A man calls his teenager kids into the living room. It’s time for them to know the full story of how he met their mother, including the parts he may regret. It’s a long story that starts with him and his friends as young adults struggling to set up their lives.
How I Met Your Mother was created by Craig Thomas and Carter Bays, and aired on CBS from 2005 to 2014. It had a setback in 2007 due to the Writers Guild of America strike, but returned in 2008. During nine seasons the show received 91 nominations, including the ones for Emmy Awards and Golden Globes, obtaining 21 of them. In 2012 it also won the People’s Choice for Favorite Network TV Comedy.
Five friends, a pub and an apartment
Ted (Josh Radnor) is a young architect who’s desperately looking for a soulmate. He lives with Marshall (Jason Segel) and Lily (Alyson Hannigan), who have had a solid relationship since college. Every night they meet at the MacLauren pub with Robin (Cobie Smulders), who moved to NYC from Canada to become a journalist, and Barney (Neil Patrick Harris), a successful playboy. Their lives entangle in many ways. Ted starts his narration when Robin arrives in town and he immediately thinks she’s the one. But with time she reveals herself as just the first one of many perfect girls.
Ted’s kids, Luke (David Henrie) and Penny (Lyndsy Fonseca), often try to guess the right one along the story. But their father doesn’t seem to be in a rush. The mother’s yellow umbrella crossed his path many times without him even noticing. He had many misadventures before finally meeting Tracy (Cristin Milioti). And now, he wants them to know how arduous the path has been.
Telling everything, almost
How I Met Your Mother‘s structure resembles the Boccaccio‘s Decameron. The process of Ted talking to his kids builds a narrative frame that surrounds the whole plot. His tale ends up filtered by the passing of time and his own perspective on events. Moreover, he intentionally omits some details and has doubts about how exactly some things went. From time to time, he gives multiple versions of the same story, according to what any member of the group remembers. And when he doesn’t want the kids to know, he clearly changes the past, thus becoming an unreliable narrator. So, for example, he turns “illegal cigarettes” into sandwiches and affirms he saw a porn film only because a video tape accidentally flew in the recorder.
The main story revolves around the five friends spending time at the pub or in the apartment where Ted, Lily and Marshall live. Therefore, the show has been considered an heir of Friends with a more realistic style and a multifaceted set of characters. But Friends simply follows the everyday life of a group of young people, while Ted actually relives his life by telling it.
Regarding the portrayal of the characters, the female ones are particularly multi-faceted. Lily and Robin are not activists nor in a position of power; nevertheless, they are both strong woman, whose flaws and weakness only make them realistic and relatable. Their friendship remains solid despite their opposing decisions, recalling the one of Rory and Lane in Gilmore Girls. While Lily gives up her dream to start a family with Marshall, Robin is ready to anything to become a journalist. She never compromises, nor changes for a man; her strength lies in knowing what she wants, in the same way as Lily’s one is the loyalty towards her husband.
Friends in a city with so many roads
Some shows (Scrubs and The Office) revolve around people who become friends in the workplace. Others portray friends in school (Community) or people who have a lot in common (The Big Bang Theory). In How I Met Your Mother, all the characters have well-defined personalities that lead them to very different life choices. They are representative of five possible ways of being in the world and establishing relationships. So, Barney is the emblem of the heart-breaker in his quest for fleeting pleasure. Lily and Marshall become the symbol of life-long love and a steady couple. Robin represents the professional career choice, at the risk of sacrificing a private life, and Ted is just the pure personification of romance, half dreamlike and half melancholic.
Just like a Marvel‘s and DC‘s superhero squad, they team up despite their differences and support each other in everyday life. That’s why, among fans, the final season received mixed opinions. Many perceived it as too fast or slapdashed. The last episode in particular left the audience upset, summarizing a period of six years (and huge events) with ostensible disregards. Nevertheless, it doesn’t look improvised: hints to Ted’s destiny are spread throughout the series from the beginning. It starts from his favorite book, Love in the Time of Cholera, which traces Ted, Robin and Tracy’s story. The novel appears in many scenes, the most important of which has The Funeral, by Band of Horses, playing in the background.
Regrets and awareness
Ted’s tale about his love life establishes his own emotional education. But the real fil rouge in How I Met Your Mother is the regret for what was and what could have been. Ted often stresses how many things he would have changed, if only had the chance. He’s meditative and nostalgic: anytime he meets a girl, he thinks she’s the one. Anytime the relationships ends, he suffers a lot. Anytime a girls comes back to him, he easily thinks they can start over. Regrets are part of him and his story. A story of growth that, just like in Stand By Me, exposes those young years as the best season in life.
Ted’s nature pushes him back not only to his joyful memories, but also to the places where he felt well. As Alessandro Baricco‘s protagonist in Without Blood returns as an adult to the man who saved her when she was a child, so the present Ted comes back to the place where he has been happy. As reported by Business of Cinema, Thomas and Bays aimed to create a sitcom based on youthful memories and the path that led to the present time and place. But the final turning point was signed by a massive event:
It was around the time of 9/11 and it really was a ‘do it now or never do it’ kind of moment. […] Life is short.
The melancholy it’s not only Ted’s regret for when he was younger, nor the time he could have spent with Tracy. It’s the universal feeling of missing lightheartedness, the idea that these times won’t come back, and nothing will ever be the same.