Two things to say before I start. 1. This will not end with a declaration of which is better, How I Met Your Mother or Friends. They are from two different time periods and which you like better is preference. 2. With that being said about different time periods, How I Met Your Mother probably couldn’t function without Friends as it’s predecessor, much like Friends couldn’t have functioned without shows like Seinfeld and Cheers before it. Argue with me all you want, but even the “Twentysomethings in New York who have a central hangout premise” aside, there are far too many little things that HIMYM takes from Friends to say that the show doesn’t draw inspiration. To name a few – Barney being the minister at Lily and Marshall’s wedding? The quitting smoking episode, down to Marshall smoking to fit in with the guys at his work. The Barney-Ted-Robin triangle is far too suspiciously like the Joey-Ross-Rachel triangle, much like Ross being a paleontologist but it was becoming unlucrative so he became a professor, just as Ted Mosby was an architect but it was becoming unlucrative so he became a….professor. Ted and Marshall met as college roommates, just as Chandler and Ross did. (I could go on.) But the point is, no one can deny that the two shows are connected. What I’m interested in doing here is coming up with both the strengths and weaknesses of each show. They can both serve separate purposes in my lives – what? My life. Anyway, on to my observations.
Friends Observation #1: Plus: The use of the ‘Ensemble’ cast
This may date back to my years in drama club (which we will never speak of again) but I’m a sucker for a true ensemble cast. There was never ONE star of Friends. Some episodes or story arcs were focused on one Friend or Friends more than the others, but everyone had their own arcs over the course of time and each character was prominently displayed in each episode. Everyone had their personal favorites, or perhaps the character they were most similar to (If you say I’m not Phoebe I will kill you with a serrated kitchen knife she tries to sell to make money for Frank and Alice) but the show was centered around all of them. The actors themselves helped this along rather than trying to fight it. They would only pose together for magazine covers, they entered themselves as a group in award nominations, and they insisted on group salary hikes. Each character had traits that made him or her funny, as most shows do, but no one’s traits were paraded as being ‘the funniest’ or ‘funnier’ than anyone elses, except to personal preferences. Monica’s OCD cleanliness/competitiveness = Ross’s nerdiness/pretentiousness. Phoebe was just as good at being weird as Joey was at womanizing and Rachel’s battle against being the airhead was as genuine as Chandler’s battle against being the nice guy who finishes last.
HIMYM is either Ted’s show, if you look at the title, framing, and how he is the narrator and center of the story, or Barney’s show if you look at who the audience loves most. It has been said many a time that Neil Patrick Harris outperforms everyone on the show, which is awesome for him but undermines the funniness of the other characters. There isn’t a viewer out there who would put Robin’s defensiveness about Canada or Lily’s use of kindergarten ethics in real life to the same comedic standard as Barney’s Bro Code. Now to me, I prefer the ensemble casting. Others in the world may disagree. This however does bring me to my next point:
HIMYM Observation #1: Minus: HIMYM is a Boy’s Club
As I just mentioned, HIMYM is either Ted’s show or Barney’s show, depending on who you talk to. That’s fine, they’re both hilarious. But this show is all about the boys. Robin and Lily are both strong female characters in their own way, which I will touch on later, but the show isn’t about them. Robin was introduced as ‘The girl Ted sees and falls in love with,’ ‘Ted’s girlfriend,’ ‘the girl Ted can’t get over,’ ‘the girl Barney finally falls for,’ or ‘Barney’s girlfriend.’ Yes, she is her own character, and often goes against feminine stereotypes, but she has still always been presented as the function of a male. Lily is Marshall’s fiance or Marshall’s wife. She too has her own personality, both good and bad, but the only time period in which Lily is without Marshall on the show, Lily is either physically absent or presented as the bitch (Grinch) who left Marshall. There has never been a female character on HIMYM who isn’t presented as the counterpart to a male. This can perhaps be attributed to HIMYM’s framing device, which will be the focal point of my next..point. But first,
Observation #1.5, stemming from Observation #1…
GIRLS ARE NOT THAT DUMB.
