After consistently being popular with millennials for all nine seasons, sitcom How I Met Your Mother ends tonight. On the surface, this show about a twentysomething friend group living in New York City seems unremarkable. Yet with 9.47 million fans per episode in season 1 and 9.02 million average in season 8, it has a consistency the New York Daily News calls “almost spooky”–the kind of success “that doesn’t happen on television”. CBS has already ordered a pilot for a stand-alone spin-off, How I Met Your Dad.
So, what is it about How I Met Your Mother that keeps people, millennials coming back for more another round? It all boils down to our warped sense of optimism. Read on for more!
Uncertain present/Guaranteed happy ending
The genius of How I Met Your Mother is its simultaneous balancing act between present uncertainty and a bright future.
Sure, as a whole, sitcoms tend to err on the side of upbeat. But How I Met Your Mother is one of the first shows that guarantees a fairytale ending from the first episode. The majority of the show follows hopeless romantic Ted as he searches for love in the Big Apple in the present day. However, the show is framed retrospectively by Future Ted (voiced by Bob Saget) in 2030 telling his teenage kids the story of “how I met your mother” (get it?). Each episode starts and ends with Saget, reminding the viewer that, no matter how lost or confused the gang is, their stories will end “happily ever after”.
Now, let’s look at millennials.
Millennials are the most optimistic of any generation alive today. Seriously. According to a 2014 PEW Research study, 49% say “the country’s best years are ahead”–and that’s not just those rose-rimmed glasses of youth. When Boomers were asked the same question in a 1974 Gallup poll at the same age, they were approximately 20% less confident in America’s future than their parents’ and grandparents’ generations. Not to mention the fact that Time reported 89% of us are confident that we’ll eventually get what we want out of life.
How can millennials possibly feel this optimistic when we’re also the first generation in the modern era to have “higher levels of student loan debt, poverty, unemployment and lower levels of wealth and personal income than [our] two immediate predecessor generations (GenXers and Boomers) had at the same lifecycle stage“?
Yes, things look grim. But it’s almost impossible not to be optimistic when you think of the doors that technology has opened for us. Look at it this way:
Any question millennials have ever had about anything ever can be answered with a Google search. We don’t even have to wait for a computer to ask, we can even do it climbing a mountain if our smartphone gets reception. With social media, we talk, collaborate and listen to the thoughts of anyone in the world, including our favorite rock stars, industry leaders, the Dalai Lama or even the President of the United States. We maintain social networks of hundreds of people, some we may never have met in person or seen in years. Any passion, any interest, any job, any art form, any skill, any business, we can pursue with the cost of an internet connection. And what do we think of all these revolutionary developments? Nothing. It’s entirely ordinary–we’ve grown up with them.
We know our future will be wonderful–even legendary. We just don’t know how we’ll get there yet.
That’s why How I Met Your Mother truly resonates with millennials. Ted struggles with a crisis of unmet expectations: he dates fruitlessly in search of his perfect soulmate, the “Mother”, and worries that he’ll never reach his full romantic potential. However, the viewers are never too worried; Bob Saget, aka Future Ted, is never far to reassure us that Ted will meet the Mother, his expectations will be reached and his full potential as a husband and father will be realized.
Like Ted, millennials are optimistic about the future–how could we not be?– but struggle with the day-to-day realities of the Great Recession. In our own crisis of unmet expectations, there’s nothing more reassuring that the voice of former Full House dad reminding us every week that optimism is justified.
Thanks for reading and enjoy the show, Lindsey Kirchoff.