So... I just spent the last two weeks watching
How I Met Your Mother
That's not a great start trust me I know I'm so aware of that. You can skip this one.
Content Warning for: Discussions of coercive sex, misogyny, and general cruelty.
Let me get into it;
My family and I are not close, and never have been. When I get home sick from stress I do not have the urge to call my mother. I have the urge to cook a dinner that I liked as a child, or watch a show that I remember being constant background noise in the evenings of my youth. As I've mentioned elsewhere I'm in the process of moving, I have a week left in my current house. It's stressful. I miss when I didn't have to take care of these things. Enter:
So I decided to re-watch How I Met Your Mother. I remembered it being pleasant enough for me
to watch by myself on netflix at one point in my adolescence. I had forgotten I was a shit and
The show isn't actually that bad. It's kind of mild for a mean spirited adult comedy from the time.
Despite it's romantic premise however, it is wildly mean. Just so mean. The only woman of color
regularly featured in the cast, is a bit gag character. The gag being that the pretty love interest,
despises her for no reason. Patrice, played by the lovely Ellen D. Williams, is legitimately the
sweetest character you
will see in the entirety of this shows run. And she's Always being screamed at.
And that's about the tone of the whole thing.
And we don't really talk about it now but. How I Met Your Mother was big. Big enough to get a sequel series from Hulu last year.
No I will not touch it ever. Big enough that it had
a noticeable internet fandom. Big enough that you probably all still have this particular
baked into your eyeballs, were you around these digital parts in 2011.
If you don't remember this because you weren't really online; I envy you. If you don't remember this
were not sentient in 2011 due to being under the age of 7; I also envy you a little bit but not as much
as the first group.
This, my darlings, is a rage comic panel. Or face, I guess. But really only used for the final panel of a rage comic to emphasize 'truth' or sarcasm, depending. It was a hard time for those of us who aren't great at sarcasm. I've been told I have an 'inherently irreverent' tone and I do fully blame this era of 'maymays'. This particular rage comic panel is a trace of the HIMYM character: Barney Stinson. Now if you remember that particular character even less than that horrible horrible meme face, let me refresh.
Barney Stinson is a main cast character in HIMYM. He is ever present, he is full of catch phrases, he is
textually a rapist.
His whole character for the majority of the show is being a womanizer who sleeps with women under false
pretenses. And other such circumstances
of dubious consent. By the mid point of the show he has slept with 201 women as the list he keeps in his
suit pocket claims. Yes, a character on a
very popular sitcom from the years 2005 to 2014, carried a list of the 200+ women he has manipulated
into having sex with him. And that was a goof.
That was a goof that got a whole fucking episode!
Times have changed wildly in such a short time while also not changing at all. The culture of capitalism that is ever-changing yet unmorphing is truly horrific.
Okay have I told you enough about how much it sucked? Cause It did suck. I don't know why I've fixated on it as a comforting reminder of my youth. But it has lead me to some realizations about my own, very personal, socialization. I will save those thoughts, too. I want to talk about how this show is an excellent study in the American post 9/11 culture and also sitcoms that so very clearly started with a plan, and then got renewed so very far beyond said plan.
Maybe I just hyped myself up a few too many notches.
The culture this reflects is not necessarily a jingoistic one, one in the midst of a horrific war we
caused decades prior,
this show reflects something subtler. Nefarious in a more, domestic fashion. Domestic as in the literal
home, not the nations internal affairs. This show is relatively liberal, for
the time it came out.
Sex was discussed openly, women were crude and shown as enjoying sex, and having real consistent opinions on their sex lives. That wasn't entirely unheard of in 2005, but in such a male dominated comedy it wasn't really expected. And it took a year or two for the series to really grow into it.
But open discussion of women's sex and pleasure is the tiniest of steps towards women's liberation. And the way HIMYM does it is not really a step in that direction at all. The two main women in the cast are shown to have agency yes, but only them. Barney is only rejected when it is funny for him to be rejected. The women Ted dates are always second fiddle to Robin.
The two other women Barney is shown to have long term relationships
with are. Not great. Quinn, a stripper, who Barney feels cheated him, and who he wants to save
from stripping is a terrible portrayal of sex workers.
And Nora, another woman of color who exists for less than half a season, is a woman Barney lies to and
then forces to pity him enough to date him.
Lily, a main cast character, is treated as irrational for being afraid of getting married. Robin, apparently being written by Joss Whedon, has the tragedy of being infertile. Women are discussed as objects more often than not. It's bad. It's very very bad. It's a highlight reel of the misogyny of that terrible middle decade of '05-'15.
Since it is technically a "romantic" comedy it shouldn't surprise you that it really only presents
heterosexual monogamy as a valid pairing, but I'll point it out anyway.
It really gets my fuckin' goat when characters who have casual sex are relegated to being a moral foil
to the rest of the cast. It's slut shaming in a coat that says 'sex is fine I guess'.
