When we last left How I Met Your Mother, Marshall was finally on Long Island. After two days and nearly half a season on the road, he is within walking distance from the wedding, his friends, and a wife who is quite pissed at him. See, Lily learned that despite the two of them having decided to move to Italy for Lily’s new dream career, Marshall accepted a job to be a New York judge. It all feels familiar, if not doubly familiar. At its core, this is the same conflict that Jim and Pam went through in the final season of The Office, which was, as we pointed out when it was happening, the same conflict Coach and Mrs. Coach went through in the final season of Friday Night Lights.
To quickly summarize (spoiler alert for all three shows), in the final season of Friday Night Lights, Tami Taylor is improbably offered the job of dean of admissions at Philadelphia’s Braemore College. Her husband, however, doesn’t want to go, as he has been offered a job as head coach of the newly reunited Dillon Panthers super-team — a job that would keep the family in their Texas home for years to come. In the final season of The Office, Jim Halpert is improbably offered a chance to be a founding member of a sports-marketing company in Philadelphia; however, his wife Pam wants to keep her job and raise their family in Scranton. In both cases, drama ensued. In both cases, the wife won. (Though, Pam eventually later decided to sell their house, so they could move to Austin. The fundamental conflict for much of the season was the same.)
And I have little doubt the wife will win again with How I Met Your Mother, as it seems like what the show has been building to all along, even if retroactively. (Also, frankly, if Marshall won, he’d sure seem like a selfish if not misogynist jerk, which is not how you want a character remembered.) The HIMYM case is even more like FNL than The Office's was, as it is a conflict over dueling careers. So, just like it was for Tami Taylor, it’s Lily’s turn. HIMYM and FNL both spent more time focusing on the careers of the husbands, but in both cases the dissatisfaction of their spouses was heard early on and intermittently. In FNL, it was Tami’s first season discontent with just being a coach’s wife, leading to her taking a job as a guidance counselor at Dillon High. (Eric: “My high school?” Tami: "I wasn't aware that you bought it but, yeah." Miss you, Tami!) For HIMYM, it was Lily leaving Marshall to go to art school in San Francisco.
As with The Office, we’re not suggesting HIMYM is intentionally copying FNL. This is just the by-product of a writers’ room forced to come up with tension for a final season. It’s not new for a show to create a rift between its normally sturdy central couple. Mad About You tried it in their final season and fans got mad about it, as the plot-device felt (and indeed was) arbitrary, taking a previously happy, low-stakes sitcom relationship and just saying “and … now they hate each other.” Mad About You, for all its charms, was a simple show, a feature that doesn't easily produce believable conflict. So maybe Marshall and Lily’s fight is a bit unoriginal at this point, but it still reflects a show with an ambition and ability to draw fully formed characters with complex motivations. (Not to say HIMYM is superior to Friends, but remember how little of a deal it ended up being when Chandler got transferred to Tulsa.) It’s a fight between characters trying to define themselves beyond just the context of their marriage, which is complicated and feels true to life.
Like The Office, HIMYM is suffering from the fact that most of the husband and wife’s interactions are happening on the phone, what with Marshall’s incredibly frustrating story arc separating him from the main action. (At least it doesn’t have the cheap infidelity red herring The Office had.) Still, we’re enthusiastic for the happy ending, when Marshall asks Lily, “Will you take me to Rome with you, please?” And we can only hope that when Ted finally meets the mother, she already had plans to move to Chicago.