Thursday, May 21, 2009

A Deep Philosophical Discussion on HIMYM.

WARNING: Heavy spoilers follow from the season 4 finale of How I Met Your Mother.
Posted below is a facebook conversation I had with a friend over said finale. And by conversation, I mean I ranted for a good long time. His comments are in italics, mine are in normal font.

So the TV season is wrapping up and I have a few questions. This one specifically is about how i met your mother, so if you can't keep up with your torrents consider yourself spoiler-warned.

wtf was with the mini-arc about stella?? it was a two episode story that ted phrased as having a huge contribution in meeting the mother, and yet by it doesn't seem to have played any role in his decision to become a professor. is this just bad writing or will the break up... and immediate consolation of stella still play some part in the eventual conclusion of the story?
Oh, dude, strap yourself in, 'cause this is going to take a while.

First: there is a minimal connection, in that it was Stella's ex/current guy that pulled the strings to get Ted the job. (Incidentally, I do hope it's exactly that easy to get a sessional position.) But, more importantly, you've put your finger smack dab on the biggest flaw of the show this season, (besides the high levels of fecundity in its female cast) and maybe its biggest flaw period.

TV shows face a constant problem: they need to be seen as fresh and innovative, and progressive in their storylines, but at the same time, they need to stay as static as possible, so that whatever attracts current fans is still there. Comic books face the same problem: there's no suspense in the battle to replace Batman storyline, because you know Bruce is coming back. There's just too many people who won't accept anyone else as Batman. In fact, I would go so far as to say that this is a problem for any serialized product marketed towards consumers: you need an innovative product, but you don't want to lose your base. As much as people like the next new thing, they don't like change in general.

It's particular problem for TV shows, because they're so cast-based. You can't easily add or remove characters, so shows continue long after every possible permutation of relationships have been performed and every plot run into the ground. And it's an even bigger problem for HIMYM than most. The show is set up around a single premise: how Ted met the Mother. Theoretically, every episode of the show should be moving towards that goal. But at the same time, the show is ongoing, so it can never actually reach that goal. So instead, we get things like Season 4, where, when all is said and done, we spent an entire season on How I Met Someone Who Wasn't Your Mother.

The last 3 episodes of this season have been basically dealing with the fallout of this problem. To salvage the narrative thread of the season, Stella HAD to connect to the Mother in some way, even if it's this ridiculous, barely there connection. But now the law of diminishing returns sinks in--viewers get tired of being screwed around with "Look! It's the Mother!" and then being told ", it's not, but we spent the last six episodes on her anyway." (Or at least, I am.) And considering the entire series started on that joke ("And that's how I met your aunt Robin"), it's wearing a little thin, and viewer tolerance won't stretch that far again. Next season, for example, they can't have Ted get seriously involved with a woman NOT in his class, because the long-term viewers will dismiss the relationship.

It's an ongoing problem. In a lot of ways, to get the most satisfactory story out of HIMYM, you need to stop watching right at the point where Ted meets Victoria for the first time--that was actually where the series was first intended to end, because that's how many episodes they were originally slotted for. (Note that I said story; in terms of awesome, the show doesn't really hit its stride till season 2 and the slapfight.) For the next season, they're going to need another focus--probably either a pregnancy with Marhsall and Lily (although they can't do that too soon, because of the fake/not fake pregnancy shout-out Monday), or a heavy focus on Barney and Robin. Putting Barney into a committed relationship is probably the biggest game-changing move they could have done without definitely naming the Mother, so it'll be interesting to see if they pull it off.

Well, that was a long way from your original question. I hope you've learned a valuable lesson about questioning things that will aid you in your academic future.

PS. Can I post this on the blog? It feels like something I want to post on the blog.

He let me post it on the blog.

Later Days.

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