I’ve been watching CBS sitcom How I Met Your Mother for more than five years now; what started off as a slightly clever dramady turned into one of the sitcom mainstays of American television, running for nine years as it followed the story of five friends trying to make it in New York. No, not friends-don’t mention Friends. The people behind this show have never heard of Friends. They didn’t know what that show was about, though maybe they caught a few episodes when the TV was on in the background. But HIMYM is nothing like Friends, when you think about it-for a start, there were SIX people on Friends. They could go on, but there’s no need, as there is literally not one similarity between their original creation and Friends. Not one.
Either way, the show came to an end on Monday night after nine seasons and many ups and downs-both in the lives of the central characters and the quality of the show. But I stuck with it and it became a regular in my weekly viewing-funny, occasionally sad, a little surreal and ultimately predictable. Told in a framing device where the central character recounts the story of how he met his children’s mother to his bemused offspring, it played off fore-knowledge, flashback and unreliable narration for pathos. And after watching the finale, it’s safe to say I’m furious with how the show chose to throw nine years back in it’s audience’s face while prancing around blowing raspberries and stealing their cigarettes.
I’ll try to avoid spoilers here, but suffice to say the show indulged in a spectacular amount of flashforwards for it’s final hour-and in doing so managed to undermine the relationships they spent so long building, both this season and for nine years. Much of the show revolved around main character Ted’s relationship with (female) Robin-we knew from the off that she was not the mother, but Ted frequently found himself drifting back into the fantasy that she might be The One. Eventually, he began to slowly, painfully let go of that belief and open himself to someone different-someone, probably, better. A brave and interesting way to handle a will they/won’t they, it was believable and felt like an earned growth of character as he finally let her go for the last time.
I think what makes a great sitcom finale is the idea that life goes on. Friends and Frasier did it best; you got the sense that everyone’s lives were going to continue, but you just wouldn’t watch them living them any more. How I Met Your Mother lay everything out with no room for argument-here is exactly what happened to everyone for the rest of their lives. If you don’t like it-tough. There’s no room for speculation. If we want to repeal character development, major relationships, and key plot points, we will. There was a distinct feeling on the ending being decided on years in advance-and it was, with some character’s reactions having to be recorded within the first few years of the show’s inception- and the writers found themselves stuck with it, attempting to steer the careering plot lorry away from the edge of a cliff they knew they couldn’t avoid.
Some people have argued that by making unexpected (and unpopular) choices, the writers have moved HIMYM towards some semblance of reality. What they forgot was that we don’t come here for reality-we come here for glossy fiction. You can’t feed us exotic eclairs for almost nine years then act surprised when we spit out soggy toast and margarine-nine seasons of charming, witty fiction matched with an hour of sad, depressing, unlikely and unguessable stabs at reality left many viewers (including me) feeling cheated. The finale was not the ending to the show I’d been watching for five years-so I’ve decided to erase the ending from my memory and enjoy it at it’s-entirely unrealistic-best.