Creators: Carter Bays and Craig Thomas
Starring: Josh Radnor, Jason Segel, Cobie Smulders, Neil Patrick Harris, Alyson Hannigan
Original Airdate: 2011-2012
★★ ½ (out of ★★★★)
How I Met Your Mother isn't the first sitcom to have its eventual end date up in the air as it heads into the final stretch, but that fact probably provides little to comfort the writers, who you'd figure would be scrambling right now. After a near-flawless first four seasons, and two more almost as excellent, for the first time in its run, HIMYM is starting to show its age. Seven years in, that's more than understandable, and while it might be a bit harsh to say it's "jumped the shark," it's definitely treading water and the fin is visible. Perhaps I'm guilty of glossing over some of the minor issues with Seasons 5 and 6 in lieu of praising all that went right earlier, but now those creative hiccups are now starting to become a big deal. The biggest of which is a previously uneven storyline reappearing, causing logic and humor go out the window in favor of pandering to fans. It's not so much what happens or doesn't this season, but how creators Carter Bays and Craig Thomas mishandle it. Characters in situation comedies have to grow and as they do it isn't uncommon for the creative direction of the series to suffer both inevitable and avoidable growing pains, and that's never been more evident than during this season, which is easily its weakest yet. They may still get over that hump and go out strong but they've officially made some head-scratching choices before possibly getting there.
|After losing a bet, Barney is forced to wear "The Ducky Tie"|
|Barney and his new stripper girlfriend Quinn (guest star Becki Newton)|
We already know that none of Ted's relationships will work until he meets The Mother and now we know that none of his friends' will either. The inevitability of his situation is understandable since that's the show's hook, but now we know a whole other outcome, so the writers made double work for themselves since they'll have to make the "how" of Barney and Robin's eventual union interesting too. Ted's quest to find "The One" is really pushed to the sidelines this season in favor of this as his only true story arc comes with the surprising return of one of the show's most beloved characters, ex-girlfriend Victoria (Ashley Williams). Her brief comeback in what's arguably the season's best episode, "The Ducky Tie," is a welcome one that also feels essential in moving Ted toward being ready to meet The Mother. If there's one thing all longtime viewers of the series can agree on, it's that Victoria is the closest to being a perfect match for him and that Williams has always been delightful in the role. That storyline doesn't feel manufactured, nor does Ted's desire to sort out his still lingering feelings for Robin.
|Guest star Katie Holmes as "The Slutty Pumpkin"|
Given Jason Segel's rapidly increasing film commitments over the past year or so, it comes as little surprise that Marshall and Lily see a a bit less face time this season, although I definitely wasn't expecting them to be displaced from the group altogether. The show's always been at its weakest when the writers try to "spin off" one or more of the characters and introduce different settings. It's fairly obvious early on that the Eriksens in the suburbs just isn't going to take so the whole storyline becomes a matter of sitting through a bunch of plot contrivances and forced humor until the characters realize it. In a way, this is a compliment since these five actors work so well together that having two of them suddenly take leave for a while it becomes crippling. Luckily, this is realized by the end of the season, but not until we've had to sit through the clumsy housewarming episode, "The Burning Beekeeper," which plays with time and location to tell what feels like a complicated, extended joke lacking a punchline. There's also so much of guest star Chris Elliot as Lily's selfish, board game creator dad Mickey that he may as well have been bumped up to a series regular. He's funny in small doses, but the character gets grating after a while, especially since we know the redemptive arc that usually accompanies each of his appearances.
|Episode 7.15 ("The Burning Beekeeper")|
The less said about the messy two-part finale, "The Magician's Code," the better. Besides featuring the birth of Baby Marvin "Waitforit" Eriksen and an eventually pointless proposal, they squander all the goodwill Victoria brought at the season's start by bringing her back under circumstances so ill-conceived I almost mistook it for a dream sequence. It pains me to say Season 7 is the series' most uneven yet because even with all its flaws it's still more enjoyable than just about any sitcom on the air and I wouldn't dare consider jumping ship before it reaches its conclusion, whenever that may be. Better news is that it's still capable of producing surprises and laughs with emotional episodes like "Symphony of Illumination," which shockingly delivers the news that Robin can't have children and features Cobie Smulders' all-time best performance. At this point it seems most of the notes the show is hitting have been dramatic rather than comedic, which is expected as everything starts to wrap up. What's even more certain is that HIMYM needs to end soon.
|Robin receives shocking news in "Symphony of Illumination"|