Boy meets girl; boy marries girl; boy and girl have a boy and girl; boy tells his boy and girl how he met his girl.
In a nutshell, that's the premise of the CBS comedy
"How I Met Your Mother,"
which ends after nine seasons with a one-hour series finale on Monday (March 31).
If all goes as fans hope, by the time the last credits roll, New York architect Ted Mosby (Josh Radnor) will at long last lock eyes -- and who knows, maybe even lips -- with "The Girl With the Yellow Umbrella" (Cristin Milioti), his future wife and the Mother of the title.
They've already seen retired playboy Barney Stinson (Neil Patrick Harris) exchange vows with news anchor Robin Scherbatsky (Cobie Smulders), Ted's ex-girlfriend. Signs also point to Marshall and Lily (Jason Segel, Alyson Hannigan), Ted's longtime pals continuing to be the adorable couple they've always been.
Carter Bays, who co-created and executive produces the show with his longtime pal and writing partner Craig Thomas (they met when Thomas became the drummer for Bays' band at Wesleyan University), is just back from a week in Hawaii. Spending time in paradise with his wife and two children was intended to help him from the stress and exhaustion of getting "HIMYM" over the finish line.
"I hadn't really done the Hawaii thing," he tells
, "and it was everything they said it would be."
Of all the twists and turns of the final season, which has played out as one very long weekend before Barney and Robin's wedding, and the finale, the end has always been in sight.
"I feel like the less we say about the finale, the better," says Bays. "This is the ending we conceived when we conceived the show 10 years ago. It's what we've been steadfastly writing towards ever since."
We know now that Barney and Ted both make it down the aisle -- a few years behind the show's creators, who loosely based "HIMYM" on their own experience as buddies sharing an apartment in New York. Both Thomas and Bays are husbands and fathers, but it was not always thus.
"At the beginning of the series," says Bays, "I related to Ted, because I was single, and I hadn't met my wife yet. Now, I feel much more like Marshall and Lily, although there is a lot of Ted and the Mother in my wife and I. There are a few details that are taken directly from life."
While Ted and Barney stand in for many singles who are either looking for true love or merely just a good time, Marshall and Lily started the show together, got married and had a baby -- but at no point did they become boring.
Says Bays, "Marshall and Lily have been almost like immortals, almost like Greek gods, representing marital love. They've always been superhuman in that way, and they continue to be.
"They have trouble ... but there's just some wonderful stuff coming up. They're two people who follow their gut, and that's what their love story has been about. It's about their feelings for each other."
While Ted always had one eye on the altar, Barney let his eyes roam.
"What else is there to do with a character like that than watch him grow up?" Bays says. "The last few episodes give a real accelerated view into just how much Barney grows up."
Having found his bride, Bays can heartily recommend the married state to any bachelors watching the show.
"You have to meet the right person," he says. "At the same time, it's wonderful. It's great. There is no right time; there is no checklist you have to hit. You have to be open to it, and you have to find someone who's open to it, and who you get along with.
"When you do that, it's great. It's the best thing I've ever done."
As to whether the Mother resembles his wife, Bays says, "I'm nervous about comparing the two. I definitely think the way Ted loves his wife comes directly from how I love my wife, for sure. I don't think I'd be able to write that stuff if I hadn't gone through it myself."
As for the nature of love and marriage, Bays says, "We've spent nine years writing about it, and I still don't feel like we've come close to distilling it down. Marriage is a series of lots of little stories.
"I guess a marriage is kind of like a sitcom. You have to keep it interesting, you have to keep it fun, and there'll be twists and turns in the plot. You have to stick with it, just keep the central cast together."
The "How I Met Your Mother" series finale airs at 8 p.m. ET/PT Monday on CBS.