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'How I Met Your Mother' Premiere: Season 9 Feels Fresh But Has Its Challenges

September 24th, 2013 8:31am EDT

Future Ted and 'The Mother' Carter Bays and Craig Thomas have annoyed me for the last four years as show runners and head writers of How I Met Your Mother. A once clever series devolved into a convoluted mess with each renewal and 24 episode cycle. The characters, once lovable, became increasingly loathsome. The structure of the series, a mix of flash-backs and flash-forwards woven in with the present, allowed for really creative storytelling in the early seasons, but the structure became a crutch for the series. The storytelling got lazier, and the characters were broad caricatures of what they once were. I've enjoyed each successive season of HIMYM less than the previous one.

Season 9, the final season of How I Met Your Mother, opens with Ted and Lily on the road to Farhampton for the wedding. A relatively easy drive to Long Island is disrupted by Ted's penchant for long and unnecessary detours. Lily demands he let her out at the train station, after she bangs her head in the car in hopes of knocking herself out. In that moment, I've never related more to a character during the entire run of the series. The opening scene's very meta, of course. A later conversation between Lily and the mother frames Ted's behavioral quirks as charming. The future mother loves what annoys Lily about Ted. So it follows Bays and Thomas must be charming for their seemingly never-ending story about how one guy meets his wife, the mother of his children. I've gotta side with Lily here. I should've gotten out of the car years ago.

I didn't get out the car years ago; no, I've watched the series for some time now and have regularly written about it since 2010. HIMYM's final season has several challenges. The framing device of the wedding already seems problematic and about what I expected. The plot devices are a-plenty, and the worst clichés and tropes of bad romantic comedies that end in a third act wedding are already hinted at and inevitable. Marshall can't get to the wedding because it's a 24 episode season covering a long weekend, and, well, there's gotta be conflicts. He gets kicked off a plane for not turning his phone off; the last flight to New York is cancelled because of a major east coast storm that's closing airports along the east coast, which is absurd since the east coast in spring is a dream. Barney and Robin can't be sure of each other's convictions on the marriage weekend. Through two episodes, none of the characters' rooms have been completely cleaned. Plus, Barney and Robin are still together, and that's not good.

"The Locket" and "Coming Back" aren't full of problematic story choices and lazy plotting, though. Jason Segal seems renewed by a new paycheck and is making the most out of a disastrous storyline. Alyson Hanigan's really fun in the first two episodes. Her performance looks effortless, whereas in the last few seasons Hanigan's performance looked forced. The new sets are a nice departure from the apartment, the bar, and the smallest street in Manhattan. The brightest spot in the first two episodes of the final season is the future mother, the lovely and delightful Cristin Milioti. The major concern about meeting the mother was about whether or not the mother would be all that Ted wanted and the audience.

Through two episodes, the mother is pretty damn cool. Milioti brings a light and airy presence to the scenes. She's the sun peeking through the clouds that've hovered over the series for the last three seasons. Bays and Thomas don't overwrite the character. Her scenes and interactions are simple. The mother and Lily have a sweet story in "The Locket" in which Lily's calmed by Ted's future wife and given a hug and cookies. "Coming Back" concludes with a flash-forward of Ted and the mother sitting in the bar at the Farhampton Inn because Ted promised he'd bring her there when they met. Radnor and Milioti have undeniable chemistry. Radnor looks at differently than he looks at Robin. Ted looks at Robin with a pained, regretful expression--it's the expression of love lost, of wanting someone by your side so badly but knowing and accepting that someone will never be by your side. Ted looks at his wife completely differently. He doesn't look at her as much as he looks into her. Radnor's gaze at her is more important than the writing and the blocking of the scene. The look is everything. A show titled How I Met Your Mother should be remembered for how Ted met his mother, and not just 'meeting' the mother which is as simple as a smile and a hello at a train station, but how he MET her and grew to know and love her.

Unfortunately, the longest wedding awaits. Barney and Robin have an awful story in "The Locket" in which they briefly think they may be cousins. "The Locket" ends with an awful tease. Ted went to Los Angeles to get Robin's locket. Sarah Chalke's Stella will evidently be seen again, maybe by November sweeps. Future Ted hints he's the wildcard at the wedding. It's worth noting Ted looks pained throughout the two episodes. Robin's going to try sneaking out of a window at some point. The relationship between Barney and Robin could've worked in season five, but the writers bailed on the pairing really early. Last season didn't endear me to the reunited couple. I still dislike the characters together in the first two episodes. Barney's belief in marriage temporarily stems from his brother's marriage. For a second it seemed like Bays and Thomas would waste more time with the stock sitcom 'X character doesn't know why Y and Z know and hijinx ensues,' but they aren't THAT sadistic.

A lot of HIMYM is still the same, which is probably fine for many individuals. (That's bad for me). The Ted/mother story is potentially worthwhile. I'm not sure it'll be enough to make enduring the series the last several years of watching and writing about it worthwhile. I hope so, though. There are many scenes ahead I'm not looking forward to and many wedding-related elements that'll make me want to concuss myself. Gosh darn it, though, Cristin Milioti is charming. It's a new season. I'm feeling fresh. I'm hoping for the best.

Other Thoughts:

-I rarely laugh during an episode, but the rent-a-car scene with the Herm cracked me up. Marshall’s travel nightmare makes no sense. I like how HIMYM’s Minnesota has one rental car place in the entire state.

Related: Cristin Milioti, How I Met Your Mother, Josh Radnor, Recaps, Comedy, CBS

Photo Credits: CBS

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