Traditional sitcoms might be outdated today but until a few years ago, this was a sure-shot route for networks who wanted to engage the audience on a weekly basis. Soon after Friends ended in 2004, there was a huge void in the sitcom space that needed to be filled. Enter, How I Met Your Mother (HIMYM). The show was often compared to Friends but let’s be honest, despite their commonalities, the two never really stood on the same ground.
How I Met Your Mother vs Friends
Unlike HIMYM’s Ted (Josh Radnor), Friends did not depend on a central character, it was an ensemble in a true sense. Various parallels can be drawn between Joey and Barney (Neil Patrick Harris), Monica and Lily (Alyson Hannigan), but HIMYM always knew that the show was heading towards an endpoint – Who is the mother? As far as the quality of writing is concerned, I personally like the consistency of Friends. Though HIMYM had some strong story arcs, they started to vanish in the later seasons.
What works for How I Met Your Mother?
The basic plot of HIMYM is around a group of five friends who live in New York City and are dealing with their relationships, work problems and trying to sustain their bond as friends as they hang out at the same bar every night. The plot is basic but what works wonders here is the different characterisation of the main characters. There’s one couple that stands for love, there’s Barney who adds the comic element and then there’s Ted and Robin (Cobie Smulders) playing the ‘will they-won’t they’ through the entire run of the show. Creators Carter Bays and Craig Thomas often stated that the show was based on their personal experiences.
But what truly works for the show for all the nine seasons is Barney Stinson. He was politically incorrect, disrespectful towards women, and in general, was quite a jerk but as is the case with most controversial characters, the audience took a liking to him from the start.
Soon after the fifth season began, it was obvious that Barney was the man you waited for to be on screen and not the hero, Ted. It might be a case of charisma or perhaps better acting, but Ted just appeared whiny while Barney always had surprises up his sleeve. My guess is that the makers were quite aware of this and that is precisely why Barney’s character was developed further as the show went on. The growth of his character added to his story, unlike the numerous times Lily and Marshal (Jason Segel) moved back and forth into different houses and made it sound like a life-changing experience every single time.
What does not work for How I Met Your Mother?
In my opinion, the element that just does not work for the show is Josh Radnor’s Ted. He starts as a clueless twenty-something man who can’t wait to fall in love and get married but ends up being a whiny man who is just constantly dissatisfied with whatever he might get in life. The writers did not help his case. It was evident to the audience that Ted was a lost cause and hence, our energy was poured into Barney. The show took nine seasons to answer the question posed by its title and nine years was just way too long for the pay-off it delivered.
In terms of Lily and Marshall, the show established them as the cutesy ideal couple who have their ups and downs but are largely stable with their relationship. As far as the character shelf-life is concerned, they were no Ross-Rachel or Jim-Pam. Robin, the new entry to their friend group, was instantly likeable and continued to be so until the (almost) end.
Now, let’s address the worst part of the show, that last season. The last season was structured differently than its predecessors with all the episodes focusing on the lead up to Robin and Barney’s wedding. Everything we learnt here was supposed to be important, but all of that was undone with that finale.
The unfortunate finale
Like many good television shows, How I Met Your Mother couldn’t save itself from the curse of a bad finale. Over the years, the viewers had been on a long winding journey with Ted-Robin-Barney but when all of that was undone in the last few minutes, it came as a blow that essentially left the storyline of the last season quite meaningless.
The character of the mother came in much later than expected and for the audience, she was then just an answer to a question and no one we had invested in deeply. So even when she died, it felt like another crutch to just get Ted and Robin together even though she had physically floated away from him in a strangely surreal scene in the last season.
In my opinion, the show overstayed its welcome. But despite the long run, the show could have saved itself had they not gone ahead with that unfortunate finale.
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How I Met Your Mother is streaming on Hotstar.