The world is full of idiots, and someone needs to point it out to them or they will never know.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Why I Hated How I Met Your Mother

Oh boy. I feel that this is going to be one of my more controversial rants, dear reader, but what the hell, I don't like something and if I don't get this off my chest now I'm always going to seeth about it. If you are a hardcore How I Met Your Mother fan (henceforth referred to as HIMYM to save me a lot of typing), it's probably best for you to stop reading this now and go back to watching your poorly-written show. If, however, you always felt HIMYM was missing something, then, dear reader, you may want to give this rant a look...

This rant is going to be legen - wait for it...

I suppose I should preface all this by saying that while I do hate HIMYM, I don't hate it with the same furor that I do with Family Guy. I watched the first three seasons of HIMYM, and the reason I hate it is because there's a lot of missed potential here. With a bit more hard work on the writers' part, the show could have become a truly revolutionary sitcom on par with M*A*S*H, Seinfeld or Friends. Looking back after nine years... well, the show just sucks.

The first thing that bothered me is the way the story was told - the writers were just plain lazy with their techniques. Having a narrator - as I've previously discussed - is only effective in a TV show if the narrator is giving insights into the main character (like JD in Scrubs). Old Ted was frequently just there to explain jokes or explain new characters - he was a shortcut for exposition. This is not good writing. Jokes and characters shouldn't need someone to explain them, you (as a writer) should know how to communicate ideas to the audience without bludgeoning them with exposition.

However, the narrator gimmick became really annoying when the show started to do flashbacks and flashforwards all over the place. I was willing to the forgive flashbacks early in the series' run (it was an effective, albeit lazy, way to introduce the cast), but as the show progressed the flashbacks/forwards simply became a shortcut for bad storytelling. Compare M*A*S*H, Seinfeld or Friends - sure, they occasionally indulged in flashbacks, but they were rare. Like Family Guy, HIMYM's characters are so weak that they're unable to get a joke (or a story) out of them unless we have Old Ted explain situations or characters to the audience. Good writing should flow from the characters, not around them. But oh God, the characters...

Not pictured: How Ted met the kids' mother

Let's start with the big one: I hate Barney. Every sitcom needs a womaniser I suppose (M*A*S*H had Hawkeye, Seinfeld had Jerry, Friends had Joey), but I simply do not buy the notion that Barney sleeps with lots of women. Think about guys in fiction (or reality) who sleep around. Do they often just seem, well, effortless about it? Believe me, women do not go for needy guys who are doing stupid shit like putting on old man makeup, making giant belts, singing about suits or inventing bro code playbooks. There is a lot I don't know about women, but look at Joey from Friends. How did he nail the ladies? He just took one look at them and said, "How you doin'?"

I'm fine, how are you?

It was effortless. He wasn't some try-hard wanker who was desperate to sleep around - he just didn't care. Oh, sure, he wanted to sleep around, but he never let his desperation show in front of the ladies. Barney, on the other hand, is so desperate for sex it's pathetic. I refuse to accept that the majority of women find this attractive (I know, some will, and that's fine, but remember, Barney is supposed to be a man who appeals to LOTS of women). But hang on, why is Old Ted telling us about Barney's sexual exploits? I thought the show was about how Ted met the mother of his children?

But as for the rest of the cast... well, at best they came of as annoying and smug, at their worst they were bullies. Case in point: the slap bet. I know, you thought it was hilarious. But let's remember Krusty the Klown's wise words when it comes to physical comedy:

"Free comedy tip, slick: the pie gag's only funny when the sap's got dignity - like that guy! Hey Hal, pie job for Lord Autumnbottom, there!" 

*Sproing* Oh dear

The point Krusty's making is that physical comedy works best when the victim has dignity, which is then removed when they fall down, receive a pie to the face or get slapped - like Sideshow Bob above. It's a change in status, which always creates drama or comedy if done correctly. Initially, the slap bet didn't offend me too much, because Barney did deserve it. But, as the series progressed, the writers decided it would be hilarious for Marshall to taunt Barney about the remaining slaps. He posted online countdowns, teased him, made him paranoid... wow, who's got the higher status here? The guy who's paranoid and worried he's about to be assaulted, or the guys who's plotting how to humiliate his friend? These scenes don't make Marshall look like some clever schemer, they simply make him look like a bully - not a funny bully, either. And maybe I'm old fashioned, but I happen to think all bullying is wrong, regardless of how much of a dick the victim is. But hang on, why is Old Ted telling us about a slap bet? I thought the show was about how Ted met the mother of his children?

