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8th March 2023

How I actually enjoyed the ending: A How I Met Your Mother retrospective

As far as bad endings go, How I Met Your Mother’s was doomed since its inception. But why? And what could have saved the show?
How I actually enjoyed the ending: A How I Met Your Mother retrospective
Photo: Disney-ABC Domestic Television

Whenever I am asked what my favourite TV show is, my answer will always be How I Met Your Mother (HIMYM). I am more than a superfan, I am obsessed to a mentally detrimental extent.

However, the response I always get for my love of HIMYM? Great show, awful ending.

Now, I will acknowledge, the ending of the show is highly controversial. In fact, the entirety of its last season was one of the worst-rated in the show’s nine-year run. Everyone wanted Ted and the mother (Tracy) to grow old together, everyone wanted Barney and Robin to stay together, and nobody wanted Ted and Robin to end up with each other.

I can sympathise with these views. I didn’t really like Ted and Robin together when they dated throughout season two, much preferring Ted and Victoria – Ted’s girlfriend in season one and then briefly again in season eight. Barney and Robin were made to seem like a ‘right person, wrong time’ scenario, which audiences go crazy for. I also agreed with the idea that Ted deserved his nuclear family happy ending, even if it was with Tracy.

So why did I actually enjoy the ending? No, not for subverting my expectations in a plot twist so weird that even M. Night Shyamalan wouldn’t expect. I actually expected the show to end the way it did, which is why I loved the ending so much.

HIMYM ran in an era when the American sitcom was at its prime. Every member of the public had a favourite sitcom, whether it be Friends, The Office, or The Big Bang Theory – the list goes on. This is what TV audiences wanted; especially in the socio-political context of the 2000s, where the news was all doom and gloom. The American sitcom was a way to switch off and invest in a happier version of life (unless you’re an It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia fan, then you’re just twisted).

Though this also meant that sitcoms were very saturated, meaning storylines were stretched thin across each show. It was almost impossible to create an original storyline, setting, or character for each show. This has been proven multiple times; HIMYM and Friends have consistently been compared to each other, from the setting of New York City to the weird relationships between the main characters.

So while HIMYM had already established itself as a sitcom based on the romantic life of Ted, it still needed to make its defining mark. Yes, it had its quirks like the conversations with Ted’s future kids, Luke and Penny, or Barney’s Bro Code, or Bob Saget’s witty narration as a future Ted (no, it wasn’t Josh Radnor, the actor of Ted, I was shocked too). HIMYM showrunners had a different idea, and to instead organise the ending when the show began.

Yes, you heard that right. Ted and Robin were always meant to be together.

Let’s circle back to why the ending was actually enjoyable from a HIMYM fanatic though. As I have mentioned before, I am not a fan of Ted and Robin together. Robin is callous and just wreaks of ‘I’m not like other girls’. Ted is just a delusional man who is infatuated with the idea of loving someone but is incapable of actually doing so. Them, paired together? Hellish. But why did it make sense in the show’s finale?

Ted’s obsession with finding ‘the one’ is what the show was built off of. It was utilised as a tool to cause the breakdown of Ted and Robin’s relationship in the early days of the show. It was so nice to see him achieve his goals and find ‘the one’ when he married Tracy. It was especially nice to see when Robin finds her ‘the one’ too in Barney, supposedly subverting the audience’s expectations; it was established early on that Robin never subscribed to the idea of marriage or commitment.

But you know what’s nicer and even more refreshing? The plot twist. HIMYM’s plot twist throws the idea of ‘the one’ out the window. It shows that while Ted still got everything he wanted – reminiscent of the finales of other sitcoms that were ending at the same time as HIMYM – fate had decided that that wasn’t the life he wasn’t supposed to live. He was meant for Robin.

When you go back and rewatch the show after knowing how it ended, you can clearly see how the showrunners had always planned for Ted and Robin to be together. One of the main ways you can see this is because the show is narrated by a future Ted. His narration, not only is it unique in the world of sitcoms, but also shows Ted’s character progression in a very raw and open way that you can’t see in sitcoms written in the third person.

It is generally agreed that Ted is a bad person. However, the narrations explain to us, through a more mature version of Ted, why he did what he did. It adds self-awareness, especially towards the show’s finale where actually it is acknowledged that maybe ‘the one’ is not an idea Ted should be chasing. With Ted’s ‘the one’ tragically dying proving this in mind, the twist ending is not so bad after all. In fact, it is one of my favourite endings of a show of all time.

How I Met Your Mother is not a story of how Ted ended up with Tracy. It’s about how he matured to realise he was always meant to be with Robin.

The show is available on Disney+. See the full case here.

Violet Robins

Violet Robins

Deputy Opinion Editor – I write about the female experience

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