Thursday, June 4, 2015

TV Series Review: How I Met Your Mother *SPOILERS*

Okay, I think it's been long enough. If you haven't seen the finale of HIMYM by now and have somehow managed to avoid spoilers (and of course plan to watch it at some point), STOP NOW. This is a spoiler-riddled review.

I really like the TV series How I Met Your Mother. I think it's clever, funny, and gets better as your go rather (which is rarely the case with sitcoms whose characters using get cartoonish by the end). It took me awhile to get into it, but once I did the characters and ongoing bits really put this show on my favorites list. I was a late comer to HIMYM so my opinions may differ from someone who watched it weekly as it was coming out. The only season I actually watched live on a weekly basis was the final season. If you watch it this way...the short episodes can feel less than satisfying and almost frustrating. I've heard fans say they didn't like the show after such and such a season or hated the final season, etc. and I think this has something to do with that. When you're able to watch back to back episodes 2-3 at a time or even a whole season in a week or two---it feels completely different.

I have to say, I disagree with those who thought later seasons weren't as good. They were certainly formatted differently, but they kind of had to be to get all the lose ends tied up.

I was impressed with the writers ability to make the series cohesive. With this sort of concept (a father telling his children the story of how he met their mother) you expect that they're writing without knowing where they are really going with the story and as is therefore to be expected, the first season referenced the mother a lot, but the following seasons plots didn't seem to have much to do with the mystery mother we all want to meet. So once she makes her appearance---how on earth will she live up to the hype? It seems inevitable that the show would kind of fall apart towards the end.  Yet, in my opinion, they pulled it off.

I even liked the final season (which a lot of people apparently hated), but I absolutely hated the final episode. Or rather, inititally I hated it. I hate it less now that I did when it aired, but I'm still not sure they chose the right ending. Here's why:

- I'm not upset that the mom dies

First, I want to point out that I'm not upset that the mother dies. Disliking the ending had nothing to do with that. The sad subplot of the mom getting sick and ultimately dying, doesn't bother me in the least. If anything, it makes it feel a little more real and explains why the dad would be telling "her" story to their kids so expansively.

- They ruin Barney

My biggest complaint is that the finale ruined the character of Barney for me. The writers claimed to be keeping him more consistent with who "he is" as a character and they do give him some redemption (in the form of a daughter that he loves and grows up for), but honestly---it just pissed me off.

I had grown to really like Barney and they basically ruined that by turning him back into a shallow, womanizing, in and out of everyones life, character. From the very beginning they have implied that there's more to Barney that meets the eye. You start to wonder if he really hooks up as much as he says he does or if it's just a way to cover up the fact that he wants something real with someone and is scared about finding it. They spend the last few seasons really showing how good of a friend (and person) Barney really is. He is no longer a cliche in the show, but a multilayered and interesting character. The Robin/Barney romance was done very well to make you really root for them and think---hey, this works for them. The fact that they spent multiple seasons convincing me that Barney was ready to settle down and that he'd do anything for Robin---only to have it dismantled in one episode with no real warning, just UGH. If the writers always planned for this ending, I feel like they intentionally wasted my time. It's bad enough that you allowed a character to basically abuse and objectify women for nine seasons for the sake of humor and without consequence; but you redeem that character slowly over time and then just say "never mind" in the last episode? Seriously, I think that was the biggest slap in the face to the fans of your show and of Barney.

Yes, I do understand that it can be argued that the daughter was the culmination of Barney's transformation, but it was harder to buy that when he was allowed to revert for like a decade or more and I was only given about 10 minutes to process and accept the change in his trigger towards goodness. It came across as a quick fix by the writers to avoid the criticism that they ruined him. I'm sure they don't see it that way.  

- Ted and Robin are not Ross and Rachel

HIMYM is often compared to Friends. The primary romance in Friends was Ross and Rachel and they too end up together in the end. But Ted and Robin are not Ross and Rachel. Ross and Rachel were on again, off again the entire series. The timing was frequently never right, or even if it was, something derailed their relationship, but you basically believed they were meant to be and would end up together eventually (yes, in the final episode). It was clear that was where things were going all along. They even had a kid together along the way so there was no getting out of each others lives. Predictable? Maybe. But also inevitable and satisfying for fans. This is a sitcom after all.

Meanwhile, Ted and Robin don't even feel like a good fit. They want completely different things and would have to really change who they are to be compatible. Not to mention, the last couple seasons are a steady progression of Ted letting the idea of Robin go and really coming to terms with the fact that Robin and Barney are good together and that he's going to find someone whose a good fit for him as well (and does!).

Was everyone else really rooting for them the whole time? I felt like the finale forced them together because that's what everyone wanted. It was okay to let Ted truly end up with the mother. I really liked and was rooting for Robin and Barney. I think it helped really sure up Barney as a character and member of the group. I think Robin herself was more likable with Barney. Was it for the sake of realism? (Because what are odds all three couples would last and not get divorced?) Was it for the sake of not being predictable? (Though some might argue Ted and Robin is more predictable than Ted and Tracy). Whatever the reason, I felt a little betrayed.

- I really liked the mother

In the later seasons they start to finally integrate meeting the mother back into the plot and slowly you get glimpses of how this is all going to come together. Just the fact that they were able to do that pretty seamlessly and make it all make sense without a lot of inconsistency (back to the very beginning of the story no less)---is pretty amazing.

