from Nick Suss
April 5, 2014, 8:37 p.m.
I sat patiently on my coach for what felt like days, staring silently and motionlessly at the dull hues emanating through my television set. And then I saw it: my worst fears had been realized. Tears welled up in my eyes. I hurled a pillow at the TV screen, punishing it for daring to transmit the melancholy message to my unsuspecting, unprepared body. They had disappointed me in the past, but never quite like this. I tried to move but my legs wouldn’t let me. I tried to scream but my throat had closed up. The wrong decision had been made and it was final. Nothing I or any other fans could do would change the fact that what had happened had happened. It was the beginning of an era. An era of which I would never approve.
Wait, what? Yes I mean beginning. Don’t look at me like that. What do you mean what? Did you guys think I was talking about the How I Met Your Mother Finale right there? No, no. I can see how you would think that, being that, you know, this post is titled about the show and the picture is of the show and all of the advertising is about the show. But, yea verily, no. That anecdote has nothing to do with How I Met Your Mother. In fact, it has nothing to do with sitcoms. That story took place back when I was in the eighth grade. It was April. I was just weeks away from being a middle school graduate and months away from becoming a high schooler. The Dark Knight wouldn’t come out for a few more months. I had, to that point in my life, never uttered a swear word. Twas a simpler time. But then it happened.
With the 24th selection in the first round of the 2008 NFL Draft, the Tennessee Titans selected a running back from East Carolina named Chris Johnson. In my life before that moment and in my life since, I can remember exactly one time when I had been madder at the franchise I have spent my entire cognizant life loving. You see, at the time the Titans had an inept passing offense and no receivers had been selected yet in the draft. The Titans had their pick of the litter. Literally anyone would have been an upgrade over who the Titans had, which, if I remember correctly, was a soggy dishrag, a discarded thimble piece from a monopoly game and the fictional character Piglet from The Adventures of Winnie the Pooh. The player I wanted, quite ironically looking back now based off of timing, Desean Jackson, was still on the board. And I was pissed. Why pick another running back? It made no sense to me. It baffled me. I tried to understand but I couldn’t. I swore an eighth grade swear like crap or crud or shoot and stormed off into the other room, trying to mask the fact that I was crying because of a silly draft pick.
Let’s fast forward just about six years. It’s now Monday March 31, 2014. I had marked that day in my schedule months in advance. I made plans. That’s impressive enough on its own. (I’m not a good planner. But you probably already know this.) I didn’t move for a full hour once the show began. I was in a zone. I was ready to be amazed. (Yes. This is now the part I’m talking about How I Met Your Mother. I promised you, didn’t I?) Every part of me expected Carter Bays and Craig Thomas to knock my socks off with one of the most amazing finales in the history of American situational comedies. It was a perfect storm of undeserved hype and deserved hype. And I’ll admit, I may have psyched myself out a little bit with anticipation. But How I Met Your Mother was my first show I ever watched in the long run. I can remember watching the first episode of How I Met Your Mother in the very same room where I watched Chris Johnson be drafted. I remember who I was with and what time of day it was and how much I didn’t understand half of the jokes. I was 10 years old at the time. I had no way of knowing that nine years later the show would mean to me what it did. But How I Met Your Mother was not just another finale to me. It was, in my illustrious sitcom-watching history, the first show that I can say I watched the premiere and the finale live. It is to this day in my life the only show I watched from start to finish that lasted more than two or three years. (I have to add that caveat for the sole reason that Happy Endings was cancelled. And I had to add in that explanation of the caveat per the bylaws of my contract with Storieshouse.com which states I must mention Happy Endings at least once every five posts or I will be replaced by someone who can love it even more than I do. Tear. I mean did.) How I Met Your Mother was never my favorite show. But it was my first show.
Chris Johnson was never a bad running back for the Tennessee Titans. In fact, he was one of the most consistently good running backs in football over his tenure in Nashville. But I never quite forgave him for being the wrong pick. Sure, there were times when I cheered him on. I remember the pain I felt when he broke off a huge gain against Seattle to eclipse the 2,000 yard mark back in 2009 only to see the play called back. I remember the sorrow I felt when he hurt himself in the lone playoff game he ever played as a Titan and the offense couldn’t quite recover in his absence. I remember the elation I felt every time he was in the open field and I remember how my heart would skip a beat any time he started running parallel to a sideline. He was the most exciting offensive player in football. He was a weapon. He was too fast, too agile and too quick. He was outstanding. But I never accepted him.
For the most part, the finale was unfathomably good. Not as many people enjoyed the lapsing of time as I did. It was actually quite beautiful the way they made the characters progress in life. Life is the key word in that sentence. A lot of television finales neglect to add any sense of realism to the landscape of the show. It’s all happy happy joy joy and tears galore in honor of the celebration that was the success of their show. But How I Met Your Mother didn’t do that. How I Met Your Mother celebrated life. And life dictates that people like Barney and Robin would get divorced. Life dictates that people like Robin wouldn’t be able to stay friends forever with people like Ted and Marshall and Lily. Life dictates that things and people change. And, as much as I hate to say this, life dictates that people die. As depressing as it was to watch the entire fabric against which we’ve compared the last nine seasons of our lives disintegrate into five-minute vignettes immortalizing the future, that future was life. But deception is another part of life. And deception isn’t something I necessarily like.
