May 15, 2012



In HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER, Carter Bays and Craig Thomas created an odd but appealing mix of traditional sitcom humor and conceptual originality (their upcoming FOX show The Goodwin Games looks like another unusual angle on the genre), and with comedy, as with drama, the thing about conceptual storytelling is that at some point you need to pay off the secrets you’ve been hiding.  With How I Met a long-running success, it’s become increasingly difficult to string out the show’s initial concept, which seemingly requires that the identity of Ted’s (Josh Radnor) wife, and the mother of his children, not be revealed until the very end.

After 7 seasons, Bays and Thomas had to let some information loose, and in the aptly titled 1-hour season finale “The Magician’s Code,” they revealed a few of their secrets.  (Which is to say, SPOILERS follow.)

The first half of the 2-part conclusion, written by Jennifer Hendriks and directed by house director Pam Fryman, was concerned with that staple of season finales, a birth.  In this case, Lily (Alyson Hannigan) and Marshall’s (Jason Segel).  A lot of the episode relied on the usual farcial convention of the new dad not being in town when the expectant mom went into labor, and his struggles to get there in time–in this case, Marshall was with Barney (Neil Patrick Harris) in Atlantic City, dead drunk.  Meanwhile, Robin (Cobie Smulders) and Ted tried to keep Lily’s mind off her labor and Marshall’s absence with what amounted to a Community-style fake clip show, glimpses of stories that had never actually been in past episodes, notably what lay behind the door in their hangout bar that no one had ever noticed before.  No surprises in the half-hour, but a few laughs–and the baby’s middle name is indeed, as the characters all admitted, very cool.

The second half-hour, written by Bays and Thomas and directed by Fryman, was the big one.  In lieu of telling us who Ted’s wife was going to be, the episode did the next best thing and revealed Barney’s eventual wife.  After a certain amount of magician-inspired misdirection (Barney, it turned out, was a teen magician who’d learned from an expert with ulterior motives never to reveal a trick), Barney elaborately proposed to Quinn (Becki Newton), only to have it revealed at the end that in fact–unless the whole thing was an even bigger red herring–Barney would be marrying Robin.  (This would have been a bigger surprise if it hadn’t been known that Newton will be busy next season starring in Bays and Thomas’s Goodwin Games.)

Meanwhile, the stranger storyline had Ted “driving into the sunset” with old girlfriend Victoria (Ashley Williams), who’d been on the verge (literally, already wearing the dress) of marrying someone else.  Strange, because sunset-driving aside, with How I Met renewed for another season, and reportedly at least 1 more after that on the way, we know this ending didn’t mean Ted and Victoria end up with each other, at least not without several more reversals and twists to come.

It seems bizarre to compare How I Met Your Mother to The Killing, but both share a problem:  since we know that the story’s key secret won’t be revealed until the very end, it’s hard to get emotionally involved in the false plotlines that fill the time until the big revelation.  At the start, the show’s wit and originality (I’m speaking of How I Met here) was enough, but as time is going on, the show–while still smart, funny and beautifully performed–as well as Ted as a character, are starting to feel like they’re in a holding pattern, for no other reason than to delay the end of the series.

It would be great if CBS could allow How I Met, like that other conceptual sitcom Lost, to announce a certain end-date and build toward it with a definite plan.  Whether the network will commit in advance to losing one of its comedy staples is another question whose answer we’ll have to wait to hear.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."