Warning: if you've not yet seen HIMYM's series finale, here be SPOILERS.
So - How I Met Your Mother is over - and the finale couldn't have been more divisive if it'd tried. We laughed, we cried, we threw bottles of whiskey at the screen; we praised the creators of the show, and cursed their names, and felt all of the emotions. What we weren't able to do, however, is see the dark secret that lies beneath the surface of the finale - a secret that goes right back to the very first episode of the show:
How I Met Your Mother is Full House.
I don't mean that it's essentially the same kind of show - that honor would go to the UK's excellent Coupling, which in turn was essentially Friends with British accents. How I Met Your Mother is, hidden underneath, a Full House prequel. It's been re-imagined, but under the surface it's as close to its original source material as to he American Office, Sanford and Son and Three's Company.
It isn't interested in anthropomorphic dog humor, the Olsen twins or John Stamos singing - but when it looked at Full House, it saw a story that had missed out the most interesting part - how the hell Bob Saget got there.
And so Carter Bays and Craig Thomas, HIMYM's creators, told that story. The story of how Danny Tanner met the mother, and of all the women he slept with along the way.
And kids, to tell you that story, I have to go right back to the beginning.
Bob Saget is Ted (and Ted is Danny Tanner)
Think back to the very first line of HIMYM. ¨Kids,¨ Ted begins, ¨I'm going to tell you an incredible story. The story of how I met your mother.¨ Thing is, Josh Radnor, who stars as Ted, doesn't appear until the next scene. Somebody else - somebody unseen - reads those lines. Somebody who sounds oddly like Bob Saget.
But you knew that already - he's done plenty of press about his role, so it's no secret. Presumably the creators, needing a parental voice-over, just hired the nearest beloved father figure that came to hand.
And yet: flashforward nine seasons. Those kids on that sofa look exactly the same - and that isn't CGI. As Lyndsy Fonseca and David Henrie, who played them, revealed to People, they filmed their part of the finale during the first season, because of, yknow, puberty.
So remember the finale? The emotionally crippling one where they reveal that it's been 6 years since their mother died?
That was written nine years ago.
Carter Bays has confirmed that the series' tragic close was ¨the ending [they] conceived when [they] conceived the show 10 years ago.¨ Having envisioned a show all about a man who would ultimately lose his wife telling his children how he met her, Bays and Thomas cast Bob Saget in the part - the most famous widower in modern sitcoms. Which would be simply a nice touch - subtle foreshadowing of an ending potentially years away - if it wasn't for one thing:
Ted, as played by Josh Radnor, is Danny Tanner, just with a better sex life and an all-consuming love of architecture.
The inherent, series spanning joke about both men is that they are nerdy, 'dad joke' making father figures. They're both the same archetype within their respective series - 'the dad'. Bays and Thomas wrote a part strikingly similar to Danny Tanner, and then cast Bob Saget in half of the part. And that's not all:
Ted's friends are all variations on a Full House theme
Barney Stinson isn't Jesse Katsopolis, yet both are ladies men with a flair for the grand gesture who by their series' end learn the value of family. Marshall Eriksen isn't Joey Gladstone, but they're both pun spewing aspiring stand up comedians who struggle with a work-life balance, yet ultimately believe family is the most important thing.
They're all variations on a theme - oddly specific archetypes that together blend into the same basic friendship dynamic. Add in the alternatingly hard-nosed, professional TV personality (Robin) and loving, slightly lunatic mother and wife (Lily) and you can spot Becky Donaldson too. For some time Danny dates a woman named Vicky Larson. Sadly, their relationship doesn't work out. For Danny, family is the most important thing. For Vicky, her career. As a News Anchor. In New York. Just like Robin. The relationship even begins six years after he was widowed.
The entire run of HIMYM plays out this way - alternating variations of exactly the sort of people Danny Tanner keeps around him throughout Full House, just living through an earlier stage in their lives.
Now for a brief pause to remember a gloriously meta moment involving no pineapples whatsoever
Dave Coulier (Uncle Joey) is totally in HIMYM, in the episode "P.S. I Love You". Using his classic catchphrase.
Future Ted's response - ¨I always liked that line.¨
How I Met Your Mother includes hundreds of moments like that: throwaway gags told by Ted to his kids as part of a grand, epic story of his life. And yet there are strangely important moments that he misses out.
As part of the frantic montage of Ted's key life events in the series finale, we watch him at his dying wife's bedside, and we see him tell his children, six years later, how he met her. What we don't see is Ted heading home for the first time after his wife has died. We don't see him helping his young children to move on with their lives. We don't see, at all, his friends' reaction to the loss.
For a show filled with emotional moments like that, and in an episode all about the consequences of friends growing apart, that moment, when every one of Ted's closest friends will have come through for him - every one of them is an 'uncle' or 'aunt' to the kids, and obviously a big part of their lives - is curiously absent.
After Marshall's father dies, the show spends several episodes showing how his friends react, and help him through. It seems reasonable to assume that they would do at least the same for Ted. The show doesn't show that moment, though, since that moment, where a group of friends come together to help one of them get through the loss of his wife, is where the prequel ends, and the original series takes back over.
And that, kids, is how the story of how Danny Tanner and Ted Mosby are one and the same man, and how he met - and lost - your mother. It just took 27 years, and two series, to tell.