March 31, 2014

THE SKED Series Finale Review: “How I Met Your Mother”


Since this is posting before the West Coast airing ends, SPOILER ALERT.

…although I’m not sure how much of a Spoiler it is when the Internet has been expecting it for weeks.  Perhaps the biggest surprise in the series finale of HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER was that series creators Carter Bays and Craig Thomas, who of course wrote the finale (which of course was directed by Pam Fryman, who’s directed nearly every one of its 200+ episodes), did exactly what the “Vesuvius” episode a few weeks ago implied that they were going to do.  No fake-outs, no Aha! sudden twists, no “you see what we did there?” reversals–they indeed had the Mother die (Cristin Milioti), after a very happy long engagement to Ted (Josh Radnor) and some precious years of marriage, and the entire series was revealed to have been the set-up not so much for the story of how Ted met her, but how he would ultimately end up after all with Robin (Cobie Smulders), who seemed to be his soulmate all the way back in the pilot.  Even Ted’s children, in a scene that was filmed years ago, before Lyndsy Fonseca and David Henrie became adults, were rolling their eyes at how much Ted was deluding himself when he thought he was telling them the story of how their parents met.

So was it all a cheat?  Not on the Lost level–because nothing ever could be–but it did make the entire concept of the series into something of a trick, and in a sense this last season, in particular, became a giant mislead.  After spending every one of its Season 9 episodes on the marriage of Robin and Barney (Neil Patrick Harris), the show confirmed what many viewers had felt since the very start of their serious relationship:  they were never meant for each other.  The characters divorced after 3 years, and they were estranged long before that (the strain was already showing in the first post-wedding weekend sequence), and while it’s true that many amazing wedding weekends lead to couples who split up, we don’t usually have to spend a year of our lives watching them.  Bays and Thomas also side-stepped the fact that they were never able to make the Robin/Barney romance convincing by blaming the break-up on Robin’s heavy travel as a network news reporter.  There’s also a very legitimate question to be asked as to whether Ted ending up with Robin after 25 years–the last 15 of them seemingly not even seeing each other very much–was the “happy ending” the show was contorting itself to reach.  (It would have been happier if he could have remained with the Mother, but acknowledging that would have required a level of ambivalence the series wasn’t willing to touch.)

As an episode, the finale was remarkably straightforward by HIMYM standards, proceeding through the years that followed the wedding with relatively few flashbacks or diversions, but there was one exception:  the script postponed the actual meeting between Ted and the Mother until the last possible moment, just before the end of the show.  You could understand the strategy–this was, after all, what the entire series was supposed to be leading to–but Thomas and Bays outsmarted themselves, because so much of the hour up to that scene was clearly about Robin’s availability for Ted that by the time the intended climax was reached, it felt like a footnote.

Nevertheless, it was a sweet, marvelously written scene, a reminder not just of what a charming series HIMYM has been, but of what a good job Bays and Thomas did in casting Milioti as the Mother, giving her the incredibly tough task of finding a place in an ensemble that was 8 years old when she arrived.

A lot of the finale was very satisfying, providing answers to questions that had lasted the length of the show’s run (the Mother’s name was… Tracy), as well as many, many callbacks to earlier days.  The yellow umbrella was there, of course (the fact that Ted and Tracy turned out to have the same initials figured into their first conversation), but so was Robots vs. Wrestlers, Ted’s Hanging Chad Halloween costume, and in the final scene, the blue french horn.  Marshall (Jason Segel) finally became a judge, which was expected, but it was more of a surprise that Barney became a loving dad (by an unseen mother–presumably enough Mothers had been met to fill the series quota–whom he called “Number 31” because she was the last conquest of his perfect month), and of a daughter no less; the idea that this would finally change his attitude toward women made emotional sense.  The women were somewhat less well treated:  Lily (Alyson Hannigan) didn’t seem to have much going on in her life post-wedding aside from supporting Marshall and her friends, and Robin was given a virtual kennel full of dogs, presumably to make up for her loveless and childless existence.  There was a rather odd, if sadly realistic, insistence on stressing how the gang didn’t see each other except for “the big moments” (and not always then) as parenthood and age pulled them apart.

How I Met Your Mother wasn’t world-changing television, but it was more ambitious than most of the other network comedies of this era, and at its best it beautifully balanced laughs, sentiment and an impressive array of structural tricks, catch phrases and motifs.  It hung around a season or two beyond its peak, mostly because CBS needed it (and unfortunately for the network, it still does), yet to the end it was worth watching.

On the other hand, How I Met Your Dad, the pilot Thomas and Bays have cooking (with co-writer Emily Spivey) for next season?  Even with Greta Gerwig?  We could have waited a season or two for that–at least.


About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."