Ah, bullying people. Always funny.

Now let's talk about Marshall and Lily for a moment. At the start of the series, Lily and Marshall getting engaged was a good catalyst for Ted wanting to settle down - because his best friends were (a rare example of good writing on the show, since they actually showed us this, rather than just have Old Ted explain it). Sadly, after about episode one, Lily and Marshall served no point other than for Lily to act as a doting mother to the rest of the gang. While the episode where Lily and Marshall got married was actually pretty funny, their characters were, for the most part, just pointless. I really didn't care about their struggles to have a child or buy a house - this is staggeringly boring television! There's a reason Ross and Rachel didn't get married at the end of Season 2 of Friends, it's because there's very little comedy (or drama) to be had from a happily married couple. This is why most sitcoms feature either single people OR families - but rarely both. It's just not funny or interesting. Now, if the writers had pushed themselves, then perhaps they could have come up with some good storylines here - after all, Everybody Loves Raymond managed to make Robert's new marriage in the final seasons work from a comedy standpoint - but HIMYM opted for extremely cliched stories (like buying a house and having a baby) that didn't feel new at all. But hang on, why is Old Ted telling us about Lily and Marshall's marriage? I thought the show was about how Ted met the mother of his children?

Last but not least, we have Robin. God, what a stupid character. I suppose since you can't make fun of Asians or Blacks or gays or whatever on TV anymore (which, don't get me wrong, is a good thing!), it's perfectly acceptable to make fun of a character who's from Canada.

Nothing's funnier than Canada, eh?

And, you know, I really don't have a problem with this kind of humour - South Park's portrayal of Canadians is totally bizzare, yet extremely funny at the same time. I dunno, perhaps you have to live in the USA to find it hilarious when Robin uses the metric system and the other characters make fun of her. Personally, I just find this mean, as if it's perfectly acceptable to put down and make fun of Robin because she's different. But hang on, why is Old Ted telling us all these dumb anecdotes about a friend of his who grew up in Canada? I thought the show was about how Ted met the mother of his children?

Not pictured: the mother

Alright, I've danced around it long enough: time for my main gripe, and it's, you've guess it, the fact the show didn't stick to its premise. Credit where credit is due: HIMYM had an intriguing premise. Most sitcoms dealing with people in their late twenties are about them wanting to go out and live their lives to the fullest, having all kinds of wacky adventures. Ted, on the other hand, was unlike any character I'd seen on TV before - he was a man who didn't want to sleep with a different woman every week, he wanted to meet that special someone and settle down. For an American sitcom, this was a very original idea. Now, if the show had stuck to this premise, it actually could have been an amazing show. Sadly, they digressed far too often with the other characters. If you're going to make a show's premise (and title!) about how one guy met one girl, there should not be entire episodes (and story arcs!) that deal with other people. To use a good example, Scrubs, like HIMYM initially, was a show about one guy (JD). However, the writers of Scrubs managed to get good use out of their other characters with strong writing and relating most things back to JD. It never felt like the writers were "cheating" and abandoning the premise of the show. Occasionally they indulged and gave others the spotlight, but ultimately Scrubs was very much a show about JD. HIMYM, on the other hand, was far from being a show about Ted.

In fact, the more I think about it, the more I realise what the writers really wanted was to create this:

They'll be there for you as well

I mean, think about it. A bunch of friends who live in New York City have wacky adventures, fall in and out of love, get married, have kids and so on - the show was essentially Friends re-done for people born after the nineties. Yet, while Friends was (for the most part) a clever show with strong characters and well-executed story arcs, HIMYM was not.

