Spoiler Alert – I will give away some big plot points in this review, but don’t sweat it too much. Like most of the past couple of seasons, whatever you learn won’t make much of a difference anyway.
The most important thing to remember about How I Met Your Mother is not that it is a sitcom, but that it is a soap opera disguised as a sitcom. At its best it can win on both counts, but at its worst all the things that make soaps maddening and easy to leave behind follow right along with HIMYM. We are still nowhere near finding out the central mystery of the series, being who the woman Ted (Josh Radnor) ultimately marries is. There are things we know about her. She likes the color yellow, as evidenced by the yellow umbrella that has drifted in and out of her possession as well as her yellow toy bus. She plays the bass guitar. She was the roommate of someone Ted once dated and was a student in a class he once accidentally taught. He made an ass of himself at a party she attended — and we’ve known all these for a while now, coasting a few years on old info. (A continuity fart in season one would suggest her name is Tracy, the foil of a joke Ted played on his kids to make them believe their mom was a stripper, but in order for the joke to work, her “real name” would have to have been the mother’s name…and now you see how exasperating such a drawn-out “mystery” can become.)
But enough about the series as it lumbers along with it’s strongest cables starting to unthread. The opening of the season finds Future Ted sitting at the train station in the rain apparently having witnessed the marriage that didn’t happen — Barney (Neil Patrick Harris) and Robin (Cobie Smulders). He’s bummed, one assumes, because the infuriatingly on-again off-again couple both were prepping to skip out on their wedding. So, HIMYM Fans, all those well wishes you held all summer over Barney finally committing to the “the love of his life” were for naught. Feel that? That’s show creators Carter Bays and Craig Thomas giving you wedgies for being so gullible. In the “present time” flashback we find Barney solidifying his relationship with Quinn (Becki Newton) while clearly pining for Robin. We also see Ted has pulled a “wedding bride” stunt and stolen former girlfriend Victoria (Ashley Williams) away on her wedding day to Klaus (Thomas Lennon). Victoria doesn’t want to be with him and apparently, Klaus doesn’t want to be with her as he is found ditching from his wedding with cold feet too.
This is supposed to justify Ted doing unto others the crappy thing that was done unto him (via runaway bride Stella, played by Sarah Chalke). And here is the problem all that causes: the reason why people enjoy the show so much, as least how I feel about it, is because the characters seem like genuinely good people. They sometimes do bad things, with Barney doing the lion’s share of such with a libido possessed by Satan himself, but one got to a point where the portrayal of his unending horniness seemed like the self-punishment the audience always assumed it to be. He swims the shallow because anything resembling closeness has abandoned him in some way. He gets to be in control if he stays the rejector. In some ways, that thread causes the audience to empathize with him more, not less…
…Until that thread is jerked out of our hands yet again by the production team, and the fabric of, say, a six-year-narrative has been stretched thinner and thinner. The rumors of an added ninth season only solidifies the belief that anything that happens this season is inessential, and secrets revealed will only be more pranks leveled at the people who tune in. Sounds harsh, right? There’s good reason for the harshness. Perpetually sweet Marshall (Jason Segel) and Lily (Alyson Hannigan) have yet to have the extramarital affair(s) that nearly tear their marriage asunder, but it feels like it is getting closer and closer. By having gone on so long, narrative avenues have been used up, sometimes in triplicate, and what remains are places that feel unnatural for the characters that are becoming harder to like.
This is a typical problem with soap operas where characters fall in and out of love, and in and out of beds, so often that it is hard to give a crap about them anymore. And when the audience loses that all-important suspension of disbelief and realizes these are just figments cut from whole-cloth by a staff that have, themselves, lost the thread, rooting for Ted to “meet the mother” starts to feel like time lost. The season 8 opener should have been some kind of reward for many years of patience and appreciation. Instead it feels a bit like corporate contempt toward the viewer.