Can a series succeed as a TV show and yet fail as a concept? This is something that we in the criticism field comment about but never explain. Mythology-based like The X-Files and Lost ultimately failed in their overarching statement explain what they promised, but we still regard these series as brilliant (and in TV Guide's case, among the greatest series ever), because of all the individual aspects of them--- writing, acting, production value, etc. But we have never quite explored the same aspect in a comedy series--- or have we?
In the fall of 2005, a comedy series called How I Met Your Mother premiered on CBS. Not an immense hit by even the modest standards that now make up TV in the 21st Century, it nevertheless gathered a cult following, and has actually been one of the more successful comedies of the last decade (though it never gathered immense recognitions from critics or the Emmys) Initially told from the point of view of Ted Moesby from 25 years in the future, in the pilot episode it introduced him telling his future children how he met the love of his life.... and then pulled the rug out from us by telling us it was not their mother.
I have always enjoyed this series, in part because they have assembled one of the best casts for any comedy show in history. Initially drawn in because of the superb work by Alyson Hannigan as Lily and Neil Patrick Harris as Barney, I have grown to appreciate the fine work of Jason Segal, Josh Radnor and Cobie Smulders, each of whom has managed to imprint superb and uniquely funny TV characters. The guest casts have always been excellent, the writing has been sharp and it has created it's own set of catchphrases for my generation (Though on more than one occasion, I have wonder why the hell Ted would want his future children to hear some of the stories he's told; Barney's adventures alone could scar a child for life)
But paradoxically, the longer the series has stayed on the air, the harder it has been to enjoy it. It's not that the characters haven't grown and changed immensely (which a lot of dramas don't even attempt) or that the series hasn't always been funny. The problem is, with each succeeding year, you can't help but feel the show has been dragged out, and losing any momentum might ever gain. Admittedly, explaining certain aspects of the shows history has always been funny (and they've done a far better job at making it coherent then, say, The X-Files ever did)., but it just seems to take us further and further away. Why tell us about each successive relation Ted has had, if we know from implication that they have nothing to do with the underlying story?
The final season of the series seems to be a microcosm for all the problems the series has had. At the end of season 8, we met the mother--- we still don't know her name--- as she went to the Farhamptons to attend the wedding of Barney and Robin. The final season has taken place over the weekend of that wedding, showing elements that wrap up loose ends on the series and introduce how she has run into the characters over the course of the sitcom's run. But the longer it has gone on, the more it seems to point out how protracted the series has been from it's starting point.
This is a problem not unique to Mother. While I didn't care for either the British or the American version of The Office, at least the English version had a beginning, middle and end. The longer NBC kept the American version on the air, the more stale it seemed to get. A faux documentary style is effective when it has a starting point and a finishing point. But the longer NBC kept the show running, the more past its sell-by date it seemed. By the time it reached it's final season, and the documentary's filmmaker's identities were revealed, was there anybody left who cared any more? (I fear what this will do similarly themed shows like Parks & Recreation and Modern Family.)
How I Met Your Mother ends in two weeks, with the revelation as to how Ted and the mother finally met. Maybe the ending will have some electrifying effect of completion that mythology dramas have always failed with. Ultimately, though, I fear that most longtime viewers won't care any more. When a mythos show lasts past the point of successful resolution, it is considered a failure. I imagine most viewers will feel like Ted's kids, wondering why dear old Dad couldn't have just told the story a lot quicker, without taking so many detours.