Last night the Twittersphere embraced a sitcom variety of the apocryphal five stages of grief.
Led by their North American peers, fans of How I Met Your Mother (or HIMYM as we know it) around the world have taken to social media to mourn, celebrate and process the end of a genuinely great sitcom. Some are even in denial – that’s what you get for airing your finale on April Fool’s Day.
There is one other reaction coming through loud and … well not particularly clear, but definitely loud: Anger.
Completely disappointed. Everything I dreaded happened. Terrible end to a fantastic show. #HIMYMFinale
— Bree Purdy (@BreeNoelPurdy) April 1, 2014
— Captain Russo (@CaptainRusso) April 1, 2014
Many fans are caught in the rage phase of grief, giving vent to claims of betrayal, demanding apologies or do-overs and generally accusing this of being the worst ending ever. They feel nine year’s of a story told by a dad to his two teenage children has been undermined by a “lazy” twist.
Give them time. Let them grieve. But any who still feel that way after a walk, a nap or a drink in their own version of Maclaren’s Pub will actually have missed the point.
HIMYM is a sitcom that started by breaking one major sitcom rule: It told us the story had to end. This was a show whose very premise – and title – meant the finale should have been a lame duck.
There are no rules for finales. Just genre-habits – tropes and devices used by other great shows in the past that we expect.
Then the final season broke another sitcom rule. It switched location and changed the entire series style from individual sub-anecdotes to a series of glimpses of a single event, the wedding of Robyn and Barney.
So of course the great big double episode ending broke more rules. But those who say it cheated aren’t keeping up and those calling it’s twist was lazy may want to alternative terms such as “elegantly foreshadowed” or “brilliantly achieved.”
There are no rules for finales. Just genre-habits – tropes and devices used by other great shows in the past that we expect. Usually because those shows had run out of story to tell. Crazy, frantic final plots often disguise an inability to move the plot forward.
In terms of the usual character closure, wrapping story arcs, heart string pulling moments and gentle rib tickling references, the HIMYM finale delivered against all the usual measures. The genius was in the fact that this was all layered over genuine story progression and conclusion.
From its tiniest Electric Bang-A-Loo blink-and-you-miss-it visual gag to its major plot points, this double episode grand finale to nine years of one father’s shaggy dog story knew what it was doing. In fact they’ve clearly known what they were doing for nine years.
The finale includes an extended scene that creators Carter Bays and Craig Thomas shot in 2005 featuring the two “kids” this long tale was supposedly being told to. They had to shoot it then, the actors who played those kids are now in their late 20s. The show mocked that fact themselves with a video at Comic-Con this year.
But the scenes they appear in aren’t cut aways or lame gags that could have been fit in around any plot that arrived. Ted’s kids deliver a firm judgment on the entire story they have just heard and in turn their reaction has major plot implications.
If for no other reason, the incredible foresight, planning and bravery required to shoot those scenes must rank this finale among the great television sign-offs.
The whole final season was so well planned that Bays and Thomas could fold-in some of the best aspects of some of the other great finales.
“We’re kind of looking at our whole season as that Seinfeld episode,” Bays said from Los Angeles late last year, referring to the lauded comedy’s finale which aired in 1998, in which a raft of much-adored guest stars returned to testify against the central characters. True to his word, the weekend of Barney and Robyn’s wedding that has consumed season nine has been littered with cameos and guest appearances.
In the 2005 finale of Six Feet Under, Claire’s final drive from the house was intercut with visions from the future outlining the fate of each key character. This season of HIMYM has used similar future flashes to great effect, but the finale does more, stepping through the years from today to 2030 revealing fateful moments aplenty to deliver tears and laughs aplenty.
On the other hand, many were somewhat disappointed by the empty apartment finale of Friends. The blunt symbolism was recreated here, but at the conclusion to the penultimate episode. The final image for HIMYM was far more fitting and once more indicated the wealth of planning involved.
The very best part of this finale was that none of these devices were the point of the episode. This was not an episode designed purely to farewell, salute or applaud the creative team. A drawn out bow from the cast. This was a final chapter that crucially fit snugly with its very first.
The last episode reflected the pilot so well it has fuelled the online anger, but that’s not lazy, it’s just good storytelling.
HIMYM was unlike any sitcom ever for one reason, it was telling a single story. That story was long, drawn out and occasionally misguided, but having made it’s insanely ambitious promise it set out to deliver.
You can’t tell a story without a conclusion, without a point, without a heart-filled full stop that justifies the time spent listening. That monumental task is what the HIMYM finale achieved.
Just like every occasion on which Barney asked us to “wait for it” this finale wasn’t actually a one-off legend. It wasn’t a stand alone firework.
It was, rather, the perfect ending to a story told by a dad, to his kids just like the title promised.
And that, is legen – dary.
Did you watch the HIMYM final? Tell us what you thought.