Finales of long-running series breed a multitude of questions, and CBS’s “How I Met Your Mother” is no exception.
The saga of how architect Ted Mosby (Josh Radnor) met the Mother (Cristin Milioti) of his future children, while hanging out with married friends Lily (Alyson Hannigan) and Marshall (Jason Segel), lothario buddy Barney (Neil Patrick Harris), and former flame Robin (Cobie Smulders) in New York City, finally concludes Monday with an hourlong episode at 8 p.m. on CBS.
Among the burning queries on fans’ minds: Will we learn Milioti’s character’s name since she has been referred to only as “the Mother” by Future Ted (voiced by Bob Saget) as he tells his kids the story in 2030? Is the Mother facing a terminal illness, which seems to have been hinted at in several episodes? And, of course, the mother of all questions is the one embedded in the title.
Over the course of its nine seasons, “HIMYM” has drawn justifiable praise for its often inventive fracturing of narrative structure. Dream sequences, euphemisms, flashes forward and backward, musical interludes, and different points of view of the same events have all been employed to tell Ted’s tale, to amplify memorable running jokes, and keep viewers on their toes in a way few sitcoms ever have. For the casual viewer, it’s been a fun ride; for the dedicated fan, it’s been a fun ride with a side of intriguing riddles.
In its first few seasons, the show was a catchphrase factory, mostly through the character of Barney (“Suit up!” “Legen-wait-for-it-dary!”). Creators Carter Bays and Craig Thomas dreamt up funny bits and quirks that would recur, including “slap bets,” interventions for increasingly silly problems, and appearances by the characters’ doppelgangers.
The series also drew justifiable complaints. Certain wells were continually visited long after they’d run dry. The potential coupling of Ted and Robin drew ire, in no small part because the very first episode informed us Robin wasn’t the Mother. Sometimes characters would behave in alienating ways as, say, when Ted crisscrossed the line between romantic idealist to mopey blowhard, or Barney engaged in toxic behavior toward women that went beyond randy “player” playfulness.
But even at its nadir, as the show seemed to pump up its laugh track to make up for fewer real laughs, “HIMYM” was never a total creative flop, with the writers still managing to pull a rabbit out of the hat with a new running joke or a tender moment of drama, including the heartbreaking death of Marshall’s father.
Bays and Thomas bring their show to a close at a tough time. Viewers have become obsessed with endings. Witness the recent debate over the conclusion of the first season of HBO’s “True Detective.” And you can substitute just about any long-running series of good-to-great quality into that equation: The gang from “Seinfeld” heading to the clink; “The Sopranos” cutting to black; “Lost” reuniting its passengers in the waiting room for the other side. Next year “Mad Men” will no doubt stir up a similar storm.
Given the way discussion has spilled onto social media and the Web, making the whole world one big watercooler in ways not possible when the WJM crew shuffled off to Tipperary at the close of the “Mary Tyler Moore Show” or when Bob woke up on “Newhart,” woe is the poor 21st-century showrunner trying to offer closure.
In some ways, this golden age of television itself is to blame. The storytelling has become so rich that, barring shows canceled before their time, we expect the conclusion to match the standard of the series’ peak. For some, an ending that disappoints means a complete negation of the enjoyment of everything that came before and triggers complaints of wasted time, unanswered questions, and loose threads.
But for this viewer there have been far too many laughs, tears, and moments of delight in the narrative twists of “HIMYM” to wash my hands of the time I’ve spent with these characters, even if the titular meeting does not meet my specific parameters.
In fact, as much as I have scampered down every detour, parsed every yellow umbrella clue, and debated about the potential death of the “Mother” — bizarre downer or poignant denouement? — during the show’s 208-episode run, sometimes doing so out of boredom and frustration, I have no expectations. Ted will meet the Mother, and I will be happy to have welcomed these characters into my living room and grateful for a sitcom that tried, in ways simple and daring, to tell a story of a family of choice with heart, humanity, and humor. In short, no matter how Ted does it, there is no question that I will always be glad I met “Mother.”Sarah Rodman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @GlobeRodman.