The way they writers of HIMYM kept saying "they had a plan" was such a load of shit. I struggle to believe that at the very start of the series they sat down and mapped out all nine seasons from start to finish. I struggle to believe the writers even had a rough idea for the series from the beginning - even the writers of LOST have admitted they made up most of the mythology of the island after season one had finished (and I really struggle to believe the writers of HIMYM are better writers than the folks who worked on LOST). I guarantee the "plan" for HIMYM amounted to "wait until the ratings start to die down, then we'll introduce the mother. Until then, drip feed the audience with 'clues' about who the mother might be."

This does not count as a story arc, this is just "Hey, let's put a goat in one episode, then explain it later! Then people will think we plan these things ahead of time!"

I mean, were all of Ted's girlfriends really necessary in the story of how he met his future wife? Like I said earlier, I watched the first few seasons, and "Ted meets Robin, dates Victoria, dates Robin for a year, then eventually ends up engaged to Stella" didn't feel like a story unfolding, it felt like the writers were making it up as they went along. And furthermore, how is an audience supposed to engage in a relationship (like Ted/Victoria, Ted/Robin or Ted/Stella) when we know this woman is not the mother, and therefore the relationship isn't going to last? Hell, even if every woman Ted dated was important to how he met the kids' mother (and they weren't), are the intricacies of how he met them, how he had sex with them and how he broke up with them relevant to the story? That would be like me telling the story of how I bought my new television, but for some reason including details about how I came to acquire my previous televisions and all the great TV shows I watched on them.

Were they all necessary?

I know it seems like I'm complaining a lot here about how Ted's dating history was depicted, but you've got to remember that the premise of the show was how he met his kids' mother! You may cry, "Who cares if it's not linked to how he met the kids' mother, I still found it funny", but the simple fact is the writers were abandoning their core premise. Telling stories totally unrelated to that is lazy and insulting. Imagine if you tuned into, say, M*A*S*H and they'd decided to do an episode in Los Angeles. Or an episode of Scrubs where no medicine was performed. I know occasionally shows will abandon their premise for an episode or two (Scrubs actually DID have a few episodes that didn't feature the hospital), but episodes like this are often the exception, not the rule. I'd say that at least 90% of the stories on HIMYM had NOTHING to do with how Ted met the kids' mother!

Like I said at the beginning, the reason I hate this show is I see a lot of missed potential. What could have been a bold new sitcom that ignored tired old cliches and looked at things we hadn't seen in a sitcom before - like a man wanting to settle down - instead decided to stick with tired old cliches and merely try to imitate older, much better sitcoms like Friends.

It may not have been the worst thing on television, but it was probably the worst use of a good premise.

© 2014 by The Free Man


Monday, April 7, 2014

Mob Justice is Not Justice

Dear reader, there's a trend I've noticed on social media lately, and it's becoming a bit worrying. Let's begin with a picture. A simple picture, a picture of a dog:

Have a problem with it? Speaking personally, I don't, but then again, I am an emotionless robot. I can understand that some people would be sympathetic about the dog - I mean, the poor guy's obviously been injured. Yet, where this gets bizzare is that this picture was shared over 10 000 times on Facebook, with the original poster claiming that this dog was being abused by its owner - a pet store. Now, whether you agree that this is animal abuse or not is up to you - however, the RSPCA have decided it's not abuse (their exact words were "They've done everything right" - source). Admittedly, putting an injured dog in a store window was pretty stupid move the first place, but worries me is the "mob justice" that emerged when the photo was posted.

According to The Courier Mail's article on the incident, ...some [Facebook users] even suggested putting the shop owner in a cage. Yeah, 'cause that seems like a logical punishment for bandaging an injured animal instead of just shooting it. Now, call me naive if you will, but we have a body responsible for preventing the cruel treatment of animals, and it should be up to them - and only them - to decide what punishment (if any) this pet shop owner receives.

"Oh, come on!" I hear you cry as you flick your dreadlocked hair off your tattooed face. "We're not suggesting he actually be put in a cage!" Yes, I realise that. But what worries me here is that the public seems to want to use Facebook as a way to punish this owner without even hearing his side of the story.

