Thoughts on the “How I Met Your Mother” Finale

Sometimes you just connect with a TV show. Something about it just works for you, even if it’s not always perfect, even if it sometimes frustrates you. It just clicks for you. There are only three or four TV shows in the last decade that I’ve really loved like that. Lost, Mad Men, maybe The West Wing… and How I Met Your Mother.

In fact, there’s no show I’ve ever watched from beginning to end as long as How I Met Your Mother.

It seemed promising even before it premiered: a sitcom featuring an endearing Buffy alum, a former child star and theater performer who was rumored to be gay, a cult TV actor — and a cool storytelling gimmick to boot? Sign me up.

It hooked me from the start. Unlike other sitcoms, it was unabashedly heartfelt and sincere, with a romantic, idealistic main character — who, refreshingly, was a man. The unconventional, witty flashback narrative structure, the quick scene cuts, the Lost-like mini-mysteries… it all pulled me in. Not to mention the infectiously catchy theme music.

Surely it would be canceled, just like every other quirky show that was too good for TV, like Wonderfalls. In the first few years it was always on the bubble. But miraculously, it survived — for a whole season, then two seasons, then three, and eventually, improbably, it became a hit.

In later years it went downhill. Barney went from endearingly irritating to repellent, Ted got pompous, the plots got ridiculous, the jokes got crude. Ted fell for an annoying environmental activist. I never cared about Barney and Robin as a couple.

But even when I didn’t like the show, I still loved it. It was still special to me. I still loved Ted and Marshall and Lily. There were still inventive episodes and moments that made me laugh. Never for a moment did I consider giving it up. It made me look forward to Monday nights. (It was the rare long-running show that aired the same night during its entire run.)

And then… last night.

This entire final season was problematic and misconceived from the start. The writers brought in the wonderful Cristin Milioti at the very end of last season, only to almost completely waste her. After eight years of buildup, there was no way the mother could live up to the hype — but miraculously, she did. She lived up to all expectations. She was perfect casting, the perfect match for Ted. Her few scenes with Josh Radnor were magnetic. How often does something actually succeed like that? Their scenes were tantalizing hints of the season that could have been.

But instead the writers squandered this terrific gift they’d been given, all in the service of a rigid, preconceived, off-key ending, not to mention an interminable season-long wedding weekend for a couple that, after all the buildup, got divorced in the very next episode.

Up until the ending, I actually enjoyed the finale. It was a nice tribute, with lots of callbacks to various running jokes over the course of the series. As we saw the characters’ future lives, I felt happy that we didn’t really have to say goodbye to them, reassured that they’d continue on without us. There were a couple of moments that got me teary: Robin and Lily arguing in the eerily empty apartment, Marshall telling the young guys at MacLaren’s about what a special place that bar was.

Barney and Robin’s divorce was shocking, but I went with it. But then — Barney getting a woman pregnant? Maybe it was supposed to be ironic that after years of consequence-free sex, he finally had A Consequence, but it seemed inconsistent with the spirit of the show: he never got an STD, but he got someone pregnant? (And his announcement of impending fatherhood — that would have been a better moment for Marshall’s Final Slap.)  His emotional breakdown in front of his new baby daughter was sweet, but too sudden and rushed for me. And we never see the baby’s mother?

And Ted. Are we really supposed to believe that Ted Mosby, the crazy hopeless romantic, would put off marrying the love of his life for five years? That he wouldn’t immediately marry her upon learning she was pregnant?

And then — just as had been hinted at — we learned that she was sick. I hoped it wouldn’t happen, but it did, and it hit me in the gut. Right then I broke into sniffles and tears and little stifled sobs. I was so sad that I had trouble focusing on their very first conversation in the next scene.

And then, insult to injury. Instead of getting to mourn this wonderful woman whom we’ve been conditioned over the last nine years to adore and idolize and worship — because our protagonist kept telling us how wonderful she was — we see her just tossed aside, and suddenly the kids and Ted are all in love with… the emotionally immature Robin? Seriously?

Yes, the characters had six years to mourn and accept the mother’s death and move on. But we didn’t. It was jolting, tone-deaf and cruel. Yes, it’s just a TV show, but it was cruel. I can’t imagine how much worse it would have been if they hadn’t hinted at her death a few weeks ago.

I guess this worked on paper. And given these characters and their history, I can see how it could have ended this way. But it didn’t feel real. TV characters are different from characters on paper. They’re played by flesh-and-blood human beings, actors who either have chemistry or don’t. Whatever chemistry Ted and Robin might have had early in the series (and they had some) had long dissipated over years of drawn-out plot points and character developments. Ted and Tracy – they had the real thing. Alan Sepinwall has the best analysis I’ve read of the finale so far: the writers should have seen what was organically happening, adjusted their plans, and gone with it. Instead they gave us an ending that was an emotional betrayal. Fan-service pandering is lame, but giving your audience a huge middle finger is worse.

This all might sound overwrought. I know it’s just a TV show. But it’s a show I cared about, with characters I cared about, for nine years.

Somewhere in an alternate universe, someone has recut this season and deleted some scenes near the end. Robin finds love and happiness with a great guy. Ted marries Tracy, and they grow old together.

In my dreams, I guess.

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