I would like to pride myself on always having my finger on the pulse of the next big thing, discovering potential icons of cool before they go blockbuster, but who would I be kidding? Although I was country when country wasn’t cool, obsessed with Robyn back when her records weren’t even being released in the U.S., down with Mo’Nique from the first time ever I saw her face on The Parkers in the late ’90s, I’m 50/50 when it comes to getting to the party on time.
How I Met Your Mother is now in the middle of its sixth season on CBS, but I never got around to watching it until last February. What took me so long? It had been on the air for only one season when I moved from New York City to Buenos Aires, and for some reason the TV programming gods in South America haven’t gotten around to picking it up for syndication on any of the networks that run English-language series. (Incredibly, though, they deemed two failed Jenna Elfman sitcoms — Courting Alex and Accidentally on Purpose — more likely to lure South American viewers. Go figure.)
Then in February, I discovered the show as part of the in-flight entertainment while travelling from BA to NYC via American Airlines. I caught more episodes en route from NYC to London on Virgin Atlantic in March, and again in September, taking Quantas from BA to Sydney. (Apparently, the people who plan the entertainment menu for international carriers are huge fans — or they figure the jokes transcend cultural and language barriers.) A friend in Melbourne gave me the first two seasons, and after finishing those, I continued to feed my new addiction online. I’m currently up to season four, episode two, and I can’t wait to see what happens next.
I’ve read stories all over the internet claiming that How I Met Your Mother is the new Friends, but I’m not so sure that I agree. Despite the similarities — Manhattan setting, beverage-serving hangout, musical romantic partners, Alyson Hannigan channelling both Monica and Phoebe as Lily — HIMYM is, if anything, the anti-Friends. Here’s why.
It’s a hit despite slightly sluggish Nielsen numbers?
As popular as it is among those at home and travelling abroad, HIMYM has never climbed above No. 42 in the yearly ratings, while Friends was a Top 10 show for its entire 10-year run. Its stars might never be rewarded with $1 million an episode, but for Neil Patrick Harris, who has earned four consecutive Emmy nominations for playing womanizer Barney Stinson, the benefits have been just as great. Friends made Jennifer Aniston a huge star, but HIMYM did something far more impressive — and miraculous (without Brad Pitt’s help). It made the child actor who played Doogie Howser, M.D. from 1989 to 1993 an even bigger star as an out and proud adult.
Booze has so much more comic potential than coffee beans.
MacLaren’s or Central Perk? That’s an easy one. How many attractive twentysomethings and thirtysomethigs do you know who sit around in their spare time guzzling caffeine in a coffee shop? Isn’t it more realistic — and fun — to watch a group of friends sitting around trading stories and insults over the harder stuff. I just wish Carl the bartendar would pull a Gunther and fall for Marshall.
Ted is so Ross, but he has a dark side.
He falls in love with Robin at first sight, foolishly tells her so on their first date, and then makes the dumbest lovesick moves to get her. He’s neurotic, obsessive, nerdy, and a little more into her than she’s into him. So far, so Ross. But unlike Ross, who was genuinely nice to a fault, Ted can be such a douche bag.
Yes, Ross cheated on Rachel, but he thought they were on a break. (I’m still with Team Ross on this point.) And he said Rachel’s name — twice! — when he was getting married to Emily, but Ted’s sins run deeper and darker. He broke up with a girl twice on two different birthdays, charged a night’s worth of champagne to another guy’s bar tab after ditching his date outside of a night club, and totally blew off Britney Spears. (Friends always got the hot guest stars — Julia Roberts, Brad Pitt, Sean Penn — but kudos to HIMYM for taking a chance on Britney when she was still in career rehab.)
Plus, his reaction to finding out that Barney had slept with Robin near the end of season 3 — cutting off their friendship — was so much harsher than anything Ross did when he found out that Joey was crushing on Rachel.
In fact, HIMYM is darker than Friends ever dared to be.
And not just because of Ted’s occasionally dubious actions, Barney’s questionable rules of courtship (more on that below), or all the slapping. But can you imagine Joey getting hit by a bus while racing to visit Ross in the hospital? It happened to Barney on his way to see Ted, whose taxi was rammed in the side — Ted’s side! — by another car. That’s black comedy at its bleakest.
Barney Stinson might be the biggest asshole on TV.
He’s a little bit Joey: He falls for his best friend’s ex, he pronounced Marshall and Lily man and wife, and he has his own standard pick-up line — “Have you met Ted?” — though it’s used for wingman purposes, not for his own benefit (unlike “How you doin’?”). But he’s a lot more Charlie Harper from Two and Half Men. Still, as womanizing goes, it’s hard to imagine even Charlie (Harper or Sheen) pulling some of the stunts that Barney does.
It’s one thing to pretend you’re someone you’re not in order to pick up women, but to leave one conquest stranded in the middle of the woods and another to fend for herself with the cops after telling her that the for-sale apartment you’re about to bang her in is your pad and then sneaking out while she’s in the shower, that’s crueler than sitcom characters generally are allowed to be. It’s a testament to Neil Patrick Harris’s skill that I laugh at his misdeeds. And he’s still more likeable than Ted.
HIMYM isn’t afraid to be down on love. You’ve gotta have friends — and romance. It’s a concept with which Friends frequently beat viewers over the head. Both are paramount in the general HIMYM scheme of things, but romance isn’t always shown in such a positive light. Ted’s search for The One frequently borders on desperate and psychotic; Lily and Marshall might be one of the coolest couples on TV, but they’re also certifiably co-dependent; Robin’s lack of sentimentality makes 30 Rock‘s Liz Lemon look like a cloying romantic, and every time Barney comes up with yet another reason to avoid love and marriage, it’s hard for me to disagree.