It used to be that you watched a show if you happened to be home with nothing else to do on the right day at the right time. There was the VCR in the 80s, but how reliable was that? Now that shows are available on DVD, and can be easily recorded with DVR, and are often available online, there is no reason not to watch shows from beginning to end (if a show warrants it). We are aware of continuity among episodes. As a side note, prior to the 90s, did anyone know the titles of individual episodes of shows, or that episodes even had titles?
As a result I think that television producers and writers have become more concerned with season-long or even series-long plotlines. Rather than each episode being its own one-off story where everything goes back to normal at the end (a recurring joke on The Simpsons) things change from episode to episode. I would venture to say that Friends pioneered this concept for sitcoms. Perhaps CSI did it for dramas, although I cannot claim extensive knowledge of that show or its spinoffs.
But I digress… How I Met Your Mother has a clear story arc. It’s right in the title. I took notice of this show part-way through its second season and quickly recognized that it needed to be viewed from the beginning to be fully appreciated.
The pilot opens, in the year 2030, with a voice telling two uncomfortable looking teens on a sofa that it is about to regale them with the story of “how I met your mother.” So we figure, that’s what the pilot is going to be about. Boy meets girl. Boy goes on date with girl. Boy professes love for girl way too soon. So is she “your mother”? For that matter, is the narrator “your father”?
Toward the end, Ted (the aforementioned Boy) tells Robin (aforementioned Girl), “if some hypothetical woman were to bear with me through all this, I think I’d make a damn good husband.” So our heads are dancing with visions of what the future will hold for this 20-something, good-looking, idealistic New Yorker. In his longtime friends Marshall and Lily, who have just gotten engaged, we see the possibilities. And in his smooth-talking, suit-wearing wingman Barney, we see the opposite possibilities. But we have possibilities.
The episode ends with the narrator telling the kids, “That, kids, is the story of how I met your Aunt Robin.” Irritated teenager: “I thought this was the story of how you met mom!” Narrator: “Like I said, it’s a long story.” How could you not keep watching after that?