I'm ashamed to say it took me seven years to stumble upon "How I Met Your Mother," whose rumored final season began last week. It's easy to see why it's been a critics' favorite from the get-go; smart, hilarious and subtly poignant, it's a more thoughtful and self-aware sitcom than most on the air right now.
The show is, of course, built around its title mystery --stretched pretty thin after eight years-- but to quote the spawn of Billy Ray, it ain't about what's waiting on the other side. The real thread is its philosophy, its vision that life is an exquisite tapestry of events with a defined, if not always clear, purpose. Linda Holmes put it eloquently in this NPR post:
"How I Met Your Mother" engages in a certain amount of magical thinking. It believes in signs, in the power of coincidence and the broader meaning of things that seem unimportant. It's not afraid of fairy dust and the idea that if the sad, difficult things hadn't happened, the good things wouldn't have happened either, because everything is part of a whole.
It doesn't always work ... But when they get it right, it's a very elegant and thoughtful larger story about how crushingly sad things have to be placed into a context beyond themselves. It doesn't really have to show you the mother; it's not a show about her, even though its storytelling structure is critical. It's a show that has a specific vision of how life works, and that vision is basically a happy one.
But let's be clear: "How I Met Your Mother" isn't just a show that appeals to annoying saps like me. Its philosophy is supported by an injection of awesomely crafted humor - a goldmine of raunchy, well-timed and intricate jokes that are more compelling than --dare I say it-- that of its beloved predecessor "Friends."
The show owes most of its comedic tone to a character that would bomb Charlie Sheen-style in any other context: Barney Stinson. Clever writing, combined with Neil Patrick Harris' deft portrayal, breathes life into a rare breed of womanizer, one whose sexuality is commanding, but whose soul --when flashed-- is endearing and vulnerable.
At times, it takes a little self-questioning to get on board with Barney. It should be hard to empathize with a man who's described by friends as a "high-functioning sociopath." This is a man, after all, who tried to get his fiancé to legally agree to inventing 12 new sexual positions per year, and who went to insane lengths to touch his best friend's wife's breasts. Yet, Barney is somehow also --mostly, even-- the man who plays laser tag with the fury of a fifth-grader, who flew across the country to save his best friends' marriage, and who wants nothing more than the companionship of a father figure. He's a psychiatrist's dream - but dude, he's real.
And he's not stagnant. Over the past three seasons, we've seen the now 35-year-old Barney slowly grow his man-wings, moving at a refreshingly appropriate pace. His evolution has been honest and unapologetic, and I dig that.
It's this evolution that will eventually lead him back to ex-girlfriend Robin Scherbatsky. Last season's finale revealed that the two will end up getting married "a little ways down the road," even though they're currently in separate relationships. As poetic as Ted Mosby's journey to instantaneous love has been at times, there's something equally poetic about two messy, flawed people continuously crashing into each other, only to finally realize they want to share in each other's mess. It's not the stuff of fairy tales, but a fairy tale life ain't.