There are times when a story is so good, so well-told, so full of fun and laughter that you just don't want it to end. That was the first five seasons of How I Met Your Mother. But then there comes a point at which nearly all stories outstay their welcome, causing you to glance at your watch to confirm just how much time has passed since it began and think about just how much longer it'll be before it finally concludes. Now, as the show enters its ninth and final season of broadcast, and its eighth season rolls out onto DVD, it has become clear that HIMYM has definitely made the transition from the former to the latter. As season eight unfolds in the oddly titled "The Yellow Umbrella Edition" DVD package (odd because the yellow umbrella barely even makes an appearance this season), while the end is definitely in sight, it still feels like the audience is being strung-along for the sake of padding it out as much as possible.
It was made clear from the first episode of the series that this journey to discover how "Mother" was met would be a long one, but as long as the laughs and clever situations continued, we didn't really mind. However, since jumping the shark in season six, the show has gotten less clever and less funny with each passing season.
Season eight is a prime example of a once-great sitcom in decline. Inventive new situations are traded for numerous call-backs to earlier, better ones. Kyle MacLachlan returns as "The Captain," but without anything as amusing to do as in his previous appearances. Marshall's "Brunch Bro" Brad returns too, as does Chris Elliott as Lily's dad, also with milquetoast storylines that fall flat. Whether it's the return of the Coat-Check Girl, "Boats Boats Boats" Becky, Robots Vs. Wrestlers, The Bro Code, Barney's Playbook or Ted returning to Victoria for another doomed-to-fail relationship, the show seems to hellbent to make viewers recall what they enjoyed previously in the show but without making much of an effort to continue that enjoyment.
That's not to say that season eight doesn't have its highlights. The revelation of Robin Sparkles' darker side as Robin Daggers in "P.S. I Love You" is on-par with some of the series best episodes, and the realistic portrayal of Marshall and Lily as frustrated, sleep-deprived first-time parents is refreshingly honest compared with standard "life continues as normal after having a baby" sitcom writing.
But there are also many grim reminders that despite the fact that the actors continue to give great performances on the show, the material they have to work with suffers. Take for example the episodes where Barney dresses a dog in a suit to act as his new wingman or Ted hallucinates time-travelling versions of himself and Barney (that look identical despite being 20-years separated in age). Some episodes are bludgeoningly padded out with situations like a college acquaintance of Lily and Marshall's that obsesses about them and hacky sack or when the entire gang tries to one-up each other with stories of their supposed juvenile delinquency.
As if to throw a bone to viewers, at the end of the final episode of season eight, the titular mother's face is finally shown (and, oddly enough, she looks like an exact melding of the show's two leading ladies, Allison Hannigan and Cobie Smulders). The promised "meeting" of her will occur sometime in season nine, but, for all intents and purposes, viewers have already been made aware of where are how she and Ted will meet as of season eight.
In addition to all 23 episodes of season eight, The Yellow Umbrella Edition DVD also comes with deleted scenes, a gag reel, commentary on two episodes, a set tour, the full "P.S. I Love You" music video and a featurette about filming the season's best episode, "P.S. I Love You," though the featurette itself is hardly entertaining.
Nine years is a long time to set up two characters coming into contact with each other for the first time. Let's hope the payoff is worth it, because the diminished chuckles and lackluster plotlines of season eight are making me take some pretty long glances at my watch.