In my Top 100 Everything entry about How I Met Your Mother, I admitted that I gave up on the show during its sixth season. The show just became too miserable, too disappointing, too unsatisfying for me to tune in every week.
Well, my wife and I have slowly been working through the series, and last night, we finally finished the sixth season. And, I have to say, it played much better than I remembered.
There are a few reasons I liked it more this time around. First is, simply, expectations. I remembered the season as awful, and thus expected awfulness. The resulting bland but inoffensive comedy with flashes of greatness was, therefore, a pleasant surprise. The second reason I enjoyed it more was context. Watching a rerun during dinner instead of looking forward to the next episode each week meant that I could tune out the bad while still enjoying the good without being too bummed if the latter outweighed the former.
The third and biggest reason I enjoyed Season 6 more on re-watch than in its live airing is because the show’s format shifted more towards serial plots and running jokes. This makes “binge-watching” much more palatable than weekly consumption, with plenty of time to forget plots and jokes in between.
It all plays like a less-satisfying version of The Office’s fifth season. There are some large, multi-episode plots (beyond romance) that challenge fundamental things we know about our characters. The two biggest highlights were the paternal stories: Barney findning his dad and Marshall losing his. Ted’s attempt to design a skyscraper, and his clash with Zoey, shaped most of the season, too, even if the story usually wasn’t all that interesting. And – to the show’s credit – it managed to make the plot of Lily and Marshall trying to conceive a non-miserable story.
Don’t get me wrong, there’s plenty to complain about here. Too many episodes’ main conflict spring from a side character acting ridiculous. I guess you start running out of stories to tell with your main characters after a hundred episodes.
And the end of the season really let me down. After a rather strong stretch of episodes that actually made me interested to see more of Zoey and Nora as prominent recurring characters, one became a shrew and the other disappeared. (Though I’ll admit that ending of “A Change of Heart,” with Barney considering what would happen if he chased after Nora before deciding to walk away, was one of the best moments of the season.) The last five episodes of the season include the most out-of-character plot of the season (“The Exploding Meatball Sub”) and a massively anticlimactic conclusion to Ted’s relationship with Zoey.
But, man, there are some highlights here I was not expecting. Ted and Zoey falling for each other in “Oh Honey” was a truly romantic moment; the countdown in “Bad News” led to one of Jason Segel’s best-acted scenes in his career; and Marshall discovering his father’s true last words to him was moving.
The best moment of the season, and a signature moment for the series in my opinion, is Barney’s clash with his father, perfectly cast as John Lithgow, at the end of “Legendaddy.” Great stuff from Lithgow and NPH.
There’s plenty of solid funny stuff throughout the season, too. But — again, like a less effective Office, Season 5 — the things that stuck with me were the dramatic arcs that gave shape to the season moreso than any individual jokes and stories that fleshed those stories out.
I enter Season 7 very cautiously optimistic that I’ll at least tolerate the last few seasons of the show. We’ll see how that goes.
Season rank through six seasons: 2, 1, 4, 3, 6, 5