Legen-Wait For It-Dary. Sort Of.
I’ve spent the weekend watching How I Met Your Mother (HIMYM) in between episodes of other shows and movies. It felt like an apt way to spend the first weekend of 2022 — that is, watching a show that was part of a very different time.
Just a reminder — HIMYM ended its run in 2014. That’s less than ten years ago. In the pandemic fuelled present, political scientists are warning Canada to prepare itself for civil war south of the border, under a right wing dictatorship by the year 2030.
As we speak, idiot parents are trying not to vaccinate their children, women in first world countries are in danger of being criminalized for taking charge of their bodies, and there’s still no news about the Community movie. Dan Harmon promised us six seasons and a movie and I’m still holding him to it.
Essentially, How I Met Your Mother is a window into a saner past that is fast becoming a blurry smudge in our rearview mirror.
I know, I know, I’ve already banged on the ‘jokes on tv shows that did not age well’ drum. Frankly though, that’s mostly not my beef with the show.
To be frank, I still find HIMYM such an accurate portrayal of my early twenties (mine and my peers). Sure, Barney Stinson could be written off as the Patron Saint of Toxic Bro Culture, but his character was written to be a satirical representation of that sort of behaviour.
If there’s anything at all to criticize, it’s the show’s handling of certain themes. Three story arcs in particular, I always found very odd, even for the time period (which again, was more or less a decade ago).
Story Arc 1: Invading a Woman’s Apartment As a Romantic Gesture (Season 1, Episode “Come On”)
Ted and Robin, the millennial Ross and Rachel, were obviously meant to be the romantic fulcrum upon which the show rested. Their romance was generally kinda adorable. Relatable even.
Ted Mosby was every idiot romantic who has pined away after that one idealized individual; he’s every idiot who has ever prioritized love over practicality. He was supposed to be the everyman we related to, being reasonable, intelligent, and kind…
Therefore, I still find it really, really weird that Ted’s character decided that the best way to Robin’s heart was to sneak into her home in the episode “Come On”. Not alone either — he was accompanied by four strangers.
Once in her home, he filled the place with hundreds of red roses, while wearing a formal tux…which…serial killer vibes much?
Robin’s reaction was meant to show she was kinda weirded out, but also kinda maybenotsosecretly charmed. When she confided her concerns to her vet, the other woman’s reaction had been feminine envy. Moreover, the veterinarian had dismissed Robin’s concerns. Instead, she told her client she ought to be grateful to be on the receiving end of such romantic gestures.
That entire episode just felt insanely unrealistic.
As a woman who lives alone, were I to find a guy I wasn’t dating in my home, surrounded by roses and four strangers, my first reaction wouldn’t be ‘aww that’s adorable’.
As a living, breathing woman, my reaction to that situation in real life would have been to tell that tuxed-up weirdo to get out before I called the cops. Indeed, I would probably be shaking as I declared his eviction. Then, I’d probably change my locks and not give away my spare keys to anyone ever again, even friends I thought I could trust. Finally, it would be a very, very long time before I consented to even being in the same room as the creep in question.
I doubt I’m the only woman in the world who would react in exactly the same way, by the way.
Tl;dr — stalking/home invasion isn’t love. It’s psychological warfare, and it should not have been considered a romantic grand gesture.
Real talk, I absolutely did write a romantic grand gesture scene in the novel I’m trying to get published. The scene is cheesy, it’s unlikely to happen in real life, but the few people who read it, definitely squeed a bit. To be fair — my character never sneaks into his love interest’s apartment, so there’s that at least.
Story Arc 2: Purity Culture — The Answer to Happiness (entire series)
Marshall and Lily were supposed to embody what a healthy marriage looks like.
The truth is, I absolutely despised that dynamic.
The only time I liked the two characters, the only time I sort of respected those characters, was when Lily grew a spine and left Marshall for Art School.
I was actually immensely disappointed when the couple reconciled on screen, because that made them so much less interesting as disparate characters. When Marshall started ‘dating’ Joe Manganiello’s character, I rooted for the possibility that Marshall might have to actually deal with some meaty character development arcs. I rooted for the possibility of Lily becoming successful on her own, without having to rely on her husband’s lawyer income.