I first noticed this trend a few months ago when Derryn Hinch (a radio host) went to jail for revealing the details of the killer of Jill Meagher (the ABC woman who was murdered in Melbourne). The police were unamused by this serious breach of the law, so he was fined. But because Derryn Hinch thinks he's a slightly hairier version of God, he refused to pay, so he was thrown in jail for contempt. However, it didn't take long before stupid groups like this appeared on Facebook...


"BUT FREE MAN!" I hear you cry again. "HE WAS NAMING A MURDERER! A MAN WHO KILLED ANOTHER PERSON! THIS MURDERER DESERVES NO PRIVACY!" My response? I don't care who he's naming, or what his motivations are, you do not take the law into your own hands. Ever.

We live in a society of rules and law. While the 32 000 people who've liked this stupid page may not want to admit it or not, Australia was founded on the principles of democracy and fair treatment for all. I'm not for a second saying Jill Meagher's killer is anything but a bad person, but the simple fact is that in Australia, there are people whose job it is to enforce and interpret the law. Educated people who understand why laws are in place and how they should be applied. Just because you feel what Hinch did was right, doesn't make it so. Unless you're seriously suggesting you know more about the law than the Supreme Court of Victoria? Again, call me naive if you want, but I have faith in our justice system and that whatever punishment it decides upon - for Jill Meagher's killer or for Derryn Hinch - is appropriate. You do not take the law into your own hands. Ever.

(If you're interested in the specifics of Hinch's crime, The Dark Side of the Blog's old friend, Media Watch, had a segment on Hinch's sentencing)

Dear reader, if you start taking the law into your own hands, when does it end? While Hinch may have "only" named a killer, then when does it stop? Is beating up a person accused of committing murder okay? Is burning down a business that destroyed the lives of people okay? If everyone took the law into their own hands, before long we'd be in a society with no law, ironically the opposite of what all the Hinch supporters want. History has consistently proven that mob justice with so-called good intentions - like the Salem Witch Trials or the Klu Klux Klan - are wrong. Hell, one of the oldest examples of bad mob justice was the crucifixion of Jesus Christ instead of a murderer! Though I'll admit that it's hard to tell which aspects of Jesus' crucifixion story are true, the fact remains the mob in that story had been swayed by opinion and refused to listen to the wiser words Pontius Pilate, who wanted to spare Jesus.

 Wow, I think that's the first time I've ever used the values in the Bible as an argument. I hope this doesn't mean I'm turning into Tony Abbott.

But it gets worse. If you live in Australia, chances are you've heard the sad story of Daniel Morcombe. For the uninitiated, a young boy named Daniel was abducted in 2003 and his disappearance was a big mystery in Australia for about a decade. But recently, his remains appeared, then the police started to get some suspects, and finally, they put a man named Brett Cowan on trial for the murder of Daniel. Cowan was found guilty, and sentenced to jail. Justice had been served, right? Right...?

Oh dear. Notice the typo?

"Bring back the death penalty and save our kids"? How will killing a man who's already killed a child save kids? I know, the point these people are making is that executing Cowan will deter other criminals from doing the same thing, but in actual fact, the death penalty is not a deterrent. While you or I may see death as the worst possible punishment, I'd argue that the sick, twisted mind of a man like Brett Cowan (or Derryn Hinch) is not afraid of death. And besides, how are we setting an example that killing is wrong if our only response to a killing is more killing? We teach children that responding to violence with more violence is wrong, yet it's a bit of a contradiction when we murder our murderers - exactly what we're telling the children not to do. Not only that, but the United Nations has specifically said that "Everyone has the right to life" in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Claiming you know better than the UN is hugely arrogant. Australia - and indeed, most of the world - has abolished the death penalty because it simply doesn't work.

Mob justice is wrong. The death penalty is wrong. We have laws in place that protect us, and if you're reading this, it's because you live in a society where people obey the law and don't take it into their own hands.

And hey, if you truly believe Hinch was unfairly punished, or Cowan should have been sentenced more? How about getting off your arse and lobbying government to change the law? Because believe me, simply bitching about stuff on Facebook - or your blog - rarely changes anything.

© 2014 by The Free Man