How I Met Your Mother takes storytelling to an entirely new level.
As the name suggests, the half-hour sitcom tells the story of how Ted Mosby met the mother of his children. Along the way, he gets sidetracked with stories about his closest friends: Lily, Marshall, Barney, and Robin.
Each episode is told in flashbacks as a voiceover from the older version of Ted talks to his teenage children. This provides unique storytelling opportunities.
There is an episode where an old flame is referred to as Blah-Blah because Ted cannot remember her real name. There are moments where curse words are substituted in order to keep the story PG-rated for his children. There are similar moments where characters are shown eating sandwiches as a substitute for smoking marijuana.
Throughout its run, How I Met Your Mother continued to find exciting new ways to tell a story on television. It relied on never-before-used techniques in order to thwart expectations and create unexpected twists.
In a surprisingly dark episode, Marshall and Lily try for a baby. In the first scene, the number 50 is seen on a pamphlet at their doctor’s office. Throughout the episode, a countdown continues in the background that is impossible for viewers to miss. A 48 appears on a bottle of hot sauce. A 36 appears on a beer. A 21 appears on a calendar.
The countdown continues until Lily arrives in a cab marked with a 1. Since the episode is about her attempts to become pregnant, viewers are led to believe the end of the countdown will come with her pregnancy reveal. Instead (SPOILER ALERT), it is revealed Marshall’s father passed away from a heart attack. The episode ends with an expired sign on a parking meter.
There are similar episodes-with-a-twist where the viewer is led to an inaccurate assumption. In season two, when Robin and Ted are in the throes of a relationship, she tries to track him down after a fight. She asks around about him at bars and parties and is given a rundown of how he spent the night.
Television viewers witness Ted say and do everything the strangers describe, which involves cheating — something it is hard to believe the character would do. However, at the end of the episode, it is revealed that Barney was walking around using Ted’s name in order to hook up with women. Each clip from the episode, which originally depicted Ted getting drunk and hitting on women, is replayed with Barney taking his place.
How I Met Your Mother is never predictable. Even though the show is marketed as a sitcom, it never shies away from tough moments. The show deals with death, with infertility, with abandonment, and with deportation.
This show blurs genres. It is not a typical half-hour sitcom that relies on gags and repeats the same set of jokes week after week. The story develops. Characters develop.
Over the course of ten seasons, the show takes Barney Stinson from a two-dimensional character who only cares about ‘scoring chicks’ to a complex character with a deep emotional core. He spends multiple episodes searching for his birth father. When they finally reunite, they endure a heated conversation better fit for a drama than a sitcom.
In almost every episode, the comedy is broken up with tiny bits of deep, inspirational advice. Here are some of the most eye-opening quotes thrown amongst the humor:
“You can’t cling to the past. Because no matter how tightly you hold on, it’s already gone.”
“Shouldn’t we hold out for the person who doesn’t just tolerate our little quirks but actually kinda likes them?”
“You may think your only choices are to swallow your anger or throw it in someone’s face, but there’s a third option: You can just let it go, and only when you do that is it really gone and you can move forward.”
Every single character on How I Met Your Mother has layers. They are more than what they originally appear. Even more importantly, the entire cast has chemistry. The characters are likable. They are believable. They are fun to watch.
Part of this has to do with the writers. They asked the actors to laugh at each other’s jokes the way friends would in the real world instead of staring blankly or rolling their eyes the way characters do on other shows.
Of course, the other part has to do with the fact the actors — Neil Patrick Harris, Cobie Smulders, Jason Segel, Alyson Hannigan, and Josh Radnor — became close friends outside of the show. They loved spending time together and it translates onscreen.
Do not make the mistake of thinking How I Met Your Mother is a love story. It is a story about friendship. It is a story about growing up. It is a story about figuring out what matters most to you.
How I Met Your Mother changed the way stories could be told on television. It created an entirely new definition of what a sitcom can mean.