There’s a season two episode of How I Met Your Mother in which the characters — Ted, Marshall, Lily, Robin and Barney — are guilt-tripped into attending a funeral on Super Bowl Sunday. They DVR the game and try to get through on Monday with the result unspoiled so they can all watch together that night; naturally, the plan goes awry as they all find out what happened in an appropriately wacky way.
Ultimately? It didn’t really matter. “I don’t remember who won. Hell, I don’t even remember who played. What I do remember is that we drank beer, we ate wings and we watched the Super Bowl together,” says Ted, the narrator, in a voiceover at the end of the episode. “Because sometimes, even if you know how something’s gonna end, that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the ride.”
In addition to capturing nostalgia, there are many reasons the show caught on with the younger crowd: It launched a thousand catchphrases (“Legend — wait for it — dary”), pick-up lines (“Haaave you met Ted?”) and teachings for 20-something life (“Nothing good ever happens after 2am.”). Overall though, HIMYM offered a much more valuable lesson about the importance of adult friendship.
Over nine seasons, the series followed Ted (Josh Radnor) and his best friends on their assorted adventures, with every plotline anchored in Ted’s search for his future wife. That was really just the spinning off point, as we all got to know the characters through their own quests for happiness. There was Marshall (Jason Segel), Ted’s best friend who met his soulmate Lily (Alyson Hannigan) on the first day of college; Robin (Cobie Smulders), Ted’s longtime love interest, even though it was established in the pilot that she would wind up just being “Aunt Robin”; and Barney (Neil Patrick Harris), the Bro Code-inventing ladies man.
“The format, how bold it was in both storytelling and letting characters grow,” Radnor, a mostly unknown actor before breaking out on HIMYM, speculates by phone from Los Angeles, pointing out that in addition to all the silly storylines, creators Craig Thomas and Carter Bays weren’t afraid to get serious: Robin’s infertility, for example, or the death of Marshall’s dad.
Radnor frequently sees lists floating around the internet with titles like 20 Things I Learned from HIMYM; he believes that the series struck a chord because it “had a different perspective,” looking at life in a deeper way through memory and nostalgia with a dad telling stories to his kids. That technique subconsciously urges viewers to appreciate the moments they might otherwise miss in their own lives.
Plus, it helped that the cast had natural chemistry from the start: Radnor jokes that it really felt like Ted, Marshall and Lily had gone to college together and picked up two other crazy pals along the way. “From the first time we shot the pilot, the five of us felt like we were friends,” he said. “We didn’t feel like actors who had been cast.”
The audience eventually started losing patience with the question of “Who is the Mother?” So the writers brought in Broadway actress Cristin Milioti to star as the Mother, appearing at the very end of season eight.
HIMYM has already left a strong imprint, no matter how it concludes. And that’s sort of been the lesson all along. As Radnor says, despite the fact that people have developed “Lost-style conspiracy theories” about the Mother over time, that was never really the point. Ted meeting the Mother may have been what tied everything together, but as with all long journeys, the most compelling part is what it took to get there.