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Yellow umbrellas everywhere; or, why I am really angry about How I Met Your Mother

I love the CBS sitcom How I Met Your Mother, and have done for many yhow_i_met_your_mother_2ears. I only just watched through to the end of it, and as a result, have been inflicting my rage over it on many people, most of whom do not care. So here is why I am really angry about How I Met Your Mother, a show I love, with apologies yet again to those who do not care.

So here are the three things that are embedded into the premise of the show. Thing the first: future Ted, sitting on a couch with his two children in the year 2030, is telling them the story of how he met their mother. Thing the second: the reason – the in-universe reason – why it is such a long, ridiculous, meandering story is that he’s also telling them the story of how he came to be the person he was when he met their mother. And, thing the third: Robin is not the kids’ mother. (The first episode, which is all about how Ted saw Robin across a crowded bar and fell dippily in love with her, ends with: “And that, kids, is how I met your Aunt Robin.”)

So far so hoopy, right? And, you know, I’m fine with that as a premise. It gives the whole show an interesting twist from the beginning: because you know, right from the start, that a) Ted’s in love with Robin – ridiculous, love-at-first-sight, choirs-of-angels stole-a-blue-French-horn-for-her in love with her; but also b) even if they do get together, they’re not going to stay together. So even though Ted pursues her for a long time despite the fact she says she doesn’t want to date him, and actually acts very Nice-Guy-ish around her, the audience is meant to think it isn’t healthy, because they know it won’t work out! Again – I’m fine with that. That’s self-aware storytelling. And then when they do get together they can’t stay together – because Ted wants to get married and have kids and settle down, and that’s just what Robin doesn’t want: she wants to travel and see the world. It’s not that either of them want things that are wrong – and the writing is very good about emphasising that – and not that they aren’t very fond of each other, it’s just that they’re wrong for each other.

In the meantime – Barney! Barney, who is a womanising misogynist dick, becomes… less of one. When you put it like that it doesn’t sound like the miracle of character development that it is, but it is. And partly that’s because of Robin – because when he falls for her, he takes Lily’s and Tracy’s and Ted’s advice and becomes a better person. And still, the show does that carefully – it’s not redemption through love, but redemption through hard work and self-examination, so when Barney and Robin do get together, finally, it’s on an equal footing. They’re perfect together: irreverent, malevolent, loving, kind of dysfunctional but functional for them. They don’t want the settling-down-having-babies thing – Robin wants to carry on travelling the world as a journalist – and Barney supports that and loves her for it. It’s a lovely romance which I am not doing justice to here: it’s meaningful and rooted in character.

And here’s the thing: all the while Ted is still carrying a torch for Robin, and it’s not romantic. It’s not a grand love story. It’s miserable, and the writing makes it clear that it’s miserable, and about the saddest episode of the entire show is the one where Ted finally admits it, and finally admits he needs to let it go. At the very end, this is where we’ve got to: Barney and Robin are about to get married, and Ted – who is lost and sad and tired, and ready to leave New York for a new life in Chicago – has become the person he has to be to meet Tracy at Barney and Robin’s wedding.

And in a brief digression: I’ve seen people say that it’s depressing, this idea that real life is hard work and true love isn’t real. And sure, that is depressing, but that’s not what’s happening here: what’s happening here is that love is complicated. This is the show that tells you that love is Lily and Marshall, who after seventeen years together are still working stuff out, still communicating stuff, still loving each other as much as they did when they were lovestruck teenagers, but differently; love is Barney’s brother James and his husband Tom, whose peaceful relationship is what makes Barney think a happy marriage is possible; love is Lily, Marshall and Robin dropping everything to run across the city – covered in paint, barefoot, and in the middle of a live TV broadcast, respectively – because Ted has been in a car accident; love is Ted and Marshall driving 22 hours together listening to the Proclaimers’ 500 Miles on constant repeat; love is Marshall finding Robin a Canada-themed karaoke bar in New York City and love is Lily rescuing Ted from Staten Island on Christmas Eve and telling each other things they haven’t told anyone else and love is all of them never letting onto the fact that they know Bob Barker is not Barney’s father! Love is not only, though it can be, eyes meeting across a crowded room: there are a thousand types of love and it’s complicated and it’s everywhere and that right there is why I like this show so much. And so: Barney and Robin get married, and it’s beautiful. And Ted meets Tracy, and it’s beautiful.

How he met their mother.
How he met their mother.

(Another brief digression, about Tracy – I love her so, so much. What I love about her is that she’s not just a love interest for Ted: she’s a real person with a real story. I love that she’s a giant nerd, that she’s a musician, and most of all, I love that she’s quirky, but not a manic pixie dream girl; if anything, that’s what Ted is for her. She has her own tragic backstory of womanpain! Men are killed, fridged and rolled on and off stage to further Tracy’s character development, it’s amazing. Tracy puts her own life back together, she falls in love, she finds a passion for her work. In later life, she’s a well-respected economist and writer, because aged twenty-five she decided she wanted to work to end poverty. I love her.)And then in the last episode… Continue reading Yellow umbrellas everywhere; or, why I am really angry about How I Met Your Mother