How I Met Your Mother, the long-running CBS sitcom, ended last night. There was a, sort of, twist. Fans were disappointed:
Twitter's keenest observers of culture were baffled at the volume and vehemence of the emotion:
Yes: One of your friends or family members may be a fan of How I Met Your Mother.
What was How I Met Your Mother?
How I Met Your Mother was a sitcom, the underlying premise of which was that an unseen narrator, voiced by Bob Saget, was telling his children the story of how he met their mother.
Most of the episodes had very little in particular to do with the meeting-of-the-mother; instead, they focused on the day-to-day life of the narrator's younger self and his friends.
For your benefit I will refer to the characters as you know them, rather than by their fictional names. The main character, played by a bland Jimmy Fallon-type, lived in an apartment with his best college friends: the band camp girl from American Pie and her husband, the tall goof from Forgetting Sarah Marshall. They were friends with Doogie Howser, who is a cartoonish womanizing corporate bro-type.
In the first episode, milquetoast Jimmy Fallon met a newscaster played by that one girl from Avengers. They had a series of romantic mishaps and the viewer was led to believe that this was the titular mother. But she wasn't. The final line of the first episode was: "...and that's how I met your Aunt Robin."
Did people really like this show?
Yes. It was a very good show, at least at one point. Its first three seasons were the best multi-camera sitcom seasons of the last decade.
It also had a steep dropoff in quality from the first season to the last. Somewhere in season four it fell off a cliff. I wouldn't recommend finishing it. I should stipulate also that its portrayal of New York was embarrassingly homogenous and unrealistically white.
Why do people like this show?
At its best, How I Met Your Mother was Friends as executive-produced by Laurence Sterne, which is to say that it used remarkably sophisticated narrative techniques to tell stories about selfish young whites in New York.
(At its worst it was a mess of misogyny, unconvincing or misplaced character motivation, and saccharine garbage. If the first episode you watched was last night's finale, that's what you got.)
This sort of overarching yuppie Tristram Shandy shaggy-dog thing set the stage for deft and ambitious storytelling. Sometimes it scanned like a 22-minute version of Memento, without the unrelenting self-seriousness: The narrator told one story, only to have it undermined over the course of the episode by his acknowledged unreliability. Memories were pieced together slowly and with complexity. Characters, details and recollections were changed or replaced mid-episode. We'd get three versions of a story deftly woven together, or seemingly woven together but unraveled by the end.
It was also very funny.
How does it end?
Throughout the series Ted (insipid Zach Braff-y main character) and Robin (Avengers chick from the first episode) had a kind of Ross-and-Rachel on-and-off thing. But the ending of that first episode was treated (by viewers) as a kind of promise: No matter how good their chemistry, Robin and Ted were not going to end up with each other. Robin was not the mother.
In the final season, set around the wedding of Doogie Howser to Robin, we met the mother. At the end, there was a twist: She's been dead. The mom died, at some point between the two timeframes in which the show took place, and the story was really about how the narrator has been into Robin forever, and his kids told him to go bang her, or whatever.
This was a kind of cheap out, to say the least. (It was also unfair to Robin, who got married and divorced very quickly, and to the wife, who died.)
But the truth is anyone who expected a good ending to the lately horrible show was fooling themselves. The real reason everyone is so mad is that the show was terrible for several seasons and people committed a significant part of their lives to it. The hope that it might be redeemed by a well-landed ending is laughable.
(For example: Barney, the corporate-bro pick-up artist played by Neil Patrick Harris, was tolerable in early seasons only because his creepy misogyny is so cartoonish that it was unbelievable, and he was largely left as the butt of jokes. When writers set him up with Robin, a baffling and unconvincing couple if there ever was one, viewers were asked suddenly to take him seriously as a human with an interior emotional life. Suddenly his misogyny was no longer a cartoon: It was a terrifying streak in what was being sold as a sympathetic character.)
(Also the main character was a total drip.)
When can I next commit emotional energy to a long-running and ultimately disappointing television program?
Next season you can catch How I Met Your Dad on CBS.