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When Should a TV Show End?

The series finale of How I Met Your Mother airs tonight, but should we have said goodbye years ago?

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Nine years ago, when How I Met Your Mother first premiered on CBS, I refused to miss an episode. Tonight marks the one-hour series finale of the series. I have dinner plans; I’m busy all day Tuesday and Wednesday, as well. I’ll probably watch it online Thursday, unless something else pops up, in which case I’ll watch it whenever I remember to.

For those not in the know, the premise of HIMYM is as follows: The year is 2030 and Ted Mosby (played by Josh Radnor, narrated by Bob Saget) sits his two kids down to tell them the story of how he met their mother. He begins the story in 2005 and takes near literally a decade to get to the point. However, though the point of Ted’s story might be how he met his kids’ mother, that is not the point of the show. HIMYM would more aptly be titledThe Mistakes I Had to Make, the People I Had to Meet and the Version of Myself I Had to Become in Order to Meet Your Mother. Not quite as mellifluous, but definitely more on point.

Though it was never going to be highbrow television, HIMYM’s first season quickly proved to be something stranger and less focused than the live studio audience sitcoms that came before it (save for Seinfeld, which remains a breed of its own). Somehow this show, with its clunky title and gimmicky premise, worked. Critics loved it and it gained a solid, loyal fan base. It wasn’t groundbreaking television, but it was a sweet show with a lot of heart and some really excellent performers.

Admittedly, HIMYM has struggled with the limits of being a studio audience sitcom since day one. First off, there’s a laugh track, and then there’s the fact that the show takes place in New York, but is clearly shot on a backlot somewhere in greater Los Angeles. As far as the humor goes, a lot of it was funny, but, yes, at times it was broad to the point of being out of date, even for 2005. Perhaps the biggest, most-indicative-of-lowbrow-comedy element was Barney Stinson, Ted’s best friend and a ribald businessman who says things like “Lebanese girls are the new half-Asian girls.” It’s something of a television miracle that the impossibly affable Neil Patrick Harris was cast as Barney Stinson. Harris was able to weave in enough heart and humor into Barney’s $2,000 suits to make an otherwise repugnant character amusing.

The rest of the supporting characters were perfectly cast, as well. A pre-Sarah MarshallJason Segel and post-Buffy Alyson Hannigan had clear chemistry as the recently engaged Marshall Erickson and Lily Aldrin, Ted’s roommates and best friends from college. Cobie Smulders played Canadian export Robin Scherbatsky, a woman Ted pines for throughout the better portion of the series. These five characters — the actors who played them, the ways in which they riffed off one another, the chemistry they created — were the ballast of the show, and the reason HIMYM once was, in more ways than it wasn’t, a very original, adroit sitcom.

The show lost me, as well as many other former fanatics, in season six, when Ted started dating Zoey Pierson (Jennifer Morrison). It was a forced plot point that just didn’t work. After that, the show became insincere, hollow and simply not very funny — a quick tip of the hat to the “Symphony of Illumination” and Becki Newton, though — and now that it’s in its ninth and final season, many fans, myself included, can’t even enjoin themselves to care.

So what happened? When I set out to write this article, I actually thought I would be able to put my finger on whatever thing made HIMYM crash so hard. I poured over Neilsen ratings and read years and years of reviews, not just of HIMYM, but of other sitcoms, as well. Did they all go wrong in the same place? Is episode 101 some magic episode where everything turns to shit? Do jokes become stale as soon as the networks gives you the green light for season seven?

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