Is the last episode of "How I Met Your Mother" now the most hated TV finale of all time?
There are no hard, fast stats on fan rage.
"It's difficult to quantify vitriol," quips David Bushman, television curator at the Paley Center for Media.
But if we could measure it — be the Nielsen SoundScan of boiling couch-potato hatred — then there's a good chance the answer would be yes.
According to TV historians and industry watchers, the ending of the Neil Patrick Harris sitcom does rank up there as one of the most reviled in recent memory.
Entertainment Weekly has listed it among the "20 Most Frustrating TV Finales Ever," along with the Ben Flajnik season of "The Bachelor." E! Online offered a helpful guide on "how to hate the finale less." And HitFix critic Alan Sepinwall summed up the episode as "a variety of awful decisions that were likely hatched years ago."
But the most generous helpings of haterade clearly came from average fans.
The reason for the bile? More like reasons. Let's start with a lack of momentum for the series as a whole. Not many shows can keep up a winning formula for nine seasons; "How I Met Your Mother" was no exception.
"It was a lame ending for a lot of reasons, but the show was already so worn out that it may not have mattered as much," Syracuse University media scholar Robert J. Thompson tells me. In contrast, another show with a widely loathed finale, "Lost," didn't face so much backlash because it "ended at a peak. 'How I Met Your Mother' barely made it across the finish line."
The ending also sagged creatively.
"There were so many missing pieces that they needed to take care of at the last minute that the pacing seemed really strange, especially for a show that specialized in playing with the timeline," says TV Guide editor in chief Mickey O'Connor. "The fact that the mother had been dead for six years was glossed over. Barney and Robin being married, then divorced — they didn't give audience enough time to accept those developments."
But do those missteps merit ranking the show as the most hated of all time? We know it's close. As we've established, "Lost" went out on a high, allowing fans to feel more charitable about the painfully slipshod choices that the showrunners made. "The Sopranos'" farewell may have irked some, but at least it was true to the established mood of the series.
Bushman suggests that "Seinfeld's" jailhouse send-off may have alienated more fans when it aired in 1998. But die-hard TV historians had the comfort of recognizing it as an homage to the influential "Sgt. Bilko."
That leaves only one possible candidate: a finale that, while not really final, nonetheless angered so many fans that historians are still talking about it.
"The one show that really produced the most backlash was the ending of the first season of 'The Killing' on AMC," Bushman says. "It wasn't the series finale, but the choice to not reveal the killer, and then throwing in a twist at the very end — I remember reading reviews from critics saying they had to get up and walk around the room just to calm down."
Now that is some serious outrage.
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Leslie Gornstein is an entertainment writer and the host of the weekly Hollywood gossip podcast The Fame Fatale.
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- How I Met Your Mother