We all love a good “how we met” story. It’s the first question we ask when meeting your new girlfriend/boyfriend for the first time. Whether you were high school sweethearts, prison penpals or simply two customers at a grocery store who both reached for the last bag of Cheetos at the same time – your eyes meeting and you both instantly knowing it was meant to be –your first encounters are usually sweet and fun to hear. (Unless you met each other on one of those online dating sites – that’s just sad and boring, so just lie and say you met at an orgy or a monster truck rally or something.)
As much as we love these stories, what we want most from them is brevity. Sure, we like to hear the important details and it’s nice if you can paint a vivid word picture, but if the story takes more than five minutes to tell, you are doing it wrong. “I was a repo man and she was just so beautiful that I couldn’t bring myself to take back her home entertainment system.” Bam! There it is – everything we need to know in one concise sentence.
Simply put, if you spend 54 hours telling me (admittedly amusing) anecdotes about you and your friends, only occasionally throwing in references to your future wife’s umbrella or her old roommate, but never even getting to your first actual conversation with her, eventually I simply stop caring about how you met your wife altogether.
Unfortunately, that seems to be exactly what Bob Saget is doing to his poor children on the hit CBS comedy How I Met Your Mother. The premise of the show was that Saget’s character, Ted Mosby, was sitting down his children to tell them how he met their mom. It was a clever and original idea. However, after five seasons and 108 episodes, he still has yet to meet her. As I mentioned above, so far he’s spent 54 hours telling his children various anecdotes and not a single one of them has anything substantial about his actual first encounter with their mom. I’m all for giving some background information, but that’s ridiculous.
This past week’s episode, he told the story of how he bought their house. The week before was a non sequitur that involved Marshall getting mugged by a monkey. Occasionally, he remembers to work in a vague reference to the mother, but for the most part he just prattles on about the hijinks he and his friends get into.
For the record, I am a big fan of How I Met Your Mother. I was late to the party on this show, but once I started watching it, I plowed through the old episodes the way Tiger Woods plows through porn stars and pancake waitresses (Zing!). When the show is at its best, the writing is really sharp and the narration is clever and amusing. I’m invested in all of the characters, especially Barney Stinson (who I ranked fourth on my “25 Most Memorable TV Characters of the Decade” list). It’s a great show – a network sitcom that actually feels innovative and genuinely funny most of the time.
But I do feel like the show is now a bit hamstrung by its premise. The setup of telling the children how he met their mom, which seemed like a great hook when the show began, is now getting in the way of the show itself. I get the sense that the writers never really anticipated this. They probably didn’t expect the show to go on for five seasons (or six, its already been renewed), so chances are they really didn’t plan out ways to keep the mom storyline going this long.
The big issue is that Ted can’t actually meet his future wife because that would mean the show is over. So the show’s success become both a blessing and a curse – it’s great that people want to see more of these characters and their adventures, but it continues to undermine the original premise. The writers are then forced to come up with near misses and vague mentions of the mom in order to keep the suspense building, but ultimately, it starts to get old. This week’s “how I met our house” episode was particularly grating.
I don’t know that there is any way to fix this problem, but as weeks go by, I find myself hoping that the mother is not mentioned at all on the show. I realize the show is called How I Met Your Mother, but until they are ready to pay off that storyline, I think it’s best to mention the mother as little as possible. Nobody likes a tease, so either tell us how you met her or stop bringing her up altogether, Ted.
I don’t mean to single out this show. It’s still a shiny needle in a haystack full of mediocre sitcoms. But I feel like they need to figure out a long-term plan for how to deal with the mother storyline without annoying their audience. This is always a challenge for shows. Friends had to figure out what to do with their Ross and Rachel storyline, which was a huge hook early in the show. After stringing it along as long as they could, they had the two finally date and eventually break up (leading to the classic “We were on a break” line). If Friends had tried to keep stringing Ross and Rachel along for the entire series run, never letting them get together, I think fans would have eventually turned on them. (Although, this is not always the case – The X-Files managed to never have Scully and Mulder get together until the recent – and utterly forgettable – movie and Castle would be best served to keep Beckett and Castle apart.)
I hope the writers are working to solve this problem. It’s definitely something that needs to be addressed soon to keep the show going. And hopefully, when the payoff does come, it will have been worth wading through the world’s longest shaggy dog storyline to get to it. Honestly though, at this point I’m just hoping they don’t meet on one of those online dating sites.
Joel Murphy is the creator of HoboTrashcan, which is probably why he has his own column. He loves pugs, hates Jimmy Fallon and has an irrational fear of robots. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.