When Do Shaggy Dogs Jump Sharks?

This past summer, I started watching How I Met Your Mother on Netflix. I hadn’t tried before, either the broadcasts or from Netflix sooner, but I wanted something to chew on when bored, so I started. I knew the series would be a “shaggy dog” story, taking the long, long way to get to a punch line, but willing to invest a little to see if it was a fun long, long way.

I enjoyed many of the tropes used. Carefully peeling away the onion layers that were the five characters was fun. Neil Patrick Harris and Allyson Hannigan both would sometimes go so far over the top, NPH more than her. She seemed like a girl next door with a mostly-hidden freaky side. He was more often over the top, from his unknown job to his sexual conquests. He might have been the super-hero next door, or not. I also enjoyed the “unreliable narrator” trope often used, such as the occasional Rashomon episode.

Some of the plot twists, though, stretched credibility, even accounting for the whimsical nature of the shaggy dog story. For example, one does not simply walk into Mordor, and one does not simply join the faculty of an Ivy League university because one is tired of one’s job. Getting the requisite advanced degree would have been a huge distraction from Ted’s attempt to meet the kids’ mother.

There were also episodes that were simply distractions. The episode in which Robin finds out she can’t have kids was both amusing and indicative of the problem emerging: it didn’t advance the premise. It’s not surprising, or at least it shouldn’t be surprising, that a career woman might not have children. Throw in her border-line abusive childhood, and a decision to opt-out is perfectly understandable. Why throw in a whole, “It’s not just a question of choice; she can’t!” episode? Unless, of course, one is worried about Ted meeting his kids’ mother too soon.

Yellow umbrella. Starting to teach in the wrong classroom. Roommate of a girl he dated. Bass player in a wedding band. The clues were tossed out sparingly and often later alluded to, but the producers seems very reluctant to resolve the story and move on. It’s a sharp contrast, for example, with Buffy the Vampire Slayer, which ended the series and then literally resurrected it, and then had a season dealing with the repercussions of the resurrection.

Last week I saw HIMYM ads for an upcoming episode that refer to Barney still being a womanizing sleaze. I’m still watching episodes from about a year ago, when the plot lines were nominally about the lead-up to Barney’s wedding, something alluded to many times. I didn’t mind the detour about how Barney got engaged, because that was tied into the wedding bass player clue, but knowing that there would be a second wedding cancelled at the altar — or quickly abandoned — is the final straw. Yes, it happens in real life. But do I want to watch a series get hijacked by that, especially when it’s major characters we’ve become sympathetic to?

I no longer care about how Ted met his kids’ mother. That train has left the station; that umbrella as collapsed; that bass guitar broke a string; that student withdrew from that class.

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