I occasionally follow Ted Mosby’s quest to find his soul mate and the mother of his future kids in How I Met Your Mother. Given that this is the last season, I’m following it more now than ever before (I mean granted that the whole premise is Ted telling his kids how he met their mother, I *correctly* assumed he hadn’t in past seasons). A more avid fan of The Office, I recognized two last-season stunts pulled out of the same book.
The series ends with the wedding of two secondary characters (or, non-protagonists). Now, Dwight Schrute, as Barney Stinson, are indisputably main cast of their respective shows. What would either show be if we were left only following the nearly-average lives of the charming but absolutely normal Jim Harper or Ted Mosby? Dwight and Barney are the Urkel or the Sheldon Cooper or the… other… unrealistic but completely hilarious side-character of their shows. But shows of the past have left-off with big, sweeping romances of their main characters/couples. In the last episode of Friends, Rachel decides to stay in New York and be with Ross. In Chuck, Chuck and an amnesiac Sarah kiss and we hope beyond hope that it helped revive her memory or at least gave her reason to stay. Scrubs’ JD and Elliott are flash-forwarded to a time when they have a ring and a kid.
However, The Office refused to implausibly tug the audience around with NINE YEARS of a “will-they-won’t-they” relationship a la Jim and Pam. In a move that I respect immensely, they married the characters off in the middle of their run. Sensing a need to end on a big note, then, and having lost Michael-Scott, they thrust the burden onto our trusty beet-farmer and his crazy cat lady. With their hands similarly tied (the show is not called How I Married Your Mother), but also needing a grand finale, HIMYM is spending an entire season on the wedding of the other half of the main on/off couple.
Trouble in Paradise
Both final seasons heavily feature turmoil in the main, “stable” couple. Marshal and Lily have been the only consistent couple of HIMYM for its nine-year run. Sure, fans like to argue that The Mother has been a character since the beginning, with Ted revealing traits of her throughout his stories. Robin and Barney were coupled-up pretty early on. And there was some ambiguity when Lily when to California during – what? like season 2? Just as Jim and Pam had their uncertainties (Pam was engaged, Jim went to Stamford and dated Karen). But always knew that these couples were “meant to be,” so to speak, and that in the end, they’d be together. However, just to keep things interesting, after years of stability, these couples are finally facing some struggles in light of: 1) the Man’s job, 2) his poor communication skills, 3) his insecurities based on past choices of their wives. And, in both cases, the wife eventually forgives him and comes around.
Jim, for instance, felt justified in carrying family decisions because if he didn’t make big moves without consulting her, “she’d be married to Roy.” Likewise, Marshal has apparently felt second-fiddle to Lily’s art passions since she left him to pursue it back in the second season. Both may be a little justified in their reasoning because both always, even before and during marriage, supported their wives in their artistic endeavors (Jim encouraged Pam, while dating, to take courses in NYC, Marshal was willing to move to Italy). The Women, however, feel short-changed because of their lack of input in these important family decisions, although they ultimately recognize it as an important step both for their husbands and their families.
Now, probably the writers of HIMYM didn’t watch The Office and think: “Yes, that’s what needs to happen.” But with the primary drama resolving (The Mother finally being introduced/Robin officially unavailable to Ted and… uh… what was the primary drama after Michael Scott left? Andy/Ellie? Dwight/Angela? The Senator/Oscar?), the writers needed to add a little tension… and they needed to do it to relationships that audiences already care about: Dwight/Angela & Barney/Robin and Pam/Jim & Lily/Marshal.
As much as these similar themes are not evidence of copy-catting, can they be evidence of good writing?
Good writing or another trope in the making?
In the case of The Office, this tension (and ending with Dwight so deep in perfectenschlag – and just to be clear, not the SECOND definition) resulted in one of the show’s best seasons in years – probably since Jim and Pam’s wedding. After taking a back-seat since their season 6 wedding, they showed that a couple of years did not let their on-screen magnetism decay. They delivered some very believable performances as a couple in turmoil (that’s not to say I thought the premise, of nice-guy Jim taking a job without consulting his soul mate was entirely believable, but their acting certainly helped suspend my disbelief). The scene, for example, where Jim and Pam had an argument over the phone about CeCe’s recital, and Pam hangs up, holds back tears, and looks up at the camera was really a good depiction. As much as I would love to chalk it up to good writing, a lot of it was good acting, good directing, and good chemistry.
I feel that way a little less with HIMYM. Not only did the writers make the bizarre choice of making one weekend into an ENTIRE SEASON (though I can see how that adds a little tension, like a runner that’s seconds from the finish line), but they haven’t delivered a whole lot of great episodes. While I won’t complain about the “yellow-face” in the Slap episode (I feel like they were parodying erroneous Western interpretations of Asian culture from the past than the cultures themselves), and it was a little giggle-worthy episode, it was so clearly filler that added nothing to the plot that I may as well not have watched it. While I feel that definitely “How Your Mother Met Me” was the highlight of the season thus far, I do think “Sunrise” was a good one, too – Ted lets Robin go. Marshal and Lily reconcile. Barney passes on his “old life” to new bros, it’s not because of the added tension this season – though without the tension M/L’s arc wouldn’t have conveniently resolved along with the rest of the gang’s.
Focusing a big, last event on a secondary character can have huge pay-offs. For the Dwights and Sheldons of the world, much beloved by fans who only want to see their resulting bliss, it’s an excellent move. And when I think about HIMYM resolving as it did – Ted letting Robin go – I think thematically it was much better than the typical trope of the very transparent, “will-they-won’t-they-of-course-they-will.” I actually really like that the broke the mold, because that’s life: if a person is not interested in his/her friend, it may never change. As far as satisfying entertainment, though, perhaps if it were a couple more compelling than Robin and Barney it would’ve engaged me more. For instance, I really liked Kevin (or Kumar, or whatever). If Robin were marrying Kevin, I think I’d be on-board… because again, that’s life: sometimes a new person walks in that demonstrates for you exactly why you never really clicked with any of the rest you knew. But ah… television is designed to reflect what we want, not what we are forced to live with.
What do you think?