Last Forever Part One

HIMYM and the Value of an End Game

You can’t make ’em all happy. And that couldn’t be more true when it comes to the finale for a TV series, in this case, How I Met Your Mother. 

While HIMYM has a lot of the makings of your typical sitcom — young, attractive white people living in a beautiful New York City apartment who seem to spend roughly 60 percent of their time together — there’s a lot it can be commended for. It was cinematically ambitious, bringing the multi-camera sitcom to new heights. It helped perfect the inside-joke brand of comedy, with an impressive series of recurring jokes and gags that are best appreciated by the longtime viewer. (Slap bet, anyone?)

But most of all, it had a pretty unique structure, opening with a future Ted Mosby (inexplicably voiced by Bob Saget) recalling to his children the story of how he met their mother. Augmented by flash-forwards and flashbacks, as well as a few instances of unreliable narration (“sandwiches”), and HIMYM ranks among only a few comedies with similarly unique thematic structures. (I’d lump it in with The Office’s mockumentary format as well as 30 Rock’s meta show-within-a-show structure.)

(That’s not to say it’s perfect. Its main character, Ted Mosby, spent much of his nine seasons either throwing himself a pity party for being single or being a jerk to the women he dated. Quite often, he was a really unlikeable main character. But that’s another story for another time.)

HIMYM is also notable as a rare example of a show with an endgame in mind from the get-go. When filming the pilot, which shows Mosby’s children attentively listening to their father’s tale, producers also shot the ending to keep the teenage actors’ appearances consistent. As the series progressed, this nugget of knowledge became a piece of HIMYM lore.

But after Monday’s finale, I was left with a question: Is it a good thing to have a definitive end in mind for a TV show?

Before the finale, I would have undoubtedly said yes. While Lost was lauded as an rich mystery, its baffling ending have left many wondering if it was always intended to be an intricate weave of flashbacks, forwards and sideways universes…or just lazy story writing. Dexter similarly started out with high hopes, but after an amazing fourth season, the show took a sharp decline before ending with a jarring “twist,” if you can even call it that, one that was reportedly created to satisfy Showtime executives more than the story or, more importantly, the fans.

Having an endgame proved to be a gift and a curse for HIMYM. While the writers accomplished what they set out to do, it came at cost by undermining the characters they so carefully developed over nine seasons.

The prime examples: Robin and Barney. As the seasons passed, we watched a relationship blossom and solidify between them; they were presented as soul mates and equals, people who could understand and change each other for the better. When compared to her two main paramours, Robin had far more in common with Barney on both superficial (They’re both Canadian! They both like dark liquor and cigars!) and deeper-level issues (seeing eye-to-eye on having no children) than she ever did with Ted — the guy who smothered her with affection, frequently misunderstood her and, most seriously, wanted children when she did not.

As a couple, they overcame a lot. They risked their friendship with each other (and with Ted) by attempting a relationship, they dealt with the aftermath when it didn’t work out, they watched each other move on, they pined for each other even when involved with other people. And they overcame their own stubbornness that prevented them from being truly vulnerable with each other. But finally, with a rooftop proposal, Season 9 took place over the span of one weekend: the weekend of Robin and Barney’s hard-fought wedding.

But in minutes, the finale shattered all the work to build Robin and Barney as a credible couple. Barney, the reformed playboy-turned-husband, was once again made into Mr. Wrong. (But this is hastily fixed by giving him a daughter, so everything’s cool, you guys!)

Similarly, Season 9 finally saw Ted meet Tracy, his future wife and the mother of his children. And, just as quickly as Robin and Barney’s marriage dissolves, so too does Ted’s relationship as Tracy is unceremoniously killed off to make way for the ending that had been in the works since day one: A reunion between Ted and Robin.

You could say the HIMYM writers got the ending they wanted. But really, they just wrote themselves into a corner and tarnished their creation in the process.

But hey, there’s always How I Met Your Dad.