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


1 comment:

  1. Sounds about right, I tried to get into this show but I never could I think you more or less got to the root of it.