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HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER

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Kids, How I Met Your Mother Is Squandering Our Affection

How I Met Your Mother returns for its ninth and final season tonight. It's been a long, strange ride for fans of the show, who have watched the world's most lovelorn human, Ted Mosby, fumble his way through nearly a decade of conventionally beautiful white women. At the end of last season, the series finally introduced us to "the mother" — a promising development. But then the hope of real forward momentum was immediately dashed when producers announced that the entire final season would play out over the 56 hours leading up to Robin and Barney's wedding, during which time everyone else will meet the mother before Ted even lays eyes on her.

Fans of the show have come to accept, or at least tolerate, certain problems that have developed in recent seasons. But as we enter season nine, some of these infractions are starting to feel less forgivable and more egregious.

First on the list is Ted's chronic behavior. He's claimed on multiple occasions that he's had an epiphany that he's "ready" to meet his soul mate, but that also happens in the pilot, when he meets Robin. So we get it: Ted wants to fall in love! But the fact that we're not going to see Ted meet the mother of his children means we're stuck with the same old sad-sack Ted for another entire season. And more of the same for Ted is an excruciating prospect.

A second gripe is the continued mining of the instability in Robin and Barney's relationship for plot fodder. Robin and Barney are both famously commitment-phobic and cynical, so we kind of bought the idea that they'd break up a few times before really getting together. It's no fan's favorite story line, but that's life on network television. Except now HIMYM is taking advantage of whatever tolerance we've extended to Robin and Barney's will-they-won't-they nonsense. An entire season framed by wondering whether these two will go through with their wedding? Unfair, show! Solve this right now.

Third is all the stalling. HIMYM has valiantly treaded water for eight whole years. But to wring a full season out of the 56 hours before the possible Stinton-Scherbatsky nuptials means that characters' story lines will all be split up, and that tends to bring out the absolute worst in the series: Ted, Robin, Barney, Lily, and Marshall work best with each other, not with secondary, tertiary, or rando characters. Why have an ensemble show if you're going to break up the ensemble?

How I Met Your Mother sometimes traffics in arbitrary obstacles instead of making use of its most valuable resource, which is the intimacy among its characters. On tonight's premiere, Marshall spends the entire episode in a Planes, Trains, and Automobiles–esque quest to get to the wedding. It's laborious and feels like a time-waster, largely because it's not that interesting to watch Marshall stranded among strangers. HIMYM is a show about people who really love each other, who know each other incredibly well and still value and respect one another. That dynamic itself has brought out the best moments in the show, moments like, oh, the Slaps, which works as well as it does because the characters know each others' styles (and the audience knows them, too). I don't care who Marshall rents a car with for an agonizing ride across the state. I want to see Marshall interact with his best friends and his wife.

And I want that, because despite the last few seasons, there's still so much warmth and joy buried inside HIMYM. The show can pull of incredibly lovely romance and incredibly silly friendship. It would just be great if that was all the show were doing.

Photo: Cliff Lipson/CBS