I’ve been seeing a lot of criticism of HIMYM recently. Some of it is by people who never liked it in the first place and who clearly never intend to watch it anyway, which makes me pause for a moment and wonder why they are so passionate about their hatred, but I digress. Some of it is the inevitable criticism of a sitcom in its 6th season – the characters are getting broader, the plotlines wackier, the guest stars more intrusive. And some people just can’t stand the laugh track.
I just got into HIMYM a few months ago, and caught up with a marathon viewing of all 6 seasons (so, yes, it’s directly responsible for me failing my Italian final). The benefit of this rapid-fire viewing, as opposed to watching one episode a week, is that you get the gist of the show rather than the details. Weaker episodes fall through the cracks, and you only have as long as it takes to click through the DVD to the next episode to process the last. So, with this method of viewing, I don’t remember that, in 3×02, Lily did something totally out of character or that in 5×12, Ted only had one joke in the entire 22 minutes; I just remember a consistently funny show filled with people I’d like to hang out with.
All of this is a very long preamble to say that I like the show. I disagree with the widely acknowledged 5th season slump, I enjoy Ted’s douchiness (possibly because I relate all to well to it), and I don’t mind the laugh track. I think the framing device is clever, and it gives them the freedom to play around with narrative and timeline. For example, a few episodes ago, a running gag is made out of the fact that Future Ted cannot actually remember the story he is trying to tell.
This gag was funny in and of itself (and allowed a great moment of Neil Patrick Harris and Allyson Hannigan breaking out of character to stare impatiently at the camera), but what made it truly great – and what underscores the way in which HIMYM transcends the traditional sitcom format – is the emotional payoff at the end of the episode. These are not one-note characters (which is good, because that shtick would get awfully old after 6 years). I hardly need to mention the awesomeness that is NPH’s Barney Stinson (but I’ll do it anyway); although he began as the broadest character, he has since evolved into a sympathetic, nuanced individual.
Which is kind of the best part of the show – it’s not afraid to let its characters grow up and learn from their mistakes. HIMYM abuses the reset button as much as anyone, but not as gratuitously as you might expect. I can’t help but compare Barney Stinson to the title character from another sitcom I caught on reruns recently, Sabrina the Teenage Witch. While I consider this show a perfectly acceptable way to spend half an hour, I cannot escape the fact that, by the later seasons, when she is allegedly an adult, Sabrina still hasn’t learned that using magic causes problems she will then have to use more magic to fix.
After putting it that way, that show somehow makes even less sense.
Internet snobs tend to compare HIMYM to contemporary comedies like 30 Rock, The Office, Modern Family, It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia (for the record, I only saw the pilot of 30 Rock and The Office and the 1st season of IASIP, because I tried to watch the second season and hated it). But it’s not trying to be any of those shows. The show is also compared to Friends. Now, I can’t assess the validity of that statement, because, despite growing up in the 90s, I never saw Friends, but I do see HIMYM as, while not a relic of, at least an homage to that era of television. While funny, it’s not trying to be subversive. It takes the framework of its inspirations and adds its own flavor. HIMYM’s heart is in the last century, but its innovative brain is entirely of today.