FOLLOW ALONG: Look for Michelle on Twitter Monday night, when she says goodbye to 'How I Met Your Mother' while live-tweeting the finale. Follow her here starting at 8 p.m. The one-hour finale airs on CBS.
Almost a decade ago, in the fall of 2005, How I Met Your Mother debuted with the promise of its ending built into that first episode.
"Kids, I'm going to tell you an incredible story. The story of how I met your mother," main character Ted Mosby (voiced in the future by Bob Saget) tells his son and daughter in the year 2030. "It's a long story."
Nine years later, we — and those poor, patient teenagers — are about to witness that series-defining moment. How I Met Your Mother's final episode airs Monday with a unique pressure looming over it. A happily-ever-after ending, nine seasons in the making, is built into the show's title.
Last week's penultimate hour finished tying off the other loose ends: Barney and Robin got married, Marshall and Lily once again confirmed they're TV's best couple, all of Ted's friends — Barney Stinson, Marshall and Lily Eriksen, and Robin Scherbatsky — met his future wife. Tonight, all that's left is for Ted and the Mother to lock eyes for the very first time.
Will it all be worth it?
Of course it will.
Because whether or not these final 60 minutes play out exactly how every fan hopes, HIMYM still deserves a place in TV history as one of the all-time great sitcoms. Here's why:
In it for the long haul
HIMYM is the Lost of sitcoms, with a unique storytelling structure that uses flashbacks and flashforwards as often as it stays in present day. The gimmick — pretty novel for a sitcom, especially in 2005 — immediately made it feel fresh in those first few seasons and, nine years later, has instilled the show with a deep internal memory that can't be touched.
It's also given us some of HIMYM's best moments: the Robin Sparkles flashback, Lily's poignant front porch theory, Ted and Marshall's college adventures. And it's made the show's premise, guy tries to find his soulmate while hanging out with his friends at a bar, that much more epic. What other sitcom has uber fans that ponder theories about yellow umbrellas and pineapples and whether the Mother's been dead this whole time?
Legen — wait for it! — dary characters
One of the things that made HIMYM a standout from the get-go was its intimate (and hilarious) group dynamic. That's probably because creators Craig Thomas and Carter Bays based the characters on themselves: Bays was a looking-for-love Ted type; Thomas and his wife are the Lily and Marshall of their group.
We can also thank Josh Radnor, Cobie Smulders, Jason Segel, Alyson Hannigan and Neil Patrick Harris, a formidable comedic quintet who can wring laughs and tears out of just about any material. Sure, most of the characters are broader and more stereotypical now than they were at the outset, and some don't even resemble the people they started out as (oh, Robin, what happened to you?), but the connection between this core group continues to be tight and reliably funny.
Plus, the show cleared its ultimate hurdle when it created the Mother character as warm, quirky and earnest as Ted. (It helps that Cristin Milioti plays her.) Introducing such a pivotal character in its final season, and making her so likeable? HIMYM nailed it.
(Slap) Bet you'll tear up
HIMYM wears its heart on its sleeve. From the beginning, it's been unabashedly sappy; Ted steals that blue French horn for Robin and tells her he loves her in the FIRST episode. Heck, the entire premise of the show revolves around one man's quest for the woman of his dreams. Where's that unironic romantic sentiment on TV these days? That's a hole HIMYM will leave. (Ditto with college sweethearts Marshall and Lily's dynamic. They make commitment look cool.)
The show has an uncanny ability to knock you off your feet with honest emotion minutes after a gut-busting scene (remember the episode where Marshall finds out about his dad's death?). It's a remarkable testament to the control this show has over its tone that a hysterical scene from the March 17 episode — just 90 minutes from The End — about Ted, Marshall and Barney discussing the joy of finding a curly fry among an order of regular fries is sandwiched between scenes leading up to one of the most profound moments in this final season, Barney and Robin's wedding.
Which brings us to Monday, the final chance HIMYM has to walk that tricky line between heartfelt and downright silly, to make good on the promise it made in that very first episode. Well, if there's one thing this show loves, it's accepting a good challenge.
Michelle Stark can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @mstark17.