I began my journey through HIMYM because of my great friend with great taste, Aynsley’s, recommendation. She had been singing the show’s praises for some time and I decided to give it a shot. I mean, I knew I’d hate it. What’s to like about a popular sitcom narrated by an off-camera Bob Saget about the coming-of-age of wacky friends in their twenties? Its central premise is gimmicky and kind of lame. A father (Ted Mosby) in the year 2030 is telling his kids the long winded story about (wait for it) how he met their mother. Watching the pilot I was as squirmy and impatient as Ted’s future children who are forced to sit on the sofa and listen. I found the writing formulaic and the one-liners cringe-worthy. Neil Patrick Harris’s character Barney was especially cloying. He’s a womanizer whose first words in the series are, “hey do you know how I’ve always had a thing for half-Asian girls?” He also likes to wear suits and always says “suit up.” What kind of catch phrase is suit up? I kept watching though. I told myself that it was because of the cast. The cast can make even the worst writing somewhat authentic and amusing. I even laughed out loud a couple of times. The character of Barney is one-sided to be sure, but he was generally pretty funny. The rest of the supporting cast is just as terrific. Jason Segel was on Freaks and Geeks so he was my favorite from the get go, but Alyson Hannigan and Coby Smulders are also strong and endearing and hilarious. Josh Radnor as Ted was less initially appealing as the love sick straight man but he kind of looks like John Cusack so I gave him a pass.
The more I watched HIMYM the more I grew connected to the characters. I’m not sure if the writing improved or if it was my attitude or a combination of both. The cast evolved from a group of great actors to a stellar ensemble. In fact, I burned through 8 seasons in an embarrassingly short amount of time and somewhere along the way I fell in love with the show as a whole. The friendships are stronger and more believable than anything I’ve seen on most sitcoms. These people truly care about each other and are significantly instrumental in each other’s growth.
It could be argued that Barney’s journey is the steepest in the series. The one-liners that I found inauthentic early on (but have grown to love) like “suit up” and “haaaaave you met Ted?” are slowly revealed to be part of a grand illusion Barney builds to protect himself from a father that wasn’t there for him. In season 6 Episode 2, Barney and the gang are helping his mother pack up the family home and all of the childhood things that were the foundation of the illusion such as a letter from the postmaster general apologizing for losing the invitations to his eighth birthday party in the mail, which is why nobody showed up. He also admits for the first time that Bob Barker may not be his father (which is a big deal for him) after he and his black older brother James find an envelope marked “your son” addressed to Sam Gibbs. The brothers meet Gibbs, who is clearly James father (not Barney’s) and Barney trades one illusion for another believing Gibbs is his father also. His friends watch on with love, recognizing that Barney is taking a huge step forward and that sometimes the truth just gets in the way.
Whether it be trinkets from Barney’s childhood, the blue french horn (that looks like a smurf penis), the swords (or countless items for Ted and Marshall’s apartment) Slap Bet or Barney’s catchphrases, HIMYM is dripping with nostalgia. It is a safe bet that if something is introduced more than once it will be weaved into the history of the show. Nostalgia plays a huge role in why I love HIMYM. First, there is something safe and cozy about slipping into familiar patterns with familiar characters spouting familiar catchphrases with familiar stuff surrounding them. HIMYM does an excellent job of establishing comfort zones for both its characters and its viewers and then blindsiding us all with change.
The Time Traveler’s, Season 8 Episode 20 grew to be one of my favorites. It didn’t start out that way and I almost skipped it. It begins with Ted and Barney, 20-years-from-now Ted and Barney, and 20-hours-from-now Ted and Barney sharing a pint at McLaren’s Pub arguing over whether present day Ted and Barney should go to Robots vs. Wrestlers. 20-years-from-now Ted and Barney claim that they will come away from the night with an amazing story but 20-hours-from-now Ted and Barney warn of a crippling hangover and a spaghetti spill on a clean suit. It is all very cute and much too far-fetched for my taste. So I thought.
In a completely believable and emotional twist it is revealed that Ted is sitting alone. His friends have paired off and he is stuck remembering a past he loved so much (with the gang at McLarens) and yearning for a less lonely future. He is contemplating whether to see Robots vs. Wrestlers and risk the unknown, or to stay behind and miss out on an amazing memory (the kind of memory you relive countless times with your friends and can’t wait to tell your children). It highlights the extreme anxiety over the roads in life you choose not to take or choose to leave behind.
How Ted met his wife is not the most interesting part of what is at work in HIMYM. What is most fascinating to me is how Ted deals with the change that is going on all around him; how he misses the present as he’s pining for the past or wishing for the future. Most interestingly, HIMYM is about how 30-somethings deal with a coming of age that happens when they aren’t paying attention.
I don’t mean to suggest that HIMYM is a perfect show. At 8 seasons and counting it can be meandering, tedious and overly silly. However, when HIMYM delivers this kind of premium silliness, who am I to complain? (I could write a whole other blog about the brilliance of Neil Patrick Harris but I’m low on space and the above clip does the work for me).
So a giant thank you goes to Aynsley who knows me oh-so-well. TYF 4ever!