I wasn't a long-time loyal viewer of “HIMYM,” so I can’t say I am as deeply and profoundly offended as so much of its faithful audience appears to be. But I know bad television storytelling when I am exposed to it. The big reveals -- that Barney and Robin split up three years after their nuptials (which were just last week in TV time), an act made even more infuriating by the fact that show-runners Craig Thomas and Carter Bays spent the entire ninth and final season of the show finding the funny in every moment of the couple’s wedding weekend -- that "The Mother" had died; that Ted and Robin were going to be together after all; that Ted and Tracy's kids called their dad out on his extended story, correctly asserting that it wasn't the tale of how Ted met their mother, but of how he felt about Aunt Robin -- were not at all what fans wanted. It wasn't as if there was one narrative misfire in an otherwise satisfying hour. Apparently, nothing about the finale pleased anyone who cared.
Of course, there must be a few lone individuals out there who enjoyed what they saw. We are not the Borg. But the response to the “HIMYM” finale has been strikingly and almost unanimously bad -- and something that even a casual viewer could have seen coming. It’s at times like this that I wonder how these things happen. How do the producers and writers and network executives and studio overseers all get it so completely wrong? How do they not know what their loyal viewers want after almost a decade? Why are they so reluctant to thank viewers rather than leave them angry and upset and likely unwilling to commit again to a similarly structured show? Is it supposed to be a sign of creative compromise and a threat to their “artistry”?
Some critics insist that it doesn't matter how a show ends as long as the journey was enjoyable. We heard this a lot after the final episode of ABC’s “Lost,” when Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse and their talented team explained away six seasons of unexplainable story twists and turns by revealing that when visitors to the island died they went to either a pre-purgatory (where much of the final season was set) or to purgatory itself, I think. Who really knew what it was all about? Ultimately it didn't mean very much at all.
Anyway, I don't buy the idea that endings don't matter. It's generally better for a show to have one and give its audience a great sendoff. Think of the awesome final episodes that closed “M*A*S*H,” “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” “Newhart,” “The Sopranos,” “Friday Night Lights” and “Breaking Bad,” to cite six splendid examples. As seen most memorably in the “MTM” finale, it’s okay to leave characters in sudden, startling limbo, as happened with Mary Richards and her colleagues at WJM-TV, or to reveal that an entire series had been a crazy dream, as we saw in the last moments of the last “Newhart” (the best final episode of any series ever, which ingeniously connected “Newhart” to its star’s previous sitcom classic) -- as long as such moves are executed with full respect for characters and viewers alike.
But it looks as though the “HIMYM” finale whiffed on all counts -- and in front of a larger audience than usual. Early estimates place it at 13 million viewers and counting, the largest for any episode in its nine-year run. That's a lot of people to disappoint.
As I said up top, when “Dexter” concluded its eight season run last fall viewers were left similarly disgusted by what they saw. Deb was dead. Dexter had placed his young son Harrison in the care of the pretty but lethal murderer Hannah. His step-kids Cody and Astor were left without any knowledge of where their brother or step-dad had gone. Rita's parents didn't know where their grandson might be. Dexter himself had relocated to the Pacific Northwest and was working as a lumberjack. As I recall, absolutely nothing in the last episode (or the final season, for that matter) made any sense. It was as if creative control of the show had been turned over to someone who had never watched “Dexter” -- or for that matter, very much television at all.
As David Chase taught us when he chose to bring “The Sopranos” to a profound stop rather than a full conclusion, sometimes it's better to leave a show's characters where they are and let them slip away, forever intact in the minds of millions -- and always available for a comeback, like Jack Bauer and Chloe O’Brian in the new “24” event series set to debut next month on Fox. That show was a mess at the last, but not so much that it prompted fans to turn on it. Now the franchise has a chance to redeem itself and perhaps end in a more satisfying way.
Unfortunately, “HIMYM” has no such option. It's over and done, its finale best forgotten.