In Defense of “How I Met Your Mother”

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.

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3 responses to “In Defense of “How I Met Your Mother”

  1. I completely agree with you. I’ve been watching HIMYM since the beginning, and a lot of the recent criticisms have made me wonder about the people making them. For instance, almost immediately after the end of “Bad News” last week, people were lambasting it for the fact that it ended on a sad note. Comedies aren’t supposed to be sad. Seriously? Have they never seen the episode of MASH, where Henry dies? How about the Home Improvement when Jill had the hysterectomy? Or the Roseanne where Dan had a heart attack or the one where Darlene’s baby almost died?

    As for the laugh track, I don’t even notice it. How could it be so annoying when I don’t even realize it is there?

    One thing I am tired of is the comparison to FRIENDS. I grew up on that show. Hell, I was one of the first Monica and Chandler shippers. HIMYM is not Friends. I can see where it comes from–both shows centered on a group of friends that hang out together and share a common history. This is pretty much so where it stops. If anything the HIMYM gang is the more mature version of the Friends gang. These people have their shit together. They all have jobs. Marshall and Lily are happily married and are trying to have a family. Ted is searching for “the one”–not just playing the field. Barney was actually involved in a monogamous relationship (his equivalent on Friends would be Joey, who while he had a serious gf for a couple of episodes never really committed to anything other than his bromance with Chandler), and has been effected by it (I think he still loves Robin, and I am pulling for a reunion). Robin has also grown–she chose love over her career for the first time ever last season. (She doesn’t necessarily have an equivalent on Friends, but when it came to career vs. romance/happiness, it took 10 seasons for Rachel to take that leap.)

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  2. Also, when I say they all have jobs, I mean that they actually go to work. I was watching one episode of Friends the other day where they’re all at the coffee house and Chandler says something to the fact that it was 4:30 and he should go back to work because his lunch break was over. At the time, Monica and Rachel should have been at work too, but instead they went to their apartment. This doesn’t happen on HIMYM.

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