Imagine what Penny and Luke have endured as their rambling father, How I Met Your Mother's protagonist Ted Mosby, held them captive for nine seasons of the titular story. If their experience was anything like mine, it was tedious and delightful and aggravating and heartwarming and all those other things that sitcoms are when they suck you in.
But long after the series finale airs on Monday (7 p.m. CST on CBS), after the characters settle into syndication and Neil Patrick Harris goes on to charm us in endless other ways, How I Met Your Mother will be remembered, by me at least, as a sitcom that had something to say. And no, it's not "...and kids, that's how I met your mother."
To be sure, How I Met Your Mother had a lot of things to say. Between the intricate storytelling, carefully crafted inside jokes, and raunchy, slapstick humor that rarely crossed into tacky (who doesn't love a good slap bet?), Carter Bays and Craig Thomas created a world uniquely fitting for its five characters. Like most 20- to 30-year-olds, Ted, Lily, Marshall, Robin and Barney stumbled through bars, mistakes and co-dependent relationships, but their stories --and the specific vision that tied them all together-- were far from generic.
My favorite episode centered on the gang's annual tradition of attending Robots-vs.-Wrestlers (I dare you and your friends to top that), but as we later discover, took place entirely in Ted's imagination - a coping mechanism for his loneliness. In a scene that still crushes me, Future Ted tells his kids that if he had only known he would meet their mother in exactly 45 days, he'd have appreciated the gravity of that moment. He'd have revisited his old apartment, spent time with each of his friends --who were too busy to honor their tradition that night-- and, most importantly, tracked down his future wife to steal 45 more days with her.
Sappy and over-the-top? Absolutely, but much more significant than anything How I Met Your Mother's famed predecessor offered us in its 10 years. That became all the more apparent last year when Friends co-creator Marta Kauffman shot down rumors of a reunion with this depressing nugget:
Friends was about that time in your life when your friends are your family, and once you have a family, there's no need anymore.
If Friends was confined to a specific period of time, How I Met Your Mother was built on a gratifying counter premise. That premise isn't that friendships last forever (sorry Spice Girls), or that circumstances don't change or induce change. It's that those friends and experiences, even the ones as seemingly trivial as Robots-vs.-Wrestlers, fit meaningfully into the larger context of life. It's that --and here's what Bays and Thomas (and Bob Saget) really had to say-- life is at worst devastating and at best exquisite, but when viewed as the full, sublime mosaic, it's always purposeful. How I Met Your Mother may be known as a show about hope, but I'd argue that it's just as much about the joy that comes from being reminded that every moment of your life matters.
That Bays and Thomas managed to thread this philosophy through nine seasons without veering into religious territory is impressive; that their sentimentality never sunk the show's signature humor or wit is perhaps what made it so special. It takes skill to be able to build Barney's insane sexual trysts into Ted's (mostly) poetic journey to love, and I wouldn't have had it any other way. (Here's to hoping Barney's hilariously inappropriate Twitter feed stays intact.)
So in a sweet but sad way, we'll never need a How I Met Your Mother reunion: We know that Lily and Marshall will move to Italy to pursue her art career before Marshall becomes a judge, that she'll give birth to a girl named Daisy, and that they'll grow old together just as we knew they would when he proposed in the first episode. We know that the recently hitched Barney and Robin will continue to be the flawed, messy, exciting couple that took a series of left turns to find love in each other. They'll travel the world and drive each other nuts and live a "legendary" life, despite not being able to have kids.
As for Ted, come Monday, we'll know exactly when and how he'll meet his other half, played by the brilliant Cristin Milioti, after he finally (finally) let go of Robin. And of course, as Bays and Thomas promised, we'll find out why he's telling this story to his poor kids. Whether or not The Mother is alive in 2030 matters much less to me than it did a few weeks ago when the theory re-surfaced (them internets are crazy), but we'll have to wait that one out as well.
In the meantime, I'll leave you with this handy How I Met Your Mother guide for any new fans, and this ridiculously awesome gem from my aforementioned favorite episode:
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