Yes, some women (AND MEN) are not the brightest bulbs in the box. We can’t all be. But there is NO WAY, in ALL HELL, that there would be HUNDREDS OF INCREDIBLY STUPID GIRLS HANGING AROUND NEW YORK JUST WAITING TO FALL FOR BARNEY’S STUPID PICK UP LINES. I know that Barney’s schemes and plays are a huge funny part of the show, but SNASA? REALLY?! Are the creators of this show forgetting that to live in ridiculously expensive New York you have to have a job, and most jobs require some form of intelligence, and in a really competitive city like New York, they probably require a LOT of intelligence. I have yet to graduate from college, and I can spot a fake website a mile away. Lorenzo von Matterhorn? I can detect a fake name in a friend’s cell phone, even when it sounds realistic, with 99% accuracy, and I’m sure I’m not the only one. The point is here, stop depicting attractive women as airheads! Yeah yeah Robin and Lily are smart and the occasional girl Barney or Ted dates is shown as intelligent, but really, most of the non-gang girls on the show are portrayed as dumb as bricks. I knwo that this is part of the ‘Barney’ element of the show, but I don’t really care. If you have to demean the entire female gender to create your awesome character that everyone loves, perhaps he is not so AWESOME after all. ALSO, Ted always (well, with a few exceptions) breaks up with his girlfriends because they aren’t good enough for him. Maybe take a good look in the mirror, Teddy Westside! Stop trying to find a woman that is good enough for you and start realizing that you need to shape up to be good enough for all these awesome women that you are disrespecting!
In comparison: At least Joey was an honest hitter-oner. He definitely didn’t respect women at times, but at least Friends doesn’t portray all the women anyone sleeps with as idiots. There were moments here and there, but in general Friends had a lot of great smart female guest stars, and they broke up with our three main men just as often as the men were broken up with. Back to the Boy’s Club claim, Friends is all about equality between the males and the females, down to Monica trying to propose to Chandler. The show belongs to no one, and the show’s strongest story lines are split pretty evenly between male and female ownership. In the conflicts between male and female characters, it is usually arguable who is at fault, and there are plenty of times when males not only fuck up, but also assume full responsibility for it and the viewer watches them deal with the fallout.
HIMYM Observation #2: Plus: The Framing Device
HIMYM not only has a framing device, but a clever and original one at that. Even though it’s taking approximately 100 years for us to find out real details about who the mother is (and no, I don’t qualify ‘she owns a yellow umbrella’ as a real detail) this framing device still keeps the show going and keeps the show interesting. This backwards-ish (I say ish because even though everyone calls it a love story in reverse, it’s not REALLY in reverse because that would be showing him meeting the mother and then going BACK IN TIME every episode, not knowing the relative outcome and then going forward. but anyway) storytelling method has never been done before (as far as I know) and it provides interest for a show that would otherwise be, well, Another group of Friends. In this day and age, tv shows have to do more and more to get noticed, and HIMYM does a particularly good job of having a specific way to stay different while staying true to the classic kinds of comedy that we all know and love. This also enables HIMYM to tell stories within stories as stories. If that makes sense. Basically, it is able to storytell.
In comparison: Friends doesn’t have a framing device. Which is fine, take your pick if you prefer it or not. However, on occasion, there is the problem that without a framing device it can be hard to come up with new things and some storylines get old.
Friends Observation #2: Plus: Phoebe.
I swear, I am not just donating a whole plus to Phoebe because I am Phoebe. Phoebe is a great character and an asset to Friends for many reasons. First off, she is a female character that is not only not a function of a male character, she also never dates or sleeps with any of the main male characters. This is actually huge in my book, because no other character on Friends OR HIMYM (or Boy Meets World or pretty much any show ever) can say the same. Phoebe is no sort of female stereotype usually seen on television. She is weird and funny and out there and does her own thing while not being made into a gimmick, because she is also strong willed and kind and awesome. Phoebe is a person with unaverage tendencies (like myself) who instead of being ‘that weird girl on the tv show that everyone makes fun of’ is a part of the regular group of friends (no pun intended.) She has a complicated (and weird) past, she is loyal to everyone around her, even down to birthing her brother’s triplets, and she sings really bad (but excellent) songs in public with ABSOLUTELY NO SHAME. TV needs more characters with no shame. Phoebe is a beckon of light to all of us weird people out there.
