I used to have a teacher who informed us that the form of the novel is dead. It was always easy to cling to the assertion that this just wasn’t true. The novel couldn’t be dead. The novel was the only artistic form full enough to portray life in its most fundamental intricacies and profound states. The novel changed lives.
However, if the novel is dead, the only thing really gone is its physicality. Its ability to speak about life and love and foster profound human connection has simply been transferred into a new form. So I would argue that the void filled by the novel in the 19th century has now been overtaken by a new way to captivate and connect with the general public: something that consistently touches lives and displays both the deepest and most superficial aspects of humanity. I would argue that this new medium is the sitcom.
Still, this accomplishment shouldn’t be attributed to just any sitcom. Some are undeniably around for cheap laughs and forgettable jokes. But, as it reaches its ninth and final season, now feels like the perfect time to acknowledge the life lessons and incorruptible meaning behind CBS’s How I Met Your Mother.
In 2005 viewers sat down to hear the familiar phrase “Kids, I’m going to tell you the story of how I met your mother.” And from there, creators Craig Thomas and Carter Bays likewise set out to tell a story unlike any other: ‘a love story in reverse’. Perhaps what makes this romance so special is its awareness of reality. Modern day love stories don’t really happen in the transience of quirky rom-coms or on the scale of the world’s greatest romances. They gradually come to pass through day-to-day occurrences. And coupled with this awareness of reality is the assertion that these day- to-day occurrences are remarkable in themselves. Ultimately they affect our lives in ways we don’t realise. How I Met Your Mother seems to understand the juxtaposition of reality and fate in a very unique way.
Another special element of How I Met Your Mother is its meticulousness in forward planning. The show filmed the end of its finale extremely early on in production of the first season. It had to take advantage of filming Ted’s future children before they actually grew up. Yet this necessity has also created a framework for a predetermined future. Nearly every occurrence in the course of the show has an effect on the characters’ lives in future episodes, even future seasons, with shockingly few inconsistencies. In 2012, viewers watching season eight were hit with the realisation that the first twelve episodes were essentially the most carefully and deceitfully orchestrated wedding proposal of all time.
How I Met Your Mother is more than a television show; it’s a culture. The lessons it teaches are deeper than the trite moral of childhood. Nothing good happens after 2 am. The ‘platinum rule’: never ever love thy neighbour (don’t date someone you have to see on a regular basis). And what Ted calls perhaps the biggest lesson of his story: “The great moments of our life won’t necessarily be the things you do, they’ll also be the things that happen to you”. These aren’t ideas that are immediately obvious in everyday life; How I Met Your Mother genuinely has something to say to the world.
All this is filtered through a world of quirky inside jokes. Things like the ‘hot crazy scale’, the ‘slap bet’, or the ‘ducky tie’ have truly stood the test of time as recurring jokes throughout nine seasons. These things create a world unlike any other and offer a completely unparalleled and colourful perspective on dating.
Suddenly at the end of these nine seasons, we look back on these quirks with nostalgia. But we’re also looking forward, to the end of the series. Perhaps a combination of this nostalgia and finality is what makes season nine undeniably sad. Ted is still in love with Robin, and she’s marrying someone else.
His confession of love in the most recent episode was slightly heartbreaking. “When you love someone… you just don’t give up, because if I could give up, if I could take the whole world’s advice and move on and find someone else, that wouldn’t be love. That would be some other disposable thing that is not worth fighting for. But that is not what this is.”
This is the novel-esque meaning that makes How I Met Your Mother so special. This is the kind of thing that an increasingly cynical and overly rational world should hear. That something out there is maintaining faith in the idea of true love. That thing is How I Met Your Mother.