It always pays to be wary of grandiose statements and definitive pronouncements. When I first watched Forrest Gump in the theater, one-third of the way through the movie it occurred to me I might be watching the greatest production of all time, and walking out of the theater I carried that thought with me. But time changes things. Now I see it as a fun film, but it’s not at the top of any of my “best of” lists. Professor Schofield advised that you can’t really objectively analyze something, an art movement, a political figure, a fad–anything worth analyzing–unless several years had transpired and you could have the value of time and distance, contemplation and reflection, to look back with.
So it is with a bit of reservation that I am asserting that the series finale to How I Met Your Mother that aired Monday night should top any list of great finales. The writers, producers, and actors simply got it just right. Exactly right. Airing the first episode of season one just before the finale aired really showcased how this ending was exactly what viewers deserved after nine seasons of sticking with the show. Consider all the series finales that were promoted over the years, and despite the biggest of viewing audiences, you might find that most last hoorahs miss the mark, try too hard, or just do something that didn’t reflect the best of the series.
The granddaddy of all finales was the 1983 M*A*S*H extended episode “Goodbye, Farewell, and Amen.” Although some elements were right, like a bounty of typical and appropriate sad goodbyes, Captain Benjamin Franklin “Hawkeye” Pierce, (one of the best characters of all time) after more than a decade of using laughter to beat the odds and help his unit survive the Korean War, cracks at the very end. NBC’s comedy spy series Chuck made a similar mistake, wiping the memory of Chuck’s hard-earned love interest Sarah after we cheered him on all those years, requiring the story to basically start over from scratch in some far off place after the series wrapped. Another less than satisfying but at least appropriate-to-the-series finale was the end of the monumental 20th year of the original Law & Order. We basically got to see a fairly typical episode of the series, which certainly fit the seriousness of the show’s drama. But we also got a goodbye scene and were left on a positive note with “Lieut’s” good news about her hard-fought illness.
Before that, you might have seen the last episode of The Mary Tyler Moore Show on Nick at Nite or other classic rerun network if you weren’t old enough to catch it in its initial run. The TV network that was the subject of the series fires everyone including Mary at the end, except Ted Knight’s character Ted Baxter. The annoying guy that we loved for being annoying gets to stay. A funny series with a funny end, as well as the requisite bittersweet goodbye scene. A similarly funny sitcom, Psych, wrapped its eighth and final season last month, tying up all its remaining loose ends. Psych took a different path, taking its angst-inducing character, Detective-then-Chief Lassiter, and with a redemption of sorts, switched up his role in the last two seasons to become a guy viewers could cheer on.
Another comedy, Newhart, gave us a completely bizarre ending for an otherwise enjoyable comedy series. Yet it was saved literally in the last two minutes by a brilliantly concocted stunt–bring back Bob’s wife from his original series, The Bob Newhart Show, the lovely Suzanne Pleshette, revealing the whole series was just a dream. It’s a gimmick that didn’t work for a series like the original Dallas (recall Bobby Ewing died then came back to life with a “poof”), but for a comedy wrap-up, it couldn’t have been better timed.