Instead, the show made it clear that Lily’s selfishness was ‘bad’. How dare she follow her dreams? How dare she consider life outside of her romantic relationship, to consider the possibility of being her own person?
The show even goes so far as to force her character to call herself a “Grinch” for leaving Marshall, which was the not so subtle tv-safe substitute word for the dreaded C-Word (rhymes with ‘runt’, starts with a ‘c’ instead of an ‘r’).
All of that however, is predictable TV sitcom script material. I can’t imagine that the viewing public would have preferred cynical discourse within what was supposed to be light comedy.
What rankled at me however, is the way the show absolutely promoted purity culture. There was this huge emphasis on how Marshall and Lily had only ever slept with each other. According to canon, they lost their virginities to each other and they never slept with anyone else throughout their entire lives. This piece of canon trivia kept getting repeated every single time their relationship got referenced to as the ‘perfect’ love story, to a point it was basically obnoxious.
Folks, the show ran from 2005–2014.
Friends — which ended in 2004 — helped normalize the concept of not stigmatizing pre-marital sex. Friends was a precursor for shows like Sex and the City, and it’s the reason we don’t think it’s that odd for two people who aren’t married to raise a child.
How I Met Your Mother — the spiritual successor to Friends — more or less preached that if everyone just fucked their heteronormative significant other, and ONLY that one individual forever, everyone would be happy, content and satisfied.
I say heteronormative because James Stinson’s character — Barney’s gay brother — got put through hell in canon storyline. Were it not for Ted’s brief throwaway line in the final season that James eventually reconciled with his husband, the narrative essentially turned the only other strong marriage in the show into a bit of a melodramatic catastrophe. Interesting to note as well, the show continually states that before he met his husband, James was every bit as promiscuous as his brother Barney — which is implied to be the reason why he stepped out on his man to begin with.
Basically, in the HIMYM universe, once a slut, always a slut, and sluts do not deserve happiness. Hell, it did the same to Ted, Robin and Barney. Ted loses his wife, Robin gets edged out of the group because she’s not in a couple, and Barney loses the love of his life.
Purity culture is awful. It elevates sex as a glorified act that is sacred and holy. It shames people who want to indulge in their sexual appetite, and more often than not, it’s harmful to the mental health of young people.
Trust me. I was a victim of purity culture in my youth, and I paid for it with years of trauma and therapy.
The show could definitely have done better.
Side Note: I was kind of rooting for a Barney and Lily endgame. She was kinky, and he was horny literally all the time. She made him a better version of himself, and he made her less uptight. I still think it’s completely weird that Marshall, who supposedly loved Lily to the end of the earth, didn’t think to go to San Francisco to win the woman back. Instead, it was Barney who made the trip, simply to beg for her return.
Theirs was the love story I would have preferred.
Story Arc 3: The Toxic Voyage of Ted and Barney (entire series)
Alright this last rant will be shorter.
Ted Mosby was a horrible friend. So was Barney. Their friendship was actually incredibly awful.
Barney continually tried to pressure Ted into activities he wasn’t comfortable with, he slept with Ted’s one true love, and he constantly ridiculed Ted’s life goals.
Ted on the other hand, consistently made it clear he thought Barney was an individual who ought to be held in contempt. However, whenever it suited him, he leaned into Barney’s debauchery to entertain himself.
When it was his turn to be supportive of his friend’s sincere love for Robin, Ted barely hid his lingering feelings for her. He went so far as to attempt a romantic grand gesture during her wedding to one of his supposed best friends.
Essentially, both characters sucked when it came to each other, and I’m so glad I don’t have real life friends who are in any way, shape or form like them.
To sum up — I still think HIMYM is a great show. However, I found the three arcs above oddly situated in an otherwise well written script.
There’s no such thing as a perfect show obviously — not every piece of media can be the equivalent of Sucker Punch’s Ghost Of Tsushima video game (which is basically imho one of the best games I’ve ever played). But sometimes, you do have to wonder at how some story arcs survive the cutting room…