Looking Askance at the “How I Met Your Mother” Finale (Spoilers!)

(Big spoilers ahoy! For the whole series! And it won’t make sense to you if you haven’t seen the show!)

So… that turned out to be pretty divisive.

A lot of television series that go on for too many seasons run into the problem of a canon that grew randomly limiting the choices that can be made. This is what doomed the final season and finale of How I Met Your Mother.

HIMYM is a great show, and is one of my favorite sit-coms due to its daring format and great cast. Throughout its run, the creators and their writing staff really tried a lot of bold things and succeeded with them more often than not. Since the story is framed as a flashback, they were able to do a lot with that idea, including some seriously great non-linear storytelling within episodes. The actors’ chemistry worked. Neil Patrick Harris swaggered across the screen like a randy god of comedy. They managed a balance of hilarity with occasionally poignancy that worked very well most of the time. But the finale…

I can see why some people liked it. If you were a Ted/Robin ‘shipper, then you probably found it satisfying. I respected the choices that were made for the finale and even the final season, but feel that the showrunners painted themselves into a corner in several respects.

In the early seasons, Robin and Ted’s on-again-off-again romance did one of two things to viewers: made them want the two to get together, or made them really, really not want them to get together. I’ve been in the latter camp since about season 3 or 4 (but definitely by the time that Robin and Barney dated). I never thought the match made sense after a certain point. At first, Ted and Robin created balance for each other. Their early breakups were about people in their late 20s being unsure of themselves. But later attempts a reconciliation smacked of settling, and it felt like that to me even at the final scene of the series. But look, the writers had to get Ted/Robin back together or they would have created a deeply tragic figure out of Robin due to her extreme loneliness. Her marriage to Barney didn’t work, she was unable to have children, and she had become even more of a cat lady (but with dogs) than she was originally.

The Robin problem lead to something even weirder, particularly in the context of a sit-com about meeting the mother of your children: they had to kill off the mother.

Who we just met! And really liked!

Rather than the interminable lead-up to Robin and Barney’s doomed marriage, I would have liked to see a final season that started out with meeting the mother, followed by some great episodes integrating her into the group, and then she comes out at the end and finally tells Ted to stops telling their kids all of his crazy stories. But the writers went the way of something more literary – too literary for the sit-com format, I think. And the whole thing just didn’t feel right. Why? Because in hindsight the character of Robin ultimately drove the writing of the later seasons and the finale more than the mother and Ted did. The show if not called “How I Met Your ‘Aunt’ Robin”. The scene that stood out the most to me in the finale was the one between Robin and Lily in the empty apartment. The tragic nature of Robin’s situation overpowered anything the writers did to try to moderate it.

Once the writers painted themselves in to that corner, they just had to build a door where they could based on the canon they’d created. It’s just too bad a comedy of this quality throughout most of the run turned out to be so, so bittersweet.