Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Perfect Endings

For the last couple of days I’ve seen a lot of grumbling about the season finale of How I Met Your Mother.  First off, I have to admit that I never watched the show.  Sitcoms have never been high on my must-watch TV list.  So, this one slipped past me, and obviously, I’m glad it did.  Really, who wants to invest their time in nine seasons and walk away disappointed? 

Here’s what I think:  Endings are hard.  Perfect endings are a minor miracle, cast down from writing gods at the exact moment when a writer (or room full of TV writers) need the idea the most.   

If you don’t think so, try it yourself.  It might seem easy.  Write a beginning, a middle, an end, and Presto! you have a perfect story.  Sorry folks, it doesn’t work that way.  The truth is most writers don’t know the end of the story when they start writing it.  They might have a vague idea, but things change once a writer is inside a story.  We’re making it up as we go along.

And I suppose that’s the rub with How I Met Your Mother.  The producers, writers, whoever, pitched a show that implies a perfect ending, and at the end of the run, they were exposed, in some viewers' opinions, as frauds.  They were making it up as they went along just like the rest of us.  The viewer was swindled out of their time, out of that perfect emotional climax that they had been expecting for nine years.  They wasted their time. 

Maybe, maybe not.  Sure, that time could have been used for other things (like learning how to write a TV series on their own, how to speak a foreign language, how to do the watusi, what ever).  Or the viewer could accept that they were entertained for nine years.  They laughed and cried along the way.  The destination sucked, but the journey was fun.  What more could you expect from a TV show?  There is no warranty.  It’s the chance viewers and readers take with all storytellers in all mediums.  

Perfect endings are rare, and because How I Met Your Mother failed in some viewers’ opinions, well, maybe they’ll know a good one when they see it next time—and maybe they’ll be able to appreciate that perfect ending a little more. 


Tom Cochrun said...

I agree with your sentiment. In film and TV the ending is often so contrived as to be unsatisfactory. Whoops, we need to end it now because the star is leaving, the ratings are down, the show is cancelled or there is a new network chief, etc.

While perfect endings are elusive, aren't perfect beginnings as well?

Larry Sweazy said...

Beginnings are more fun because they are messy (I think). I wondered about you the other day when I saw the earth moved out your way. Good to hear from you.

David Cranmer said...

So true, Larry. On both shows that last nine years and endings.

I feel American TV shows milk a good idea until it turns to crap. So many examples. Whereas, the British take a classic like The Office and there's two series and finis. US Office ran for close to a decade. Silly.