|How I Met Your Tailor (l-r): Neil Patrick Harris, Cobie Smulders,
Josh Radnor, Alyson Hannigan and Jason Segel
All successful major network American sitcoms last a season or three too long. Case in point: How I Met Your Mother, which airs its hour-long series finale beginning tonight at 8 p.m. ET on CBS and City.
Now, just to be clear, I was never much of a fan of this series. There was, however, a couple of seasons back when both my kids were still living at home when this show was very much on their radar. They loved hanging with these characters, and for a while I understood that appeal. All sitcoms are about family, and these five charismatic friends were very much like the “family” 18-49-year-olds would most like to hang with at the neighbourhood watering hole.
Last January in L.A. I was on the set of the series along with many other critics and got to do what most fans would love to do–sit at the booth and hang with these folks in their bar. They are a friendly and talented bunch, as are show runners Carter Bays and Craig Thomas.
|Cobie Smulders. Cliff Lipson/CBS|
I spoke with the Canadian in the cast–Cobie Smulders–always accessible and laid back at these sessions and wrote about our conversation here for The Canadian Press.
At one point it looked like I’d have another assignment about the end of the series so when I was on an airplane last week and found four episodes among the choices in the seat back monitor. I settled in and pushed play.
What I saw could best be described as un-even. Tiresome also comes to mind.
Evidently it’s not just me that feels this way. Daniel Fienberg over at Hitfix Tweeted this out Monday:
“I swear I used to love #HIMYM before I hated it. I wish I could reclaim any of that love to enjoy tonight’s finale.”
I know even my kids got tired of the whole Barney-the-horn-dog shtick several seasons ago. The series always moved fast, with many quick cuts and short scenes, but they did not add up to much in the four I saw over the Atlantic.
What clearly carried this series was the casting. All five leads work very well, with Segel’s spin on the devoted married dude perhaps the most original. But, boy, don’t ask me what the story was on three of those four episodes.
I had already watched the one from earlier this season where the “mother” in the title, played by Cristin Milotti, got most of the play. The title was reversed that week to How You Mother Met Me.
That was an intriguing, if much more dramatic, show. The creators clearly had this one in their pocket for a while and knew exactly where they were going and the actress was extremely sympathetic.
Monday’s series-ender, I suspect, will be similar and likely will deliver an ending fans will enjoy.
Networks and studios make a ton of money off of comedies that run nine seasons. It’s why The Big Bang Theory just got a three season renewal and also why shows like Friends and Will & Grace kept cranking them out years past their best before date. More episodes mean more box sets, more season sales to syndication and Netflix, more, more, more.
There’s a built in momentum that carries these shows that is confounding to non-fans. For sitcoms, it is all about hanging on past the first shaky season or two. How I Met Your Mother was a slow starter that really only caught fire around Seasons 3 and 4.
This is where Canadian sitcoms like Seed, Package Deal, Mr. D, Working the Engels and Spun Out need to aim for. If you put any of their scripts against the HIMYM yarns I saw on the plane, you would give the writing Emmy to the Canadian series. The magic is in casting, likability and relate-ability. The right characters and players can carry an ordinary show over the hump and allow a so-so-sitcom to grow into something truly sustainable.
Handicapping Canadian shows are the shorter sitcom orders. It is hard to build momentum when you only air three or, in the case this spring with Mr. D, two months worth of originals.
Then again if you can get the right viewers to come back for the right short-run comedy, everyone will wait, including thr networks. Case in point: Louie, back May 5 after a 19-month hiatus. Note to Air Canada: please put more Louie in the seat backs, please.