessed in a way, and I’m definitely gushing, but honest to God, I don’t watch that much TV. It’s really a rare thing for me to sit through an entire series, let alone an entire season or episode of any given show (I haven’t watched a single episode of Breaking Bad or Orange Is The New Black). That should tell you something.
Entertainment is a small part of my life. I do enjoy myself from time to time, but for the most part I am far too ambitious to sit around and watch others live.
But I feel like we had something special with How I Met Your Mother. Thanks to everyone that was involved with this project – you did amazing.
Now it’s time for me to get back to living a legen – wait for it – dary. Legendary life!
Well, I’m not one to put my “stamp of approval” on too many things (at least, I don’t think I am). If I do, it’s only because I consume a lot of content.
I recently found out that How I Met Your Mother: The Whole Story is available on DVD (get it at Amazon or Amazon Canada). It includes all nine seasons.
If you like sitcoms, then I don’t think you’ll regret checking it out. The humor, surprisingly, still holds up, and you’ve already heard me talk about the emotional side of things.
I am an Amazon affiliate. If you purchase through one of the provided links, I will earn a small commission at no additional expense to you.
Thanks again for checking out this post.