Series finale review: 'How I Met Your Mother' - 'Last Forever': How they conned us all
Well, here we are at the series finale of "How I Met Your Mother," and I have a review of everything that went down, coming up just as soon as I post the Boner Joke of the Day...
Kids, let me tell you a story about the time I asked the creators of "How I Met Your Mother" if they regretted the decision to end the pilot with the "Aunt Robin" line. This was January of 2006, midway through the first season and shortly before "Drumroll, Please" would introduce Victoria, who was Carter Bays and Craig Thomas' back-up Mother plan in the event the show got canceled after only a season. I was at CBS' press tour party, and I talked with Bays, Thomas, Pamela Fryman, Josh Radnor and Cobie Smulders about the palpable chemistry between Ted and Robin, and whether in hindsight the pilot's closing line was one twist too many.
When she played a scene with Radnor, Smulders said, "magic happens, chemistry flows, fireworks get set off. I can't explain it, but it's kind of meant to be — and obviously not."
"We love watching Josh and Cobie together," Fryman said. "It's like, they'll do a scene and we'll get misty and say, `Can you do that one more time? We want to see it again.'"
"I don't know," Radnor said. "They're clever writers, so we'll see what they come up with."
Bays called the notion that the two wouldn't end up together "heartbreaking."
And then after Thomas insisted, "Robin's not the mom. We're sticking by those guns," Bays said something very interesting, and that kept coming back to me as "Last Forever" went on and it became more and more clear that the two of them had actually gone through with this horrible, horrible plan for the Mother to be dead in 2030, and Future Ted to be telling this long, largely non-Mother-related story to his kids because he and Aunt Robin were going to end up together.
What Bays said was this: "I feel like with great art, you have to create constraints for yourself. You look at The White Stripes, they only want to have a guitar and drums, so they have to make all their music around guitar and drums. We have to make all our comedy around what the narrator says."
And as I thought of that quote, and as I remembered that they shot the kids' reaction to the end of Future Ted's story way back in season 2(*), my anger over this terrible, misconceived, ginormous middle finger to the fanbase very, very briefly turned into sympathy for Bays and Thomas, because I realized they had become victims of their own damn cleverness.
(*) Which led to the most awkward interaction of past and present footage since Tony Soprano's final conversation with his mother.
Because they wanted to make their pilot seem unpredictable enough to catch the attention of a CBS development exec way back in the script stage, they added the Aunt Robin gag at the end. But they couldn't have known at the time just how good Radnor and Smulders would be together, how much the fans would want to see them be together, and how hard it would be to come up with another pairing that equaled it. (Though in isolated moments before Cristin Milioti turned up, Victoria and Stella sure came close.)
Then once the Ted/Robin sparks became too powerful to ignore, they began looking for ways around the trap they'd set for themselves in the pilot. As Bays noted, they were bound by what the narrator told us, and as Thomas insisted, Robin would not be revealed to be the kids' mother. But there was nothing in that narration that said that Ted and the Mother still had to be together in 2030. And that gave them an out, and another opportunity to be clever. Because they knew the kids were aging, they could film their reactions now, and save them for whenever the show ended — which, at that pre-Britney Spears phase when "HIMYM" lived perpetually on the bubble, seemed like it could be in another year or two at best — and they would be all set, and their fans would be happy and impressed by both their forethought and creativity.
They had a plan. They were going to stick to that plan. They would take the title literally, introduce the Mother at the very end, then kill her off to clear the way for the Ted/Robin coupling everyone really wanted. They just didn't count on any of the following:
1. The show would improbably turn into one of the longest-running comedies CBS has ever aired, which would force them to stretch out Ted's story forever and a day, and then to do insanely stupid things like spending the entire final season on the run-up to Robin and Barney's wedding — a wedding that, by the way, would be undone before the very next episode was halfway over. And that unexpected length would force them to revisit the question of Ted and Robin's feelings for each other (or lack thereof) so many times that even the fans who once cared deeply about them would grow tired of the idea.
2. It would turn out that Radnor wasn't the only co-star that Smulders had absurd chemistry levels with, and that the fans would for a time get more deeply invested in the Robin/Barney 'ship than they were in Robin and Ted. (In that way, you can look at the toxic nature of Robin and Barney's second relationship not as the creative team screwing up, but of them trying to kill all interest in the combo so we'd be on board for Future Ted and Future Robin, in the same way that they eventually made Stella, Victoria and Ted's other love interests horrible so that we wouldn't want them over either Robin or the Mother.)