I took in another new episode, “The Poker Game,” of How I Met Your Mother’s final season last night. The show is virtually unrecognizable from where it began, in spite of the creative team’s brazen efforts to assure you otherwise.
Yes, there be spoilers here.
A quick catch-up for anyone who has not seen a portion of Season 9 yet: It is, finally, the wedding of Barney (Neil Patrick Harris) and Robin (Cobie Smulders), only it isn’t. Instead, these are the days just prior to the wedding where friends and family alike will be put through the wringer, callbacks from earlier seasons will be drained of whatever value is left, and previously defined character traits will be disregarded. Why? Apparently, to further an agenda that has been in play throughout the entire series.
Using the Barney character for all these years as the voice of the writing and production crew, the contempt for the institution of marriage and the event of the wedding itself is now viewed in full, shrieking annoyance. No one in HIMYM Land ever couples up happily, not even Lily and Marshall (Alyson Hannigan and Jason Segel, respectively) who have become a very grouchy, impatient duo over the past couple years. Examples are myriad but, rather than turn this into a recap of all the ways Carter Bays, Craig Thomas, and company are working out a Freudian complex against being wed, I’ll cut to the chase.
The fictional, supposedly comedic version of this is as tedious and painful to be around as the real thing, and not funny at all. And so unlike the characters: Josh Radnor’s Ted, the hopeless romantic who still had a shred of dignity to his name is now a total dope. Lily, a sweet girl with a dark side, and Robin, a dark girl with a sweet side, have grown interchangeably venomous. Marshall (owing to Segel’s burgeoning movie career) is often absent, and when he is around is much harder-edged than he used to be.
And then there is Barney, who even though he is supposedly navigating the tricky, foreign waters of vulnerability, has thoroughly lost his mind. Though he was always a little naive, the character was never completely stupid, but the plot turn of this episode thoroughly negates the Barney that could construct complex scams to score chicks, smuggle explosive devices into an airport just to propose, or just be as Machiavellian as he wants to be. In an effort to not disrespect his future wife, he winds up stomping all over his brother James (Wayne Brady) and mother Loretta (Frances Conroy). Worse, he utterly fails to see the imposition he has put Robin in. While the thoughtlessness might be a part of the character’s make up, this extreme of dumb-assery is not.
There have been times during the series’ run that have tested the viewer, but the bottom line was that these characters were likeable and you rooted for them. You felt the pain of Lily and Marshall’s breakup and the happiness of their reunion; the distress of Ted being left at the altar and his eventual way back; and the slow unburdening of emotional baggage both Barney and Robin share. The goal, apparently, of this last season is to make these characters as “real” as possible and, in turn, make them really unbearable to be around.
Perhaps worst of all, you haven’t seen all that much of the “mother,” even though Cristin Milioti’s title has been added to the main credits like a carrot on a stick. Barney and Robin’s wedding has been for many years now the frame in which the main story, the crux of the series, takes place, yet we have barely seen the ostensible title character. We’ve seen lots of others, from James to limo driver Ranjit (Marshall Manesh), to a blink-or-you’ll-miss-it return of Katie Holmes’ “Slutty Pumpkin,” but almost no “mother.” What would have been generously considered amping up the suspense can only be seen as more jerking around in this context.
And that is the real problem with the series right now. We’ve been at this wedding party far too long. The principals have moved past sloppy-happy-drunk to god-get-away-from-me-you-angry-drunk. One suspects that once this interminable wedding is finally consummated or gets blown to shreds (yeah, that’s still a possibility), things will get a little lighter and maybe a little more lovable again…but will viewers still have the energy to give a damn?