Watched it last night, been trolling the Internet for reaction most of last night/today, and here’s the basic rundown of thoughts.
Cons First: The final sequence with the kids was essentially taped during the pilot, meaning that the show knew how it would end eight years ago. I realize that the show basically stayed on the air because it was making money for CBS — it lasted nine seasons but probably could have lasted six or seven and been just fine — but it seemed odd and deceitful to design the arc in the way they did. It was ultimately a show about a group of friends akin to a family, and that evolution was great to see … but why design the entire final season around one weekend leading up to a wedding that becomes invalidated 22 minutes into the series finale? And why start giving the mother such a contextual role if you’re only going to kill the character off in flash-forward? If they knew the mother was going to die and Ted and Robin were going to “end up together” (not sure where it will head, exactly), they could have gotten to that spot in a “fairer” way, you can argue (fairer to the fans, that is). Also, when you’re making money, can’t you re-write a scene in the course of eight years as the show evolves? Don’t you have that capacity?
Pros Now: The flash forward stuff was an accurate representation of what happens to groups of friends as people get older, some have kids, some divorce, some get caught up with jobs, etc. Life doesn’t happen at the same pace for everyone, so relationships shift as a result. I’d say HIMYM painted that picture better than Friends did, per se, and there’s a big argument on the Internet about how those are essentially the same show for different generations (Happy Endings could have been that show for the generation behind HIMYM, but it never quite caught the fire it should have). I feel I’m closer to the HIMYM generation — I was in high school when Friends started — and I’ve been through a ton of those things, from moving away myself to others moving away to people having three kids and others not even being married. That’s honestly life. That’s the adventure of it in some ways. I haven’t seen many more honest re-tellings of what happens to friend dynamics on a sitcom; maybe the “He’s the man I should have married!” stuff with Robin and Lily in the empty apartment was a little bit over the top, but again, I’ve seen dramatic run-ins between long-time friends (and I’m about 12-13 years younger than they would have been in that scene).
So ultimately the discussion comes down to “did this render the character development of the past decade insignificant” vs. “was this the most realistic network sitcom portrayal of what friendship from your 20s to your 40s is really like?” Wherever you fall on that continuum is probably going to influence how you view the finale, from one prism:
… to another ….