December 9, 2011

Robin on How I Met Your Mother Is Pregnant!... No Wait, Cancel That

After noticeably beginning to lose steam last year, the sitcom How I Met You Mother has been really good this year. But then, in the middle of what is probably their strongest season in years -- a season featuring the "The Blitz", "The Ducky Tie", an old video of Marshall as "Beercules", and the return of the "Slutty Pumpkin" -- the HIMYM writers nearly sabotaged the whole thing with an apparent misstep that could have ultimately meant the end of the longrunning CBS series.

In case you don't watch, what I'm talking about is the character of Robin (played by Colbie Smulders) announcing that she was pregnant. When this happened two episodes ago I had terrible visions of what lied ahead. I figured they'd keep us on the hook for weeks as we wondered whether the father was Barney (Neil Patrick Harris) or Kevin (Kal Penn.) I figured they might even throw us a retcon curve and reveal that Robin hooked up with Ted (Josh Radnor) late one night, so the baby could also be his.

Robin would then go through turmoil as she decided when and how to tell the father; Lily would be supportive and thrilled because she had someone to be pregnant with; the guys would somehow bond over this new development and the whole show would start to look an awful lot like Thirtysomething.

Fortunately none of this happened. In this week's episode, Robin declared that she wasn't pregnant after all. In fact (and we know this because the entire premise of the show is that it's one big recollection) Robin will never become pregnant because she can't have kids.

It seems the whole pregnancy thing was just a red herring. I'm not sure why the HIMYM writers went this route but the most likely answer is that they threw the show's viewers this curveball strictly for the hell of it and because they're smart enough to know the perils of sitcoms that pursue pregnancy storylines.

If television history has taught us anything, it's that when it comes to longrunning shows, pregnancy represents a "Hail Mary play" for a creative team that's running short on new ideas. What happened to Friends and Mad About You are good examples of how adding a pregnancy (and a resulting baby) to an established sitcom doesn't work to the betterment of a show. It definitely wouldn't have worked for HIMYM.

For one, pregnancy and parenting, at their core, are very serious scenarios. Making our beloved Robin Scherbatsky (formerly known as Robin Sparkles) pregnant would have killed the light-heartedness of the show. Also, a good deal of HIMYM's comedy is derived from the fact that Robin, Ted, and Barney are all single; and that they hang out together in a bar and they each have their respective romantic entanglements that often turn comically disastrous. Robin being pregnant (with Barney and Ted as possible fathers) would have ruined all that. As a mom-to-be, Robin hanging out in a bar, hooking up with assorted guys would have gone from funny to disturbing pretty quick.

Plus, part of the reason Robin's so endearing is because she repeatedly demonstrates that she hasn't got it figured out yet. We identify with that and we laugh at (and at the same time, root for) her as she stumbles through relationships and career moves. We've all had that time in our lives when we were just like Robin -- seemingly a grown up who's got it all together, but deep down we're really just confused and trying to find our way.

Sure, a pregnant Robin would have created opportunities for a few funny plotlines in future episodes, but what the writers really would have done is fundamentally and permanently altered the entire mood of the show, while simultaneously painting themselves into a corner. Because, let's face it, with a baby in tow, Robin, Ted, Barney and the rest of the gang were going to be limited in what kind of wild shenanigans they could get into. And they were going to have to change... most likely for the worst.

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