In comparison: HIMYM has no Phoebe. Take it or leave it, but it’s true.
HIMYM Observation #3: Plus: Things
What do I mean by ‘things’? What DO I mean by THINGS? Well, I’ll give you a few examples:
Slap bets. Slapsgiving. Baskiceball. Dowisetrepla. The Bro Code. The Reacher and the Settler. The Mermaid theory. Gcwok. Swarli. Drunk or Kid. Turturkeykey. Duck or Rabbit? The list goes on and on. One of the strongest aspects of the humor in HIMYM is its THINGS. They can be brought back at will from any episode, mentioned in text form to a friend and a true HIMYMite will automatically know what you are talking about, and they give the show an additional framework for fans to obsess over. Many of these things have even dove into popular referentialism. SUIT UP! Bros. The things are a big part of the reason I love HIMYM.
In comparison: Friends is more of a quote thing, while HIMYM is more of a thing thing. I really don’t prefer one over the other, I am glad to have both in my life. I quote Friends these days without even realizing it. (Pick a lane! Who’s Elaine?) But I also use the HIMYM things in daily conversation (if you haven’t had a conversation with me where we discuss who is the reacher and who is the settler in any relationship orplayed drunk or kid with me, we might not actually be friends.) This is a prime example of how to love HIMYM and Friends equally, for they do not need to be competitors. They can coexist peacefully.
Friends Observation #3: Minus: Unrealistic Jobs
I don’t know if a person exists out there who would argue with me on this one, but just in case, I’ll illustrate.
Monica: head chef at a restaurant. Okay, yeah, this would be possible. But it would be impossible for Monica to be a head chef at a restaurant and not be busy day in and day out every afternoon and night. If you don’t believe me, read any one of Anthony Bourdain’s books. He will tell you. Yes, Monica references working nights once in a while, and we see her at work every so often, but if she were really the head chef at any restaurant, or even a regular chef, she would probably be working almost every night if not every night very late, as well as lunches that would cut into prime coffee shop hour, and not be available for any of the Friends shenanigans.
Phoebe: Masseuses don’t make that much money. Especially ones who have questionable moments on the job as Phoebe often mentions. I’m sure they exist, but have anyone ever actually met a freelance massage therapist? Also, considering that we never meet the grandmother that she supposedly shared her really nice apartment with, and the only job we ever heard of her having was driving a really really really old cab, it’s hard to buy that Phoebe could afford that apartment as a massage…lady.
In terms of the other Friends, all I have to say is, they would probably have to work during the day. At least once in a while. Perhaps on every weekday, like most adults do. Rachel’s rise in the fashion industry is unlikely but not entirely unfeasible with the connections from Mark (who she SHOULD HAVE married.) Chandler’s job is realistic in it’s forgetableness, but the move to Tulsa because he fell asleep WAS NOT. At least Joey’s unrealistic trait of having money even though he is an out of work actor is somewhat justified because we know Chandler gives him a lot of money. Ross is actually fairly realistic, especially since as a professor, he actually has a Ph.D., unlike…
In comparison: Does Columbia even have an architecture program? That hires random freelance architects who don’t even have Ph.D.’s ? But okay, that is my one qualm with the HIMYM job spectrum. All in all, they actually do a pretty good job at this. First off, they hang out at a bar, at night, which is realistic considering an adult’s working schedule. We see them at work more often, and they have realistically shitty or realistic jobs. How Lily and Marshall support their lifestyle when Marshall is jobless on a kindergarten teacher’s salary with Lily’s shopping addiction notwithstanding, overall HIMYM has covered most of its bases on this front.
I have many more, but this is going to take me far too long to do all in one post. Thus, episodes. In the end, we will all have a few more relatively meaningless observations about everybody’s favorite show, FriHow I Met Your Motherends.