I suppose the finale to How I Met Your Mother could’ve been worse. It could’ve been Dexter.
Actually, no. I take that back. It could never have been Dexter, and that’s part of the problem. You see, in my humble opinion, the finales of Dexter and HIMYM suffered from opposing problems. While one appeared to have no plan whatsoever, the other was too rigidly planned out.
A little back-story: I was listening to Paul and Young Ron on the radio this morning and they were interviewing Dave Barry. Ron asked Barry about his writing process, specifically whether he starts his books with the ending in mind. Barry said that as a humor writer, he rarely has to worry about such things, but that when he writes a novel, he feels that the best approach is begin by knowing where the characters are going and to then take the story in that direction.
As he was speaking, I couldn’t help but think about HIMYM.
It’s common knowledge at this point that final scene where Ted’s children encourage him to ask out “Aunt Robin” was filmed in 2005, when the show first started. The reasons seem fairly obvious too. The actress that plays Ted’s daughter is now 27. For the sake of continuity, they needed to get all the scenes involving Ted’s children out of the way from the beginning. In addition to this, though, the writers had a particular story that they wanted to tell and they had this ending planned from the first episode. Remember when we heard Ted tell his kids about how he met their Aunt Robin before even getting to the story of how he met their mother? That’s where the narrative was going from episode one.
I normally really appreciate when a show has a clear plan and it’s characters appear to be following a clear path. Breaking Bad comes to mind. That show’s got Chekhov’s gun written all over it. If there was a figurative gun on the wall early in the series, that gun was fired later on. I got the sense when watching Breaking Bad that every detail was planned and absolutely nothing was superfluous. It was beautifully written and exciting to watch. Dexter, on the other hand, was entirely superfluous by the end. Writers just gave up and stopped making sense. Believe me, I see the benefits of planning out your conclusion from the beginning.
I have a feeling, though that one major problem with HIMYM is that the series went on way longer than its writers had originally intended. They started the show with the idea that Robin and Ted needed to end up together, but they didn’t account for the very real possibility that over the course of nine years, these characters would grow and evolve to the point where that ending would no longer make sense for them. We, as the audience, spent the entire season getting ready for Robin and Barney’s wedding, after all. We rooted for them. They even had a ring bear!
Of course, it turns out that their marriage is very short lived (three years for them, but only about fifteen minutes for us, the viewing audience). I’ve read claims that fans shouldn’t be so quick to judge the finale as a flop since it is actually more “true to life” that other television endings. Marriages end, friends grow apart, and mothers die too young. To the credit of the show’s writers, these things do happen. Life is hard. But these things don’t generally happen because 30 years of life are being crammed into 45-minutes of TV in order to fit a pre-written, pre-determined mold.
I’ve also read a couple of reviews that state that the Ted and Robin love story is what the fans really wanted. I’ve read claims that fans have grown to know and love Robin, and that the series was never really about Tracy (the Mother from the show’s title). Ted and Robin are the new Ross and Rachel, the new Carrie and Big. And yet, from what I’ve been reading, both on my informal facebook survey and in social media at large, fans are pissed. They feel that the series finale let them down. The fans, it turns out, didn’t want Robin and Ted to end up together. They’d moved on, and so had the characters.