And the heterosexual monogamy it presents is not one that I think many of us would consider healthy now.
I do think that Marshall and Lily by the end of the series settle into
healthy married bliss.
Specifically because they start making jokes about how Lily pegs Marshall.
The show itself shows monogamy to be an unhappy ending for two of its main cast. But that is not used to condemn monogamy. It is used to condemn Robin's career as a globe trotting reporter. It is used to condemn Barney for having a lot of sex and not respecting women. It is later implied Barney's fear of commitment is fixed when one of his hook-ups has his daughter; forcing him to learn to love and respect women. Because that isn't sickening.
Oh, everything I described in that last paragraph? That happens in the last two episodes of the last season. Entirely. Robin and Barney are wed, their marriage fails. In the span of two episodes. The three days leading up to their wedding takes 22 episodes. Season 9 is the worst season of television I have ever seen.
Before I get carried away with the later stages:
The interpersonal reality presented by HIMYM is highly individualistic for its male protagonists, and
family oriented for its women. The men in the
main cast do want wives, and families. For personal satisfaction, for fulfillment. Ted and Barney's
careers are almost secondary to the plot. Ted is an architect and we pretend its important but
it really actually means jack shit. Barney's entire job is not explained until the middle of season 9.
Robin and Lily are shown to get a lot of personal fulfillment and satisfaction from their
careers and hobbies. Careers and hobbies that get in the way of their ability to wed and raise a family.
Lily wants to be an artist, it's a very big deal in season 1. She breaks up with Marshall to make sure she pursues it before they get married. And everyone hates her for it for the rest of the series. Long after he has forgiven her (literally 7 years), Marshall brings it up again as a way she has hurt him. Specifically, a way she has hurt him that makes him insecure in her commitment to their family. After he does that, Lily drops being an art buyer as a career (bougie and disgusting, I know) so Marshall can be a judge. Because she's pregnant with their second child.
Robin is a reporter, and she's into it. Really into it. Gets off seeing herself doing the evening news while she has sex, into it. And the only reason she never drops her career is because she cannot be forced into settling down with children. She can't have them, she doesn't want to adopt them, she likes her job. That drives Barney away, and leaves her single 15 years after the story for Ted to pursue.
So, if you haven't seen the ending, spoilers I guess. Don't know why you'd care. But. Robin is not the mother of Ted's children. They wrote that out as a possibility in season 7, which is actually a lot later than I remember it happening. So good on this show for being pleasant-adjacent for 7 unmemorable seasons. Season 8 and 9 feel like a five day slog, of real watch time, every time I come back to them though, so it really doesn't matter.
If you can't glean a point out of those last few paragraphs: this show is bad about women, its bad about sex, its bad about relationships. The main cast of this show is. Basically the same premise as Always Sunny but no one involved at any level of the production is aware these people are assholes. The constant dickery with absolutely no self awareness is almost haunting, really. And it's a perfect reflection of the gendered heterosexual culture I remember I was supposed to be raised into. Then I caught a case of lesbian.
So those are the cultural problems, the ways it is call-out post problematique. What about technically?
On a technical level? If we pretend it exists in a vacuum and no one
could ever be hurt by any of the jokes within it? Well. That's interesting. Season 1 of HIMYM has some
really great pacing and plot structure over-all. I think it
really nails what a romantic sitcom should be in that first and second season. The fine polish of good
jokes on top of the same structure would still be a very watchable TV show.
Season 3-6 is a bit of a more standard episodic sitcom. Not bad, not great, very much the status quo era of the show. A lot happens, but nothing that fundamentally changes characters really starts to happen until season 7. By the end of season 7 you can tell the writers are struggling. They've been struggling for awhile, but this will be the point it really starts to take root. Season 8 happened, I watched it. I was there for it. It was enough like season 6 and 7 that it doesn't stand out as bad. This show just genuinely spent most of its time on the air being kind of middling. I feel that by the last leg of the show the mean-spirited jokes have overstayed their welcome, while becoming something of a crutch.
And then Season 9 happens.
Season 9 is such a clusterfuck that I don't care about any criticisms I have for the structure of the
rest of the series. Prior to season 9, every season of HIMYM
has been approximately 1 year of the characters lives over the course of 24-ish episodes. Season 9, as I
said earlier, has 24 episodes; 22 of which encompass the 3 day weekend leading up to Robin and Barney's
2 which encompass the 16 years between their wedding and 2030, when Ted is telling the story to his
children. It's a mess. It's a clusterfuck. That's the only word that will convey what I mean to you.
It may just be that this season of TV is the antithesis of bingeable but it is bad. I don't think I
would have felt better about it had I caught it when it aired.
