It is perhaps true that every television show has its Achilles’ heel, and it is unquestionably true that the CBS comedy How I Met Your Mother has one. Despite HIMYM‘s having been funny more often than not over the course of its first five years, the producers have always seemed to struggle with the core story – how Ted Mosby (Josh Radnor) met the mother of his children. In fact, one could argue that the series at times has had such difficulty with the issue that they have ignored it entirely (although that may just be because they decided it was an unimportant question).
How I Met Your Mother is, ostensibly, the longest shaggy dog story ever told. It has been utterly hysterical in some moments, heartwarming in others, and even occasionally heartbreaking. It is a successful comedy with funny actors (Neil Patrick Harris has been repeatedly nominated for Emmys for his role) and lots of great moments, it just has never found the right way to go about telling the story of how Ted meets the mother.
It makes a great deal of sense that the show would struggle with that issue as, should Ted meet the mother, the series might just have to end. It has left the producers with the perplexing issue of how to tell the story, keep it interesting, and simply never reach the conclusion. Too often, that has led to Ted’s girl of the week – a woman whom present Ted (the story is told as a flashback) dates in a single episode and from whom he may or may not learn a valuable lesson about what he wants in a woman (or, with whom he ends up at the same party as the future mother, passes by the future mother, sees the ankle of the future mother, etc.). If the episode opens with Ted having met the woman off-camera, the audience knows she will not be the mother and that can be (depending on the comedy bits involved) a huge letdown. If Ted is trying to get a date with the woman, then it could be the mother, but without a serious amount of television promos having aired before the episode the odds of that are small. We are then, again, left with the potential for a huge letdown. On the other hand, if there is nothing to advance the plot in the episode there are lots of folks who might wonder why they are bothering to watch at all.
Put another way, as I said above, the mother has always been the show’s Achilles’ heel. If the producers lean too heavily on finding the mother without truly progressing in the story in a new and different way, they risk boring the audience. If they ignore the mother entirely, they risk alienating it.
In the sixth season premiere of How I Met Your Mother, airing this Monday night, I promise that we’ll learn something valuable about the mother. However, I won’t say what. Hopefully, that will be a tantalizing enough prospect for those on the fence. And there, with tantalizing the audience about the mother, the show has succeeded. Whether it is a yellow umbrella spotted in the background or the peek at an ankle, it is those moments when real hints are dropped, and when Ted actually comes within inches of the mother, that the show truly succeeds.
That is not quite fair, the show succeeds elsewhere as well. For all that How I Met Your Mother is about the meeting of the mother, the stories that it has told about Ted’s friends Barney (Harris), Robin (Cobie Smulders), Marshall (Jason Segel), and Lily (Alyson Hannigan) may really be the stand out element. While it can be great to see Ted struggle with finding the right person to be with, watching his friends struggle in various aspects of their lives may be more enjoyable. Barney is a womanizer whom we’ve seen get (slightly) humanized through the years, Robin is looking for the right career and love (but not necessarily of the long term variety like Ted), and Marshall & Lily are the happy couple who still face the usual issues in life. As the audience has very few ideas about where any of these characters will end up in the future, there is less of a need for the producers to move them in a certain direction, or for the audience to need them to move in a certain direction.