The Atlantic used my original headline for this post before I could: “What TV Will Lose When How I Met Your Mother Goes Off the Air.” Kevin Craft’s farewell to the Fan Favorite CBS sitcom covers all the reasons the show lasted 9 seasons, but totally ignores one of its biggest distinctions — the one I lock in on in almost every episode.
When the show premiered in 2005, I thought How I Met Your Mother was just another Friends clone: five or six smart, pretty, white New Yorkers share their wacky lives. But the mystery of, well, how the man living in 2030 met his wife in 2014 reeled me in, with millions of others, week after week. The episode on Monday, March 31, 2014 will be the HIMYM finale.
I’ve been searching my brain and the Internet for another TV character quite like Robin Scherbatsky, played to perfection by Cobie Smulders. At first, it seemed she was certainly going to be The Mother, but of course, she wasn’t. Besides, Robin never wanted children and said so. Often.
What makes the character of Robin so very rare on television, and so very, very real, is that she never wanted children…until she didn’t have the choice. The decision to be a NotMom was made once and for all, but not by her. The intensity of her reactions catch her off guard and shake up what she thought she knew about herself. She realizes she’s childless by choice, and by chance, too.
Several writers have written here about the moment they were told the time to decide about children was over. Shirley Nelson shared in her guest post, “As soon as that choice no longer existed, I resisted the shift in my status and felt resentful. Those feelings lasted a couple of years.” Movies go deep like that. Sitcoms? Not so much.
A 2011 Slate review noted that HIMYM’s Robin, like Whitney Cummings on her short-lived NBC comedy, didn’t want kids but loved to shoot guns and swear with gusto: “These shows are implicitly saying: Of course only a woman who’s not really feminine wouldn’t want to be a mom.”
“Symphony of Illumination“, the episode launching Robin’s HIMYM plot twist, was well named and exceptionally well written. When viewers (and Robin) learned that a pregnancy scare was actually symptoms revealing infertility, I don’t know how it was in anybody else’s house, but I was riveted to the TV.
At the time, Robin’s best friend, Lily, is, oh by the way, pregnant. Of course, it’s Lily who’s determined to know what’s behind Robin’s low mood, and Robin’s first instinct is to lie. She ‘confesses’ sadness that she’ll never be an Olympic pole vaulter.
Robin: I guess this pole vaulting thing is kind of hitting me.
Lily: Did you really want to be a pole vaulter?
Robin: No. I was always adamantly against a pole vaulting career, even though it’s what most women want.
Lily: Most women want to be a pole vaulter?
Robin: In Canada, it’s very big up there. You know, meet a nice guy, get married, vault some poles. But I never wanted that. Of course it’s one thing not to want something, it’s another to be told you can’t have it. I guess it’s just nice knowing that you could someday do it if you changed your mind. But now, all of a sudden that door is closed.
Eventually, of course, Robin reveals her truth to all of her friends. But, it’s clear; especially when marriage is on her horizon, that she is changed. Tough girl, hockey-loving, gun-toting Robin is a little broken, showing feelings of unworthiness where bravado used to get her through.
Through this plot arc, Robin’s character reflected the experience of thousands of women who had really never seen themselves on TV before. With the end of How I Met Your Mother, surprisingly, TV will lose a little reality.