This year saw two of my favorite TV shows end their runs on the small screen. HBO’s prohibition era gangster drama Boardwalk Empire and CBS’ romantic sitcom, How I Met Your Mother. Both tremendous shows full of great writing, wonderful acting, memorable characters, and tremendous storytelling. The only difference? The satisfaction in their endings.
Suffice to say I’m going to be talking SPOILERS here so if you haven’t seen the finales, the final seasons, or the shows at all, then walk away now, but do stick around and read what else I have to offer on this site. Please and thank you!
Where to begin? Well the shows themselves.
How I Met Your Mother came around back in 2005 and instantly hit with me and a lot of people. The premise was pretty nice with its set up and storytelling device of an older man telling his kids the, long, story of how he met their mother. The cast was instantly memorable thanks to the writing and how well the actors portrayed them. The show did have a lot of downs since it did run for nine years, which I think was far longer than it should have, but you wanted to know, who was the mother? It worked on me and millions of other people.
Boardwalk Empire is a gangster drama set within the era of prohibition during the 1920s and 30s with a big focus on Enoch “Nucky” Thompson at the center of a huge, sprawling character piece. This show got me right away. Period crime drama? Check. Martin Scorsese directing the pilot and executive producing the show? Check. Terrence Winter from The Sopranos as showrunner? Check. Impeccable cast? Check. Everything just seemed to work and the show’s detail to historical accuracy with its real life based characters and moments was wonderful.
Now let’s go all the way to the end where we get to what did and didn’t for for either show in their final season. We can start with a common theme they both shared, time.
How I Met Your Mother set its final season within the entire weekend of Barney and Robin’s wedding with an occasional flashback episode set way back before the wedding and Boardwalk Empire being told their fifth season would be the last, went seven years ahead after season 4 to 1931 towards the end of Prohibition and during the Great Depression.
Boardwalk Empire used the time frame to its full advantage, then again they honestly do have a richer story to tell thanks to its historical roots and despite getting their usual episode order cut down by HBO, it was allowed to breath even though it had eight weeks to wrap things up. It paces itself out nicely with its characters and storylines with the limited time it has. How I Met Your Mother is the complete opposite of that with its final season, which itself would have benefited from a cut down episode order, tries to cram in way too much. I get it wanted more of its views and little concepts of love put it since it was focusing on a wedding and the first meeting for when Ted meets the mother, but it drags. Setting it on the wedding weekend and keeping it that for 95% of the season started off fine, but it went on to hurt it despite the episodes I loved that came from it. It puts in a couple plot elements that I think didn’t quite work as well. Like how Marshall misses the flight to the wedding. That didn’t need to be as long as it was, yet I liked what it led to when he finally saw Lily to talk about Rome.
Boardwalk was able to get across wrapped up endings for its characters and show the enviable fall of Nucky from power. I’ve begun to notice how much I love shorter season shows. There are network shows I love such as Flash, Arrow, Good Wife, and of course as you see Brooklyn Nine-Nine, but that’s the problem, so much padding. For as much as I love those listed, I’m liking the 13 to about 16 episode model of TV seasons. BBC has the right idea. For as much as I love How I Met Your Mother yeah it could have been shorter. I think the series personally should have capped out at about seven, but each season has an absolute favorite story of mine in addition to great character moments.
Now I think its time to get right to the full endings themselves.
Boardwalk as mentioned ends with the fall of Nucky Thompson. All holdings in Atlantic City has been given over to Lucky Luciano and Meyer Lansky, who happen to take care of business with Dr. Valentin Narcisse, Al Capone goes to jail, and Nucky wraps up things with everyone he needs to. It wasn’t something big or showy, in fact the pacing of the flashbacks slowed it a bit but I enjoyed the flashbacks. It was down and dirty wrap up that stayed steeped in what the show truly is and I fully enjoyed it for that. Even the ending twist with one his men being Jimmy Darmody’s son and killing Nucky for revenge. That’s wonderful. More importantly, Boardwalk Empire stuck to what it was building up.
Unlike How I Met Your Mother. The ending of this show didn’t ruin it all together, it just ruined the past couple of seasons of the show. Season 8 and 9 had spent so much time and effort into them and us seeing Robin and Barney as truly being meant for each other. Yet they suddenly remembered they had part of the ending filmed back at season 2 with Ted’s wife having long passed, Barney and Robin divorced, and the kids encouraging Ted to go after Robin since its been enough time for him to grieve. They had hit the reset button and that’s the biggest problem. Now for me I think the true ending of HIMYM is Ted Mosby being happy. Life just dragged him through shit time and time again so when he finally got the big win at the end, that’s so satisfying. We got that, I just really don’t care for how he becomes happy. Again they put so much effort into selling the pairing of Barney and Robin and it feels so unproductive for that to just suddenly be unraveled since season 8 lead right into the overlong weekend that is the ninth season. It was like taking a nice lovely stroll in the neighborhood then turning the corner and falling right into a manhole. All that development for naught.
That’s what ultimately made these finales so different, progression. Taking something back to where it belonged is an interesting way to tell a story but I think it works better if it is not the definite ending to a story. With a TV show you want the show to stay true to itself all the while advancing and progressing itself over the seasons after its debut. A TV show should feel different from where it started. Core things about it do need to be kept in check but I also believe it the changes and advancements of the characters still needs to be prevalent when that finale episode comes to air. That’s how I see things and that to me is how Boardwalk Empire ended. How I Met Your Mother looked like it was, but didn’t. It went back in a way I much didn’t care for. That’s what really stung.
I don’t ever want to go on a long and exciting journey somewhere only to have it up being the same place I started at. That’s not how things work. It really upsets me what How I Met Your Mother did.
Here’s hoping Mad Men’s upcoming episodes, reviews resume when that happens, follows suit with Boardwalk.