Two of my favourite TV shows have ended recently — Psych and How I Met Your Mother. I am perhaps a little late in writing reviews of these series finales, but I thought it was important to put them together into one review.
Psych ended its run on the USA network after a funny, quirky eight seasons. About a fake psychic detective and his high-strung best friend/sidekick solving crimes, the show was yet another take on the Holmes/Watson pairing. What made this different from all the others of a similar genre was that it was meant to be comedic, rather than merely a typical American police-procedural type show, and very, very irreverent. Shawn Spencer (played by James Roday) and Burton ‘Gus’ Guster (Dule Hill) have been friends since childhood, but couldn’t be more different. Shawn is a carefree, easy-going slacker who relies on his wits and charm (and Gus’ money) to get him through life; not to mention his hyper-awareness that eventually leads him to tells the police makes his ‘psychic’. Gus is a tight-laced, over-achieving type-A personality who tolerates Shawn and his antics. Yet, in part because they have known each other since childhood, the two have a deep love and affection for each other, a Bromance in today’s language.
The simple premise of the show, similar to many other detective shows, first drew my attention because it’s set in Santa Barbara, a city I’ve often visited over the years. It continued to engage it because it was so silly and made allusions to all varieties of popular culture — Shawn and Gus’ love for Tears For Fears (singer Curt Smith made a few appearances on the show, in fact), to a retelling of Twin Peaks and Clue, to mentioning how Shawn was a fan of the Mentalist (another show with a fake psychic who solves crimes). Whilst shows that often make pop culture references tend not to age very well, Psych did it in an amusing and sly way, so that the reference is more of a gag than a main plot device. If you get the reference, the show is even funnier, if not, the show is still amusing. The show also engaged with viewers through social media and contests, offering a ‘spot the pineapple’ sweepstakes in every episode. They had some sort of pineapple obsession that I never figured out. More about the finale later.
Another show that had a bit of a pineapple fetish, How I Met Your Mother, finally ended after nine seasons last week. Ostensibly a show about how the main character, Ted Mosby (played by Josh Radnor), tells his children about how he, you guessed it, met their mother way back in the past, the show had a unique plot structure. The entire show is basically told in flashback, with the narrator in 2030 telling his kids what happened in his twenties and thirties, 2005-2014. Because the show played around with chronology it offered a sense of ‘hindsight’ and odd cohesion for the show, since you always knew Ted would find the mother (though he never did adequately explain the pineapple incident).
Yet, as a few reviews of the HIMYM finale suggest (tv.com or Washington Post), fans rightly felt cheated. The entire ninth season was based on Robin (Cobie Smulders) marrying Barney (Neil Patrick Harris), only to have their marriage end in the first twenty minutes of the final episode. Like many fans and reviewers, I was angered by the ultimate ending, that Ted ends up with Robin. Not that I truly bought the Robin/Barney storyline, but the show did make a huge point of mentioning how Ted was over Robin, and how she, despite some reservations, really did love Barney — about all the characters moving on from childish fantasies and growing up. Ted had realised his life wasn’t what he wanted in New York, so was moving to Chicago. Robin and Barney were finding love and growing up. Even Lily (Alyson Hannigan) and Marshall (Jason Segel), the old married couple, grew more in love with each other. One of my favourite scenes was in the penultimate episode where the couple re-affirm and give new wedding vows because they’d broken almost all their original vows. It was poignant in acknowledging that people and times change and should be updated accordingly. So I was willing to accept the idea that Robin and Barney were married and got together — they grew up. So when that ended (abruptly!) and instead had Ted and Robin reliving their childish romances, it took away the emotional impact of the show. They went back to living fantasies.
Which is the exact opposite of Psych. Finally, at the end of eight years, Shawn was ready to grow up. He moved to San Francisco to ask Juliette (Maggie Lawson) to marry him, to finally take on responsibility. He finally came to realise that he had to let go — of his childhood home, of relying on his father (Corbin Bernsen), of his well-to-do friend, even of his job at the SBPD. In one of the more touching scenes, he even finally admitting to Lassiter (Timothy Omundson) via a recording that he’s not actually psychic, though ‘Lassie’ stops the DVD (and breaks it) before the admission happens. But the fact that Shawn is willing to take that step admits to his growth as a character. That Gus realises he can’t live without his best friend and moves up to San Francisco to follow Shawn adds to the humour of the show, and shows the close bond the two have. Overall it was a satisfying end, what a series finale should be.
That two of my favourite shows ended in a short span of time speaks more to the fact that I probably watch too much TV than anything else, but their differences were what made them memorable. Psych wrapped up with the characters growing, though not too much, as it left open the possibility of a movie or, if nothing else, continuing on in the same vein in the audience’s mind. HIMYM took the easy, shortcut way out, having the characters resort to old tropes that had been worn out long before. Neither show had a particularly strong final season — many more downs than ups — but Psych‘s last episode managed to dull some of that pain; HIMYM‘s just exacerbated it. Both are over, so time to move on to other shows now. Hopefully whenever those end they will end well.