For awhile there, the show seemed to not really be about the mother at all. How were the writers going to convince us this was in fact a story about the mother? Well, by making all the small details and relationships Ted had relevant to meeting her (and showing how they both are better off for it taking so long to meet). They do this by developing Tracy well, even so far as to spend time on her own back story. That's no easy task. They pulled it off and that made the finale feel like a slap in the face. Yep, the writers somehow manage to make you actually like the mother and convince you that she really is perfect for Ted and this was meant to be---only to just kill her off in the final episode so that he can get back together with Robin? Um...okay.

- I don't really like Robin or think she's a Feminist role model

Robin was always pretty self-centered and annoying. She gets better and funnier as the show goes and she opens up more to her friends. Barney improves her greatly (as mentioned above), but the final episode takes me back to not liking her that much. She chooses herself, and her career, over her husband, her friends, and honestly doesn't seem better off or happier for it. The fact that she doesn't conform to gender stereotypes and is pursuing her career could be an attempt to make her a strong feminist character. But how can that be seen as positive when she's famous, but unhappy; successful, but alone. She's determined, yes, but she's also incredibly self-centered. She doesn't seem like a positive role model to me.

Basically, this ending communicates that Robin will spend the next 20 years more or less miserable and with no close friends---then she will be given a happy ending that she doesn't seem to actually deserve. I mean, I'm not saying I want Robin to be miserable. I just think allowing her to find happiness with Barney, or no one at all, would have been preferable to Ted. Either I was pandered to (Ted and Robin are meant to be! Blue horn! See!?) or the writers wanted to do something different (ha! you thought he'd end up with the mother didn't you! got ya!)---either way, it felt like they didn't trust us with the ending we deserved.


I should note that I did like what they did with Marshall and Lily in the final season and appreciated all the ways that they tied up lose ends. Overall, I still really like the show and found it funny to the very end.

I just felt like the show had this golden opportunity to pull off a cohesive storyline around their original idea (which is hard to do). They somehow, brilliantly and slowly introduce you to the mother and create characters you love---then pull the rug out from under you.

The writers said they had two endings to choose from: the depressing, but realistic ending where the mom dies versus the alternative where the mother lives and everyone is happy, and they picked the more complex, real ending.

Why not a third ending? One that is realistic, but doesn't feel like you tricked us? Why not allow the mother to die without stomping on her memory with a forced Ted and Robin blue horn cliche? Why not allow Barney and Robin to have lots of problems but ultimately reconcile? Why not ANY other ending, really?

I thought time had given me some perspective to be okay with this ending choice, but I guess I'm still not over it.

Author Review: John Green

This post started out as a review of Looking for Alaska, but I recently finished Green's entire bibliography (for books, and he's busy making movie adaptions so I doubt he'll publish anything new any time soon) so I figured I'd just do a post of my overall thoughts about John Green's writing.

My introduction to John Green was The Fault in Our Stars which I read upon the insistence of my 12 year old niece about a month prior to the release of it's film version. I was pleasantly surprised by how much I loved that book and Green's writing so I decided to pursue his other works. I bought An Abundance of Katherines because I liked the humorous concept but it didn't grab me immediately the way TFIOS did in it's first few pages. A few months down the road Audible had a special deal on Looking for Alaska, Green's debut novel. I purchased the audio version of the book to listen to. Turns out, John Green's books translate well to spoken word. I've since listened to Paper Towns, An Abundance of Katherines and Will Grayson, Will Grayson via Audible as well. Young adult novels seem to be enjoyable in this format due to the "easy writing" style and dialogue heavy plot lines.

John Green has some what of a predictable style. All his books are plotted very similarly. Katherines, Paper Towns, and Looking for Alaska all have a teenage male protagonists who don't fit in. Each finds a place socially and secures one or two male best friends who are kind of easy going/laid back to contrast the insecurities of the main character. All of these male leads encounter strong female characters who are fascinating, mysterious, and troubled in one way or another. Much of the plot centers in some way around the pursuit of knowing and understanding (or attempting to rescue) this girl and falling in love with her along the way. Each book has a different outcome to this pursuit---one character gets the girl and is happy, one character doesn't get the girl but get's close, and one character doesn't get the girl and doesn't get closure---but they all read very similarly. His debut, Looking for Alaska, is probably the strongest of these three. It tackles difficult issues and asks hard questions. The characters in Alaska are undeniably relatable and he gives an accurate picture into boarding school life. Paper Towns comes in second with an intriguing and mysterious plot, but less than satisfying ending. An Abundance of Katherines was a disappointment. I wanted to like it, but I just didn't. Aside from a protagonist who got on my nerves, I felt like the plot never really went anywhere and the humor seemed forced. I did enjoy Will Grayson, Will Grayson, which was co-written with David Leviathan and I still love The Fault in Our Stars which I feel was strong because of his personal extreme with the subject matter and the strong female lead.

I once wrote this on Facebook about TFIOS: "It feels cliché to include this book what with all the hype and attention its gotten this year, but trust me…this is so much more than a YA romance. It’s existential, funny, full of doubt, questions, and hope. I wish it had been written just for me so I didn’t have to share or hear anyone talk about it tritely. It meant a great deal to me."

Overall I like John Green. He's a good voice to have in the YA genre because he seems to genuinely care about teenagers and wants his books to be relatable and helpful. It's good to see realistic fiction bring written for and loved by teenagers, and even better when it still can be enjoyed and meaningful for adults as well. Green is not a perfect writer, but he strikes me as being a very genuine person and that is reflected in the things he chooses to publish. (Also he's goofy, nerdy, and smart---and I like those traits as well).