"How I Met Your Mother," the show about Ted Mosby's (Josh Radnor) rocky journey to find the woman of his dreams, has became a CBS mainstay, delighting its passionate fans with nine full seasons of barroom laughs, musical numbers, Bro Code shenanigans, silly catchphrases, romantic angst and "legendary" slap bets.
When "How I Met our Mother" airs its hourlong series finale on Monday, it will depart as prime time's third most popular comedy, behind heavyweights "The Big Bang Theory" and "Modern Family."
"It's just the best gift ever that it stuck around for so long," says Jason Segal, who plays Lily's husband Marshall. "We lucked out."
Luck may have been a factor, but "HIMYM"'s longevity also was a product of smart writing that managed to deftly blend whimsical hilarity with emotional depth. And then there was its sparkling five-headed cast - including Alyson Hannigan, Neil Patrick Harris and Cobie Smulders - that, from the start, oozed youthful energy and quirky chemistry.
The show had another key strength going for it: A streak of creative defiance. Over its run, starting with its offbeat "Who's the Mother?" framing device, creators and executive producers Carter Bays and Craig Thomas refused to be slaves to sitcom convention.
They shot their show on a soundstage, but without a studio audience. They made liberal use of flashbacks and flash-forwards and lightning-fast scenes. They had their characters break into song. They delved into weighty issues that other comedies wouldn't touch.
And for this, their final season, they revamped the entire narrative structure by lathering all 24 episodes over a single weekend leading up to the wedding of reformed playboy Barney Stinson (Harris) and former commitment-phobe Robin Sherbatsky (Smulders). In the process, they, at last, brought the titular "Mother" (Cristin Milioti) into the story with a touching episode told entirely from her point of view.
With its long-running mythology - and all those red herrings - "HIMYM" kept its fans guessing. Of course, not everyone was always pleased. Some viewers simply craved a quicker resolution.
"Around Season 4 people started to think our show was a big puzzle, like a game they were supposed to solve," Harris recalls. " ... But the show was never intended to be something to solve."
Adds Thomas, "It was our hope that this would become a show about the audience wanting to spend time with the cast and hearing a life story be told. ... Of course there were voices that were impatient along the way. But we always felt like we had the right timing up our sleeve. We always hoped we would have a long run, and we always knew how we wanted to end it."