By D.G. McCabe
Endings are hard enough to get right, but the nature of television makes it harder. The length of a show is rarely up to the creative team, and the runs of series are often too long or too short. Even some of the best series finales were flawed. Here are some examples of what I mean:
– The West Wing wrapped up at a logical time and in a satisfying way, but only after an unexplained time skip and a creative decline.
– ER had a great series finale, but only because it wrapped up its current stories the week before, brought its old characters back, and had the series finale it should have had four years earlier.
– Star Trek: The Next Generation is probably the gold standard for series finales, but even it had to intentionally leave the door wide open for the TNG movies.
I could go on, but let’s talk about last night’s How I Met Your Mother Series finale. After some thought I’ve come around to being okay with the premise of the ending but not with the execution.
I’m disappointed that Tracy (Cristin Milioti) and Ted (Josh Radnor) didn’t get to grow old together, but I’m more okay with it than I thought I would be. First, we can’t take the premise of the show at face value – there is no way that Ted is actually telling his kids every detail we see on TV in real time. My interpretation is that the Bob Saget voice is Ted’s inner monologue. Bob Saget is a perfect choice for this, since who’s better at rambling than the guy who played Danny Tanner? Anyway, for the most part, we’re not privy to the 30-45 minute story he’s actually telling his kids.
The kids are bored because they already know the story of how Ted met their mother. They stay because he’s not telling him that story, but rather the story about how he dated Robin (Cobie Smulders), on/again off/again, for nine years before he met their mother. They might know that Robin and Barney (Neil Patrick Harris) were married at one point, but they probably don’t know about Ted and Robin’s history.
He’s not telling his kids this story for no reason – he’s stalling for time. He’s Ted, so he’s wondering if the universe has already given him his great romance. After all, if dating Robin in his late twenties didn’t work out, why would it work out in his early fifties? Shouldn’t he just throw this idea out the window? He’s indecisive and scared because Ted, without Tracy, is indecisive and scared.
Thankfully his kids are more Tracy’s than Ted’s, and call him out on his rambling. They’re in their late teens, but even they can see that their father is a lonely guy. If he wants to give it a try again with his close friend why not? After all, they’re both going to college soon and they want their father to be happy. Anyway, they tell him to go for it.
The premise as articulated above works for me. The execution did not. The last episode was rushed. Craig Thomas and Carter Bays should have used this season to build up to the eventual ending, but instead they wed themselves to a premise that wore thinner with every episode of the final season.
The ending itself needed at least one more scene showing why Ted would want to give it another go with Robin in their fifties. Or better, showing Robin’s point of view. It could have easily replaced one or two of the “Barney is an old creeper” scenes, which were far too numerous in this last episode.
The premise of the Barney stuff was okay. Watching him regress was sad but realistic. The pathetic divorced guy in mid life crisis mode is a familiar and predictable enough fate for a guy like Barney that they didn’t need to devote so much time to it.
Marshall (Jason Segel) and Lily’s (Alyson Hannigan) story was the opposite. By wrapping up most of their story earlier, the writers left them as background furniture in this episode. Maybe they had to work around Segel’s busy schedule though, so I can’t complain too much.
We didn’t get enough of Milioti’s Tracy, but neither did Ted. That worked for me in the end because it projected the absence to the audience. Milioti did great work this season by the way, and I’m looking forward to seeing her in other projects.
Overall, How I Met Your Mother stands alongside the best twenty or so sitcoms. It should have ended two or three seasons earlier, but the same could be said of MASH. Its ending had structural problems, but so did the last episode of Seinfeld. At its best, it accompanied Ted’s inner monologue and unreliable narration with scenes that there was no way Ted would have known about. This allowed it sketch out its characters such extensive detail so that, even when the plots were weak or repetitive, the audience kept coming back. We won’t see its like again in the near future.
(c) 2014 D.G. McCabe