I think How I Met Your Mother originally set itself a very ambitious, very difficult goal. Most relationship comedies deal with the progress of a long-term relationship or the beginnings of one. HIMYM is a relationship comedy that is about the time before the relationship existed. With the series having established a set point in the future (the year 2030) at which the narrator, Ted (voiced in the future by Bob Saget and played in the present by Josh Radnor), is talking to his teen/pre-teen kids, the producers have a limited amount of time in which to tell the tale. Getting Ted from point A (the pilot episode) to point B (meeting the mother) in a creative, funny, heartwarming way is not the easiest of tasks; one can't even say until the end of the series if they've been successful. The journey thus far, however, has certainly been interesting.
Heading in to this year's season finale, there has been much talk of dopplegangers. The gang on the show — Ted, Barney (Neil Patrick Harris), Robin (Cobie Smulders), Marshall (Jason Segel), and Lily (Alyson Hannigan) — have come to the conclusion that everyone has a doppelganger and to date they have seen one for everyone save Barney. In the season's penultimate episode, Lily and Marshall decided that once this doppelganger is spotted they will begin trying to have a baby. It is in no way spoiling anything in the last episode to say that the issue comes up again; after all, the episode is called "Dopplegangers."
As often happens with television series as they progress, this episode isn't the series' funniest, but as we're now emotionally invested in the characters, it isn't bad to see them move forward in life even if their movements aren't the funniest. The episode is certainly not without jokes, but the humor takes a back seat to the tale of the characters whose lives we've been a part of for the past five seasons.
Perhaps How I Met Your Mother, more than other series due to its basic setup, is able to do these human, relatable, serious-without-being-too-much-of-a-downer tales without the episode feeling like a disappointment. The series is not about a group of friends hanging out (although they do hang out); it is very specifically about their growing up and changing and how the various things that happen to them lead Ted to meeting the mother. And, as adults will tell you, the process of becoming one isn't always smooth, pretty, or funny.
Unfortunately, the season finale doesn't feel like it in any way progresses Ted towards meeting his children's mother. In fact, the season as a whole feels much like this episode – it's been fun enough to watch, but it has rarely reached the heights of laughter it did early in its run, and, there have been very few moments this season that feel as though they've pushed Ted closer to meeting the mother. One doesn't imagine that every single episode can lead Ted a step closer to meeting the mother, at least not in a clear and direct fashion, but next year I would like to have the sense that more progress is being made.
How I Met Your Mother certainly faces an easier task than a series like Lost in creating a set of answers in its finale, but as the series continues for a longer period of time it may be making its task more difficult. At this point the show may be the world's longest shaggy dog story, but it may take more than narrator Ted stating "and if all those things I've told you about already hadn't happened I never would have found myself at such-and-such a place which is where I first asked out your mother" at the end of the series for the audience not to feel that narrator Ted is more than a little ridiculous.
On the other hand, narrator Ted is more than a little ridiculous, and it may be the journey and not the destination that matters, even if the destination is claimed to be the show's raison d'être. Whatever the case may be – and wherever Ted, his friends, and the series ends up – I'll be there until the end, and can't really imagine feeling cheated no matter what happens. I do have a suspicion that the ending will be a St. Elsewhere/Newhart kind of a thing, but even that type of conclusion would work in the world narrator Ted has created.
The How I Met Your Mother season five finale, "Dopplegangers," airs Monday night at 8:00 on CBS.