It's hard out here for a How I Met Your Mother fan these days.
I mean, it's always been hard. The show has had its share of ups and downs, from how often it was on the brink of cancellation to its rocky creative track record in recent years. But the ninth and final season of the show — set in the 50-odd hours before a wedding we've already seen bits and pieces of — has become downright exhausting.
The thing about HIMYM is that its greatest asset has also always been its greatest flaw. The idea that Ted is actually telling one long story building up to one specific event has led to some of the best moments of the series (see the season four episode "Right Place, Right Time"), but also some of its worst narrative meanderings (see last season's "The Autumn of Breakups").
For years now, the writers have been forced to make excuses for why the titular mother hasn't appeared yet, other than the simple fact that her absence is what fuels the show. And after season after season of misdirection, stalling and pandering, the show somehow changed from How I Met Your Mother to Here Are All the Reasons I Haven't Met Your Mother Yet.
And now, as it crams as much as it can into the hours and minutes Ted has left before he meets his eventual bride, it feels as if they have so thoroughly exhausted their supply of excuses that they're stretching their last one to the brink of snapping.
Episode after episode this season has worn out some of the major gags of the past that audiences once loved (Major Ga — oh, never mind), shifted the focus to guest stars rather than the core five, and spent almost no time in that familiar MacLaren's booth. Let's face it, this season isn't set in Farhampton — it's set in sitcom purgatory.
Its Monday night fans are now more dutiful than delighted, less constantly surprised and more persistently depressed. It's in that dull state in which it's neither here nor there, not terrible but not really good either.
So why, I keep asking myself, do I still keep watching?
Because no matter how much the show falters and how flat the jokes fall, no matter how cartoonish the characters become, I accepted a long time ago that I'm not going to stop watching How I Met Your Mother. Not just because it's a habit after eight years. Not just because I'm nostalgic for the time when I genuinely looked forward to new episodes.
It's that, just like Barney, I gots to know what happens in the end.
Lots of long-running shows have jumped the proverbial shark as time wore on, but with this one, its predetermined ending keeps me hooked. It's been teased since that first episode eight years ago when the older Ted first told us that's what the story would be about. They can't just end the show wherever they want. It has to end when he meets the Mother. That's the payoff.
And with so few episodes left, that moment on the train platform where Ted and the future Mrs. Mosby finally say hello is so close it would almost be ridiculous to miss it. Like the show seems to be, I'm essentially biding my time until the end comes. And like Ted, I'm eternally optimistic that something better is around the corner, that something great is about to happen, that we're about to turn a corner.
All this despite the fact that the years of buildup will likely make the inevitable encounter between Ted and the Mother awkward, unfunny or a horrible mix of both. The finale will likely disappoint those of us who have dug in our heels and waited. But I still have hope.
As it turns out, How I Met Your Mother is just one big "wait for it ...," and fortunately, I only have to keep waiting a little bit longer.