Chris Johnson was released on a Friday morning. The skies were stained yellow with clouds of pollen shrouding over the busy streets of the University of Georgia’s campus. I woke up to the news. I can’t say I was surprised. I had seen this news coming weeks in advance. But I can say I was happy. I was relieved. The man who I had scapegoated for every trouble the Titans had over the last four seasons and who I had refused to credit for any success was sent packing. A new era was born in Nashville, the only casualty being the most productive Titans player in a generation. Where’s the logic in that?
It’s really easy to the consistent. When something is consistent, there are three outcomes, each of which play against the consistent thing’s mold. With consistency comes an expectation of improvement. When that improvement never comes, people will question why the song remains the same. When that improvement does come, people will ask where it has been all along. When a mistake is made, people will cry foul and blame regression. People are very rarely commended for consistency. A lot of people find the word consistency to be synonymous with mediocrity. Whether that is true is completely up to interpretation. But one thing remains completely and steadfastly true: consistency was the problem with both of these subjects.
I’ll start with Chris Johnson because you guys want to read about him less. (I’m mean.) I hated him because he could never live up to a potential that never existed. Chris Johnson was a very consistent player with an anomalous second season. That second was the outlier, not the expectation, which is what it became. The fact that he could never again eclipse 2,000 yards was a disappointment when it should have been a forgone conclusion. Chris Johnson was not going to be the next great running back. But he was on pace to be a very good one. Hell, he still is on pace to be a very good one. Whether or not he deserved to be paid 8 million dollars a year to be very good is up to the discussion of people way better with money than me, but he nevertheless he was a good player. But he was marred by consistency. He could never be more than he was. In most fields in the world, being as good as you can be with flashes of higher productivity is outstanding. In the NFL, flashes of higher productivity without ever actualizing those flashes for a sustained period of time is a death sentence. And Chris Johnson was given the death sentence.
To call How I Met Your Mother consistent would be a blatant lie. Even the biggest fans of the show will admit that the show decreased in quality as the show went on and suffered from a noticeable lack of direction. But there was one consistency that reappeared in the show from the first episode all the way through the last. It was the least likeable aspect of the show, but it was consistent. When it disappeared, people were happy. When it resurfaced, people had mixed reactions. But for the most part it shrouded over the show like the pollen shrouded over Athens. That consistency, of course, was Ted and Robin.
Ted loved Robin from the moment he laid his eyes upon her across a crowded bar. But the love, obviously, wasn’t immediately reciprocated. It was an on-again-off-again romance that spanned almost a decade, coming back almost every year just to remind us that Ted could not let go. So when the show ended with Ted courting Robin one more time, nobody was really surprised. But people were infuriated. From the reactions of fans across the internet, you’d have thought that Richard Sherman called Ted mediocre on national television and that Kanye West interrupted Ted’s wedding with the mother to declare that he was going to let them finish, but Chandler and Monica had the one of the best weddings of all time. It was a collective outrage, a universal watermark on the otherwise unblemished history of the show.
But here’s the thing. How I Met Your Mother didn’t have a clandestine history. Here’s the most unpopular opinion I’ll say in this entire post: How I Met Your Mother was not a perfect show. In fact, it was one of the most flawed and imperfect shows ever to last as long as it did. The show was fantastic for the first four years. Scratch that, the show was fantastic seasons two-through-four. Season 1 was all about growing. But seasons five and six and seven and eight were actually not that good. And season nine was pretty much universally panned. The fact of the matter is that the finale was one of the best episodes of the show in the past half-a-decade. And I know you’re going to rip my head off for saying this, but here it goes. And the finale still wasn’t that good.
There. I said it. How I Met Your Mother dipped in quality a lot toward the end. It got to a point where I knew that it was bad but I had to watch it for the sake of completionism. Someone shortly after the finale asked me where I would How I Met Your Mother in the pantheon of sitcoms. I told him it wouldn’t make it. It was never the best show on television. It was never the best show on CBS, even. How I Met Your Mother was a good show. Never great. But the finale was great in a sense. Here’s why.
Much like when Chris Johnson was drafted, I took out my frustrations on the television when How I Met Your Mother ended. I cried when Ted and the mother (Tracy) met. I’ll admit it. That was one of the most beautiful scenes I’d ever seen on television. It was perfect. I kept crying when she died. But it happened. That’s what pissed me off the most about the finale. I wasn’t particularly mad about the deception at first. I was mad that Tracy had to die. I loved that character. She shouldn’t have had to die. They should have had a happy ending. But she did have to die. And I lashed out against the finale. Then I got over the death and lashed out against Robin. But I shouldn’t have. Because Ted and Robin ending up together makes sense. It makes too much sense. But that sense hurt people.
It hurt because of the sense of consistency. The finale was a return to the golden years of the show. The series was at its best when Ted and Robin were together in season two. The show’s best jokes and strongest callbacks were formed in that era. The heart of the show was born out of that era. Every last strand of pathos the show had came from Ted being with Robin. The show ran for 2,000 yards in season 2. That’s when the show clicked. That was the last time the show was actually performing in its period of flashes of higher productivity. So regardless of how it happened, it should have happened.
I’ll end on this point: Did I like the ending? No. Do I like the ending now? Kind of. Do I think the show ended like it should have? Yes. And I completely respect if you disagree. A lot of people do. But things end. And sometimes things end in ways we don’t like. But it isn’t until we end that we realize how we really feel. Will I miss How I Met Your Mother? Yes. Will I miss Chris Johnson? Yes. Which will I miss more? I only know that because they’re gone.