I know I would have been pissed about that finale. I did watch this show a bit as it aired, and more as a teen when it started streaming. That's why it makes me think of home. I had much more investment in it in 2011 than I do now. But between 2011 and 2014 I stopped caring and never looked at it again until this month. See, the titular mother, the woman Ted has been seeking all these years. . .
There's a whole episode about what she's doing before she meets Ted and that's not even the episode she gets a name in. She does not have a name for the single episode that is actually about her. She is eventually named, but I don't know if she gets named before they show her fucking headstone. Yeah, she's dead. That was actually a popular fan theory as early as 2010. And I remember 2010, "X has been dead the whole time" was a really fucking boring fan theory then too. The fact that that's what they went with really boils my fucking beans.
I think the show's initial goal was one season about Ted and Robin. I really truly do. And then it just kept getting renewed. Season 2 was fine and seemed half planned too. Then at the end Ted and Robin broke up and they had to start sewing the seeds that it was actually this other woman he hasn't met at all yet, with various small ties; such as the (at the time) iconic yellow umbrella. That terribly bright yellow umbrella became something of a must have for hopeless romantics and wannabe manic pixies.
(If you do not remember the wannabe manic pixies, please know they are distinct from 'Alt' girls who weird dudes labeled as manic pixie dream girls, they are more akin to the modern NLOG, if the modern NLOG idealized Zooey Deschanel).
And all of the little ties to her were just
Because by the time the show had shifted focus off of Robin, Quirky was in! (Remember that. Remember
finger mustache tattoos
and lenseless fashion glasses and suspenders. I do. I don't want to. I miss many things about the
internet in the late '00s early '10s. I do not miss the quirky phase. I still don't feel comfortable
saying I like waffles.)
So by the time they finally had to add in the titular Mother, they had to make her quirky. How
did they do that?
She's nerdier than literally any of the women we see in any other part of the show. She's played by a skinny gal with a 'quirky' pretty face; a very in look by 2014, notable for popularizing big fat doe eyes behind thick-rimmed fashion glasses, while you maybe have a 'weird' nose or tiny chin or something. Nerdy was sexy. Which was the fault of a completely different sitcom which we shall not name on this domain for we are good God-fearing folk here at Cy83rpr1mm13.neocities.com.
The bits of character we see, we only get for moments because they're unsustainable levels of quirky. The reactor core would melt down if she got were fully fledged to her logical conclusion and we would all drown in mustache and bacon paraphernalia.
And that sucks ass. She only exists meaningfully for a few episodes, then we're told she's dead. Her romance with Ted is barely touched even though it's probably more pertinent to the framing device than Barney trying to trap his mother and father in an elevator so they get back together just before his wedding. I don't expect that all of season 9 would focus on Ted and Tracy. But I mean. An episode or two properly dedicated to her and Ted would have helped.
But the way season 9 is written, the way Tracy is written, the way the two part finale is written; the final message is a gross one.
Kids, I married your Mother because she was the quirkiest girl I immediately met after the real love of my life got married. Now that she's dead, let me tell you how much I've loved Robin for 25 years.
But it ends as though I am supposed to find that sweet, or romantic. That he still loves Robin. It's all
but a statement that he settled, no matter how many
little lines he throws in to say how much he loved Tracy. She is the mother of his children, simply
because Robin first didn't want to be, then couldn't be.
Somehow this show constantly forces women (other than Robin) into familial roles. Consistently it shows off the fact that it thinks women are supposed to be wives and mothers. With that in mind, the only thing I can take away from that finale, is Ted loved Tracy because she did her part. But that's still not the same as really loving someone for some, ephemeral constant, the way he loves Robin.
How I Met Your Mother is not worth watching. Or thinking about this hard. It is pretty thoroughly out of the cultural consciousness, with only lingering remnants and capitalist vultures attempting to pry more money from its corpse. But it lingers. It was big, it was defining, it codified a lot of digital fandom trends we see now. It shaped a lot of peoples perceptions of relationships. If you were of dating age at the peak in 2011, you knew guys who were emulating Barney, who went on to be PUAs, who may or may not now be proselytizing the tradcath lifestyle.
It is embedded in the cultural subconscious, like that terrible little meme face is embedded into my brain. How I Met Your Mother is dead, but it will not be properly forgotten for a long time.
Addendum, several days after the initial drunken rant: If this for whatever reason made you go back and re-watch the pilot of this show, you'll notice at the end, Ted explicitly calls out that Robin is not the children's mother. I still believe, with what I know of the usual sitcom ordering plans, that S1 and S2 were intended to satisfyingly end with Robin as Ted's wife. I personally believe this was a change made when CBS ordered 2.5 to 3 seasons worth of episodes, as networks were want to do with (specifically) sitcoms at the time. We talk about sitcoms as if they died after the 90's but they were still massive in the early '00s and were generally ordered in very large episode blocks. I don't have it in me to research the specific production of the show so please take all of this as speculation and opinion.