21 Apr TV Recommendation: A Retrospective on CBS’s How I Met Your Mother
A few months back I was on a date with this girl at a small Italian restaurant around the corner from my house. The last shred of first-date-jitters had finally evaporated as we drank past the label of the white zinfandel bottle and we really started to connect as the night wore on. Somewhere between hearing about her dogs and telling a crazy story about my friends and I, we landed on the topic of our favorite TV shows. While we shared praise for the long-running CBS sitcom How I Met Your Mother, we had one fundamental difference of opinion. She had this utter disdain for the main character, Ted Mosby (Josh Radnor), and in a strange way, I kind of am Ted Mosby.
After that night I held onto hope thinking maybe it was just like the Olive Theory, one of the countless running-gags and dating rules used to progress the narrative of How I Met Your Mother, but I was wrong. You see, the Olive Theory explains how there is a lot of give and take in a relationship, and how having vastly different tastes can sometimes be positive for a couple. This difference in opinion, however, was not as simple a fix as her handing me a side plate of olives. This girl hated all the personality traits of a character that were just so inherently me. There is no coming back from that; but hey, that’s just the way dating goes sometimes…
How I Met Your Mother is the story of Ted Mosby’s unrelenting search for true love and eternal happiness in the city of Manhattan, New York. Ted tends gets a bad rap from most audiences, even in the case of some of the show’s most loyal viewership, but for every Ted Mosby hater out there, there are hundreds of us hopeless romantics that see a lot of ourselves in him. Ted is a bit eccentric, having several nerdy quarks including a love Star Wars, Spanish poetry, and the history of architecture; but he can be most accurately described as a passionate guy that just cares too much. Ted is definitely a person that tends thinks a lot, and as a result, he is often his own worst enemy when it comes to dating. He’s got this head-in-the-clouds type of personality, and believes in things like fate, divine purpose, and signs from the universe. Ted often tries to force destiny with some of his over-the-top romantic gestures, but his thoughtfulness is often be misconstrued as delusion. Call it personal bias, but I don’t understand how anyone can fault a person for giving a shit.
Anyway, Ted has a core group of best friends who are with him for every step of his plight to find “the one”: Lily Aldrin (Alyson Hannigan), Marshall Eriksen (Jason Segel), Barney Stinson (Neil Patrick Harris), and Robin Scherbatsky (Cobie Smulders). He regards them all as family several times throughout the course of the show, and he is constantly putting their needs ahead of his own. Ted met both Marshall and Lily their freshman year at Wesleyan University in 1996. The two are the picture-perfect couple that Ted often turns to as an example of the type of love he is looking for. Marshall and Lily have only ever been with each other, and aside from a brief stint at the beginning of season two, they are virtually inseparable from their engagement in the pilot episode on. Marshall is a warm, outgoing guy from a small town in Minnesota called St. Cloud, and Lily is a cute, yet fierce woman from Brooklyn with a deep passion for art. The two tend to take on the role of mom-and-dad in the crew; specifically Lily, who is sometimes a bit meddlesome in her attempts to help Ted’s love life.
It is not until after graduation that Ted meets the other two members of their gang, Barney and Robin. Sometime after receiving their undergrads, Ted, Lily, and Marshall make their move to the “Big Apple.” Ted meets Barney in the gangs’ local hangout in 2001, a bar under their apartment called MacLaren’s Pub. Barney is, for more or less, the same guy then as he is throughout the show’s run. He is a suit wearing, scotch drinking sociopath hell-bent on sleeping with as many women in New York City as possible. For as misogynistic and swallow Barney can be at times, he is without question the most hysterical character of the show, and he proves time and time again that he is actually an extremely loyal friend.
Finally, at long last, we have Robin Scherbatsky. Ted was with Barney when he met Robin in the very first episode at MacLaren’s in 2005. It was one of those moments when two people lock eyes with one another across the bar and all perception of time ceases to exist. Ted was infatuated immediately, and when Robin motions toward the bar to get a drink, Barney introduces Ted (after commenting, “you know she likes it dirty,” that is) with the HIMYM classic game, “Haaaaaaaaave ya met Ted?” Ted and Robin have, by all definitions of the word, a phenomenal first date; that is, until Ted lets the words, “I think I’m falling in love with you,” escape his mouth. Naturally, Robin panics and Ted goes home alone that night; but despite their awkward date, Robin becomes friendly with all four characters and is absorbed into the gang.
On the surface, Ted and Robin could not be any less compatible, but their romantic potential is a theme that lies just below the surface for the entirety of the show. Robin is a former Canadian Pop-star, turned gun-nut New Yorker. She is a grossly independent woman that is very career driven, and doesn’t share the same big-picture family dream as Ted. The dynamic of their relationship is very will-they-won’t-they for several seasons, but the story of Robin Scherbatsky becomes profoundly sad around season seven. Moments of debilitating loneliness and crushing family demons morph the perception of Robin from just the prototypical “hot girl” of the group to an incredibly pained and layered character.
Although the format of How I Met Your Mother is that of your typical multi-camera, laugh-track sitcom, the true brilliance of the show comes from the framing device from which the story is told. Everything that occurs in HIMYM is occurring in the past tense. The year is 2030, and Ted has sat his children Penny and Luke down to tell them the “long version” of how he met their mother; starting with the night Lily and Marshall got engaged and the night he met their Aunt Robin. The most ridiculous moments and unlikely nights are rectified by the fact that people often exaggerate when retelling stories; and in essence, we are seeing the story of How I Met Your Mother through Penny and Luke’s eyes rather than Ted’s. It may be Ted’s life and Ted’s perspective, but it is the kids’ imagination, and we are seeing the story as they do.
How I Met Your Mother ran for nine seasons and a total of 201 episodes. Despite some disappointment in the finale, it was a show that always found that happy medium between heartfelt and sappy, and poetic and hilarious with great success. In a way, HIMYM was a show cursed by its own success. Though I tend to disagree with the popular opinion here, many will argue that How I Met Your Mother began to tank towards the end. Unfortunately, all that some people will remember are the inconsistencies in the latter seasons, or Barney’s character regression towards the end of the series; however, we should all remember HIMYM as an all-time great sitcom, and we should cherish the aspects of the show that are ultimately a part us. For me, How I Met Your Mother is more than just a TV show; the story is part of who I am.
This show has taught me that we are all made up of stories. It reiterates the fact that the journey is every bit as important as the destination, it reminds us to be present in our everyday lives, and it shows us how to make every moment we can legendary. Most importantly, How I Met Your Mother teaches us to love with all we have, and to embrace the loved ones around us, because as the one and only Ted Mosby once said, “love is the best thing we do.”
… So, if that girl from the Italian restaurant couldn’t understand that about me, then I guess she just wasn’t “the one.”