As a rule, I try not to discuss things more than once, but it’s been almost a year and a half since I wrote about HIMYM, and something very interesting has happened in the interim, something almost unheard of for a sitcom in its seventh season: it’s gotten better.
No, that is not an objective observation, and if I wanted to be more accurate, I should probably say that it’s changed, and I think that it’s done so in a good way. But really, what’s going on is that a very curious thing has started to happen to HIMYM, and my desire to parse out that thing has led me to break my “only discuss things once” rule.
See, most sitcoms start out somewhere around realism. Sure, Newsradio eventually got to the point where it was doing episodes IN SPACE, but the pilot considered the very mundane plot of the new guy adjusting to his job. I don’t really want to get into Community right now, but it is worth noting that the first episode had a very simple “douchebag tries to hit on hot girl and here are the other main characters too” storyline. But, sooner or later, most sitcoms tend to drift away from such straightforwardness, because, let’s face it, there are only so many places to go within realistic parameters.
Most of the time, sitcoms tend to focus on the absurd, to emphasize the most extreme aspects of their characters and careen towards the loudest plots. Friends is a good example of this – let us all take a moment to commemorate the flanderization suffered in the later seasons of Friends. Or, as illustrated by the webcomic Subnormality:
HIMYM, though, has taken a completely different approach. See, status quo is God in sitcoms, and so most of them tend to skirt around the fact that their characters have been living in the same apartments, hanging out with the same people, and getting back to the same base relationship status for however many years the show remains on the air. What’s strange is that HIMYM, rather than maybe acknowledging this unreality with a wink every now and then and moving on, has instead chosen to actively engage with the fact that these characters are in their mid-30s and still don’t have their lives together.
One of this season’s most heartbreaking episodes involved Robin (here be SPOILERS, matey) learning that she is unable to have children of her own. Though Robin is the character who has always maintained that she doesn’t want to be a mother, the show nonetheless treated with delicacy the conflict that arises from no longer even having the option, and that sense that one’s potentialities are beginning to close. Similarly, Ted is starting to face the idea that he might never find the woman of his dreams, Barney is starting to face the idea that he might someday want to, and the whole gang is dealing with the fact that they won’t always be able to congregate in their bar every afternoon.
See, HIMYM isn’t necessarily funnier (though it does still manage that), but it is more serious, and it hits those emotional notes much more deftly. Instead of exaggerating itself into a parody, the show is intelligently considering what would actually happen in the situation it depicts. This, I think, is absolutely fascinating, because so few shows, especially sitcoms, really address the unreality at the heart of their attachment to status quo. Now, if all you want is for a television show to be funny, okay, HIMYM has been falling a little short this season (though, again, not nearly as much as the Internet says). But I like it when TV starts to think, and when it allows its characters to become real people, with real issues, rather than joke machines.
Now this, of course, is why the shows I like tend to get cancelled rather rapidly, but I am nonetheless finding myself absolutely riveted this season by HIMYM. It’s shown itself willing to take itself in unexpected places, and I love that I have no idea what is going to happen from week to week. Undoubtedly this will ultimately get as tiresome as the other extreme (or, at the very least, it will get depressing), but for now, I will continue to defend How I Met Your Mother.