WARNING: there will pretty obviously be spoilers in this here post.
Twitter exploded last night at the finale of How I Met Your Mother, as TV critic after TV critic I follow just lost their shit at it (and everybody who didn’t watch it, thanks terribly for the “did you know I didn’t watch this show you watched” comments, those are always productive). I read thinkpieces which both simultaneously praised the show for its relatively realistic attitude towards relationships and complained about Barney and Robin ultimately divorcing in the finale because the final season had gone to such lengths to sell Barney and Robin’s relationship, which seems sorta self-contradictory as arguments go but then again all those people get paid like full-time salaries to criticize TV and I maybe get beer money in a good month. (There is totally a pecking order for TV critics, with the top level being “get paid to write a New York Times bestseller about the history of a famous TV show.”) And of course there was much bitterness at the show’s endgame of ultimately re-uniting Ted and Robin following The Mother’s early death, which I did not get because people have been complaining for years now that the show focused too much on Ted and Robin for a show ostensibly about Ted telling his kids how he met their mother, which the show blatantly addressed.
As for me? I liked it well enough. I didn’t love it, but I think at this point television watchers have, if anything, fetishized series sticking the “perfect landing.” But how many shows have managed the perfect landing? Not a hell of a lot. Buffy didn’t do it (that ending is clunky as hell). Battlestar Galactica and Lost famously did not do so, and if they were mixed bags, Alias was an outright failure. Frasier just sort of trickled to an end, as did Friends and The West Wing. The Office had a lovely, sentimental finale, but it capped a very mediocre final season. The Sopranos had a showy ending that left many people unsatisfied; The Wire simply said “fuck the ending” and went with the high-quality drama version of “war, war never changes” for its ending, which kind of seems like cheating if you ask me, no matter how good the series is. And then you have the forced-ending march of shows like Angel, NewsRadio, Enlightened, Deadwood and Futurama (twice) (most of which were more successful than any of the aforementioned). Honestly, the number of TV series finales that are just about perfect can probably be counted on both hands: Friday Night Lights, M*A*S*H, Six Feet Under, Star Trek: The Next Generation and 30 Rock is my shortlist. (Okay, yeah, and The Wire, too, I’m willing to let it cheat.)
But you know what? That’s fine. TV series aren’t novels. They are sprawling, epic productions, involving literally dozens or even hundreds of creative minds working intensively together for years. The cunning, perfect ending is almost literally impossible, not least because typically this means a satisfying conclusion for every major character, which is something most of the major Great Writers of History didn’t bother doing in many of their major works, but also because TV shows by design are group efforts, and group efforts are messy.
But so what? That doesn’t mean these endings are bad – because they’re not. Out of every single series finale I just mentioned, there’s only one I outright disliked (Alias). All of the others have their good points, whether it’s Buffy’s exhausted but finally-optimistic smile at the end of her show, or The West Wing‘s final line from President Bartlet providing its own sense of continuity and “the ship sails on,” or BSG‘s final scene between Starbuck and Apollo.
And so it is with How I Met Your Mother, a show that like most shows had its mix of successes and failures, but had more successes than failures, and which creatively re-invigorated itself at least twice during a nine year run, and which said a lot of true things about the process of growing up and how friends become family and how friends drift apart, and was cleverly written on a number of levels, and which cemented the stardom of several of its leads (Neil Patrick Harris is probably not our widely beloved NPH without How I Met Your Mother). I liked the series finale well enough; I thought it provided the right level of romance in two ways, and stayed true to its characters. And that’s enough for me. The chase of perfection should never be abandoned, but if you get a reasonably satisfying ending, then I’m good.