Michael Eriksson's Blog

A Swede in Germany

Thoughts on “How I Met Your Mother”

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Next on my list of diversions from construction noise (cf. [1], [2]) is “How I Met Your Mother”. (Unfortunately, very incompletely and often in the wrong season order, because I have trouble finding the various DVDs.)

I have only seen the last season once—and this will remain so (irrespective of what DVDs I do find). Why? It was one of the most ill-conceived in TV history, breaking with the original format, bringing little new value in return, failing to truly let the viewers get to know the “mother”,* and, ultimately, shitting on the eight preceding seasons. These, from a romantic point of view, dealt with three main constellations: the long-standing Marshall–Lily relationship, the long and twisted road of the Barney–Robin relationship, and Ted’s search for the “mother”. What happens in the last season, where we should see the completion and happily-ever-after** of the two*** latter? Barney and Robin fall apart and “mother” dies, in order to bring the horrible constellation of Ted and Robin together …

*Which might otherwise have been a saving grace. Note that she has no true presence in the previous seasons, as more or less mandated by the idea of the show.

**Something typically assumable of a work of fiction, no matter how much tougher real life is.

***The first constellation already being at that stage.

Here, I strongly suspect a radically different problem than with most other TV series (but I possess no insider knowledge): The show makers began with a certain idea for how the show should end and stubbornly stuck with that idea, even after better developments presented themselves and/or that end proved ill-advised.

Ted and Robin simply did not have any chemistry, did not work well together, and seemed to crash and burn every time that they were in a relationship. In many ways, Robin might have been a mere fix and bad idea of Ted’s (in universe; a fix and bad idea of the makers in the real world), and a realistic (!) continuation of the series past the last season would likely just have shown them crash and burn for the umpteenth time. Compare this with his long-standing search for “the one” or his obsession with the “slutty pumpkin”, who turned out to be an even worse fit than Robin, once he found her again—and, yes, this involved another (see below) extremely premature “I love you”.

As much as I dislike Rachel (of “Friends”), her long romance with Ross was a case of two persons with a genuine long-term love and attraction, where I had the impression that they naturally were drawn together, while the makers continually intervened to push them apart in order to keep the “will they/won’t they” going.* Ditto Robin and Barney, who seemed right for each other, even when they screwed up. With Robin and Ted, I always had the opposite impression, that the characters were naturally repelling each other, but that the makers kept pushing them back together, no matter how bad a match they were.

*Wisely: most series tend to lose when this type of tension between main characters is removed, e.g. because they marry half-way through the series.

Look at the first season alone: Robin is immediately introduced as a romantic interest for Ted (indeed, with a mislead that she was the “mother”), there is an elaborate story with e.g. the stealing of a blue horn and an extremely premature “I love you”, but no actual sparks. In contrast, Ted and Victoria showed more sparks within their first episode than Ted and Robin did over the entire series. Similarly, there is one episode, of a mostly unromantic nature, where Robin plays the wingman to Barney—and the two just click in such a manner that I wanted more of them together and saw them as a great romantic match. (Probably, several seasons before their romance actually began, but the writing, in a positive sense, was already on the wall.)

Indeed, if the road of mother-is-dead-and-Ted-goes-for-some-old-crush is taken, Robin would not make the top-3, maybe* not even top-5, of my candidates.

*This will depend a little on seasons that I have not yet re-watched.

From another perspective, I have some troubles seeing any of Ted’s romances as the truly true thing, because, looking at the series as a whole, he seems to be more in love with the idea of love and romance than with the respective other party. (In this, he parallels a younger me, but I grew out of it in my twenties—Ted appears never to have done so, not even in the future of 2030, when he must be above 50.)

The fact that Ted and his actor (Josh Radnor) come across as extremely fake and “douchy”, especially in the first season, does not help—a constant and obviously fake smile, and arms spread out as were he about to wrestle the person in front of him. Barney might have been a scumbag in some ways, even criminal ways, but he somehow managed to be sympathetic* (not to mention entertaining). Ted? Not so much. In this, he is one of the few cases where I look back at a series and am open to another casting choice leading to a better series.** With many other series, I do not just have trouble seeing a better choice, but am left with the feeling that any other choice would not have been, say, Ross, Rachel, Joey, …—or, indeed, Barney***.**** Ted? Again, not so much.

*At least, from the perspective of a TV viewer. I do not guarantee that I would have the same sympathy if I met him in real life. (Similarly, it is often possible to sympathize even with some Mafia members in a movie, even in light of behavior that would be intolerable in real life.)

**Other examples include “JD” on “Scrubs” and both the main characters on “Psych”. Indeed, that I stopped watching “Psych” is largely rooted in the main characters. Series like that are often carried by high-quality secondary characters, e.g. Dr. Cox, Dr. Kelso, and the (unnamed) janitor on “Scrubs”—those cast with actors too old or unattractive to play the hip youngsters or young hipsters, but who have greater acting skills.

***My feelings for the other three main characters is half-way between these positions. I would be against a time-travel-and-recast scenario, but I am not so set on these specific actors that I would see another (quality) casting choice as a major blow.

****This phenomenon likely largely results from a mixture of exposure (I am simply used to seeing X played by Y) and the natural influence of the actor on the character (others might have done an equally good job, but the character would have been someone different, just like, say, two brothers are not carbon copies). However, series that are highly successful (and, therefore, more likely to have been seen by me) are typically of highly over-average casting, with the implication that replacing an important actor with a semi-random choice would, on average, lead to an objective quality drop.

Excursion on mental health of characters:
It is often the case that sitcom characters (to a lesser degree, TV characters in general) are of dubious mental health, ranging from minor “issues” to actual visits to the loony bin.* Consider e.g. “Friends”, where Ross went through a period where I would consider him so severely disturbed that he needed professional help (manifesting in e.g. his “secret marriage” to Rachel), both Chandler and Monica carry scars from a troubled childhood, and Phoebe straddles the border between kooky and crazy. After “Friends”, “How I Met Your Mother” might be the second placer on the mental-health scale (of the sitcoms that I am familiar with), with four out of five characters clearly not being where they should be, headwise. (I am uncertain about Marshall, who might or might not be.) Pick a season of “Friends” where Ross is in better shape and “How I Met Your Mother” might even be the number one. Within the group, Ted competes with Barney for the first place among the five, through his unhealthy romantic obsessions.**

*I stress that this is not necessarily a point of criticism: characters who are off-kilter open up new roads for both humor and stories, and if mental-health issues can achieve this, I have no problems with it. (Similar effects can be achieved through e.g. great originality, as with the Addams and Munster families, or great stupidity, as with various characters from “My Name is Earl” or, of course, Joey.) Neither is it, when kept within limits, necessarily unrealistic, as some level of problems is quite common in (at least) the modern Western populations.

**Which contribute to my skepticism towards the Ted–Robin romance(s). And, no, obsessing with love or finding a partner, or with any given specific partner (especially not, when it happens with several partners), is neither healthy nor a sign of true love.

Written by michaeleriksson

October 25, 2021 at 11:29 am

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