How I Met Your Macguffin

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"How I Met Your Macguffin"

Without taking this too deep into the HIMYM weeds, I’d like to offer a counterpoint to Kate’s post. I agree with her sentiment toward the frame story — I certainly don’t care how Ted met the mother of his children, and I only really care about Ted himself because the rest of the main ensemble does. (This is largely because the writers have mined Ted’s puppy-dog romanticism for too many plots and made it harder to show him growing as an adult over the seasons.) The writers seem to have been calling more attention to it over this season than in the past, but I suspect that’s because the show has gotten more episodic and “sitcom-y” over the second half of this season as the main characters appear to have gotten more or less settled in their lives. (There’s one major exception to this — fellow fans will probably know what I’m talking about here — but the writers seem to change their minds from week to week about what they want to do with it.) But I don’t share Kate’s distress that there’s nothing the writers could do short of dismantling the frame story that would keep it from robbing the show of all momentum.

It’s been clear from the very first episode of the show that the moment Ted met the mother was a classic television Macguffin — the object of the pursuit that drives the story. When Ted ended the pilot by telling his kids “And that’s how I met…” (dramatic pause) “…your Aunt Robin,” it became clear that he was using the offhand question they’d asked — “So how did you meet Mom, anyway?” — as an excuse to tell them all the yarns he’d been saving for years. This has been a lot of my enjoyment of the series — I like that Ted’s an unreliable narrator, and I wish the writers did more to show him caught up in the embellishments and lies that all the characters on the show engage in for the sake of a good story.
The great thing about a Macguffin, of course, is that the audience knows that the journey will turn out to be more rewarding than the destination, and the storyteller knows they know. So the storyteller’s bought a little goodwill to spend a little longer telling the story and delaying the reveal, knowing that his audience is more amused than impatient. In this case, that means that the writers don’t have to tell the audience how Ted met his childrens’ mother in order to introduce the mother as a character; they can skip, say, at the beginning of next season to a point a month into their relationship, and move forward from there. They’d still have to remind viewers that the moment they met was important, but I don’t think that should be too hard — we know Ted’s a romantic, after all. And it would introduce new narrative possibilities: I’d love to see the episode where the kids, or even a voiceover of the mother herself, constantly correct Ted’s telling of a particular story a la “Summer Nights.”
From week to week, this probably doesn’t look too different from Kate’s suggestion of doing away with the pretense that Ted’s stories lead directly to the moment he met the mother of his children. But I think the frame story, when used properly, gives the writers some room to play that they might not have in a more straightforward sitcom, and tinkering with that might lose what’s left of what makes this show better than the average sitcom.
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