Despite being a human being endowed with free will, I have watched all nine seasons of _How I Met Your Mother, _starting with its premiere in 2005 and concluding with its series finale tonight. Why I did this, I’m not entirely sure. Poor judgment? Mental instability? Who knows.
What I do know: you don’t need to suffer as I did. In case you want to watch the last episode without suffering the slogging, disjointed march that is most of its intervening seasons, or you just need to catch up, here’s a helpful, appropriately resentful recap from someone who’s seen it all. It’s too late for me, now—but there’s hope for you yet, so read on.
_How I Met Your Mother _is the story of Ted Mosby (Josh Radnor)—a serial monogamist with nerd tendencies toward classic architecture and Ren-aissance fairs—and how he met the mother of his children, an enigmatic, unnamed supreme being of a woman whom he meets via destiny, and who happens to shares each and every one of his interests and quirks, because that’s how love works on CBS. Future Ted, voiced by Bob Saget, narrates the show as a story to his two teenage children, to whom he details all of his Friday-night blackouts and sexual encounters for some reason.
In the first episode, we’re introduced to his close group of Friends- I mean, friends. There’s Marshall and Lily (Jason Segel and Alyson Hannigan), the suffocatingly cute couple who’ve been dating since freshman year, and Barney (Neil Patrick Harris), the unabashed suit-wearing, scotch-drinking man-whore of the show, who doubles as the only consistently entertaining character for the majority of the past nine years. Then we meet Robin (Cobie Smulders), in the form of the smiling heart-on-fire closeup that implies she’s possibly the Mother, until we’re immediately told she’s the kids’ “Aunt Robin.” Ted proceeds to spend the rest of the season pursuing her romantically anyway, which is a fine innovation on the classic will-they-won’t-they conceit—except creators Carter Bays and Craig Thomas proceed to drag this plotline over each and every damn season of the show, because will-they-won’t-they stories are even better when you already know the answer, right?
But in all honesty, the first couple seasons are pretty gripping cornball theater: Ted steals a blue French horn from a restaurant to gift to Robin, which becomes this big enduring romantic landmark, and finally zig-zag their way into a relationship; Marshall and Lily break up over the latter’s desire for an independent artist’s life, which is probably the only remotely real and consequential domestic conflict anyone on this show experiences; and Barney, with his crazy schemes, Bro Bible, and insatiable lust for good tailoring, easily becomes the pop culture patron saint of frat bros everywhere—somewhere, sometime, you definitely heard something unironically called legen-wait-for-it-dary.
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Then, for six seasons or so, pretty much nothing happens: Seriously, _How I Met Your Mother _is the “Go Back 3 Spaces” card of sitcoms. The compelling central conceit of the show becomes its biggest problem: When the point of your show is right there in the name, trying to keep it going for nine whole seasons is bound to piss people off. Whole season-long stories are either complete red herrings or unnecessary. Ted dates this girl Victoria, whom he almost marries, and later persuades to leave another man at the altar, only to leave again because she “realizes” he’s still in love with Robin, who, again, is still definitely not the Mother. Good game, guys!
Ted is also left at the altar by a woman named Stella (played by Sarah Chalke from Scrubs), so good thing that story takes up another whole season, even though it’s obvious from the start she’s not the mother, either. Meanwhile, Barney randomly falls in love with Robin. They date, and eventually break up because of some vague notion of “relationship fatigue.” Then later, they get back together after a huge romantic gesture/prank from Barney, and decide to get married without ever addressing the vague reason their relationship withered and died the first time. Sure, why not?
In yet another unusual wrinkle that does the exact opposite of what we’d want, Bays and Thomas decided that the entire last season would focus around Barney and Robin’s wedding. Because after nine years of learning about the Mother’s Match.com profile we want to see her and Ted together for the least possible amount of time, right?
So finally, tonight, our world-weary protagonist will meet the formulaic woman of his dreams, and they’ll live happily ever after the day they met, presumably, because we’ll see almost none of those days take place. The biggest cocktease in sitcom history will finally end, and the people who took a liking to it to begin with, the saps, the ones who can admit to wanting tearjerkers now and then, who really, embarrassingly liked Friends, can finally find something better to watch. It will be something adult, and ironic, and subversive, something that takes overly earnest shows like this one behind the woodshed and smacks the episodic storybook goop right out of them.
And it’ll be great, but it won’t be this—or at least, what this could’ve been. As audiences and the channels that serve them grow ever smarter and more sophisticated, How I Met Your Mother might well end up being the last of the old cut-and-dry network sitcoms many of us watched for so many years—it will almost certainly be mine. If only the genre, like this show, the last example for which anyone had a soft spot, had found a better way to fade off into nostalgia.