There's a Season 2 episode of "How I Met Your Mother" in which the characters -- Ted, Marshall, Lily, Robin and Barney -- are guilt-tripped into attending a funeral on Super Bowl Sunday. They DVR the game and try to get through Monday with the result unspoiled so they can all watch together that night; naturally, the plan goes awry as they all find out what happened in an appropriately wacky way.
Ultimately? It didn't really matter. "I don't remember who won. ... I don't even remember who played. What I do remember is that we drank beer, we ate wings and we watched the Super Bowl together," says Ted, the narrator, in a voice-over at the end of the episode. "Because sometimes, even if you know how something's gonna end, that doesn't mean you can't enjoy the ride."
The series finale airs at 7 p.m. Monday, March 31, on CBS
At the time, the line seemed like a sly nod to fans obsessed with figuring out the identity of the titular "Mother" rather than enjoying the show. But really, Ted's words summed up the crux of the show's emotional core, a life lesson that deeply connected with viewers: Even if things don't go as planned, it's crucial to remember the smaller moments that make up the bigger stories in life -- those will always be the sweetest memories.
For nine seasons that theme drove the expertly woven storylines of "How I Met Your Mother," which ends on Monday. It's time; the quality of the show has slipped. Still, there's no question that regardless of how it ends, the CBS comedy is already a fixture as a comedy beloved by the millennial generation.
There are many reasons the show caught on with the younger crowd: It launched catchphrases ("Legend -- wait for it -- dary"), pickup lines ("Haaave you met Ted?") and teachings ("Nothing good ever happens after 2 a.m."). Overall, "HIMYM" offered a valuable lesson about the importance of adult friendship.
That's what hooked people, even if at the start the series seemed like a run-of-the-mill sitcom with a clever gimmick. The first episode opened with two bored-looking kids on a couch as Future Ted (voiced by Bob Saget) delivered the iconic line that would define the series: "Kids, I'm going to tell you an incredible story -- the story of how I met your mother."
Over nine seasons, the series followed Ted (Josh Radnor) and his best friends on their assorted adventures. There was Marshall (Jason Segel), Ted's best friend, who met his soul mate Lily (Alyson Hannigan) on the first day of college; Robin (Cobie Smulders), Ted's longtime love interest, even though it was established that she would wind up as "Aunt Robin"; and Barney (Neil Patrick Harris), the Bro Code-inventing ladies man.
Every show started with Future Ted, via voice-over, setting up the episode for his kids. Since every episode was a flashback, there were flashbacks within flashbacks, in addition to flash forwards, along with other time-jumping for quick throwaway jokes. What made it last?
"The format, how bold it was in both storytelling and letting characters grow," Radnor speculates by phone, pointing out that in addition to all the silly storylines, creators Craig Thomas and Carter Bays weren't afraid to get serious.
Radnor believes that the series struck a chord because it "had a different perspective," looking at life in a deeper way through memory and nostalgia.
Plus, it helped that the cast had natural chemistry from the start. "From the first time we shot the pilot, the five of us felt like we were friends," he said. "We didn't feel like actors who had been cast."
Eventually, the audience started losing patience with the question of "Who is the Mother?" It wasn't Robin, or a slew of other stunning actresses brought in to play Ted's love interests: Stella (Sarah Chalke) left him at the altar, Zoey (Arlington Heights native Jennifer Morrison) wound up being terrible. So the writers brought in Broadway actress Cristin Milioti to star as the Mother, appearing at the very end of Season 8.
As a result, Season 9 -- the whole season takes place the weekend of Barney and Robin's wedding -- has also been leading up to the moment that Ted and the Mother meet. We've already seen them together in flash-forwards, including one emotional scene that has led some people to think the mother might actually be dead at the end.
"HIMYM" has already left a strong imprint, no matter how it concludes. Ted meeting the Mother may have been what tied everything together, but as with all long journeys, the most compelling part is what it took to get there.