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May 14th, 2008 - The Book of the Celestial Cow

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May 14th, 2008


10:41 pm - How I Met Your Mother? More Like "Cow, I Et Yer Brother!"
How I Met Your Mother was sort of like 30 Rock in that I didn't hear great things about it early on, but then, as the months went by, it seemed like everyone I knew had become a huge fan. I was skeptical because it was a regular sitcom, but the lines people often quoted were pretty funny, and when the end of "Slap Bet" rolled around, I had an inkling that HIMYM really was something special. But despite many attempts to get me to watch, I resisted because I was already watching so much, especially on Mondays.

And then two things happened: I decided to drop Prison Break and I saw an ad in Entertainment Weekly that showed me that Cobie Smulders is really hot. It was a sign that it was time to succumb.

How I Met Your Mother is the long, winding story of how Ted Mosby (voiced in the year 2030 by Bob Saget!) met his children's mother. It's a story! With a narrator! I love narrators! And, by extension, narration humor. This show has both. It's about to conclude its third season, and we're not really any closer to having any sort of clue who The Mother is, although we've gotten scattered hints. But Ted is taking forever to get to his point because this is not just the story of how he met their mother. It's the story of getting to that stage of his life. It's the story of being in the second half of your twenties and realizing that it's high time to become an adult...if you can figure out what that means, exactly. And it's also, of course, the story of a group of friends. Sort of like that other show about friends. What was it called? Oh yeah, Coupling! (duchessdogberry has this great theory that, just as Coupling was the British answer to Friends, HIMYM is the American answer to Coupling. Think about it.)

So who are these friends? First of all, there's Ted Mosby. And the thing about Ted Mosby is...I AM TED MOSBY. He's a hopeless romantic who is conflict-avoidant and change-averse! He's like an architect version of me who actually gets to have sex! Seriously, people describing Ted sounds like reading my LiveJournal. So if they make a movie of my life, they might as well cast Josh Radnor in brownface. He's a good bloke, that Ted, and I'm always rooting for him. For instance, the show begins with his chasing Robin (played by the aforementioned Cobie Smulders), a strong, independent, driven newscaster. He think she's The One, and I have been down that road before, so I will gladly follow behind him to pick up the pieces of his shattered heart. Luckily, Robin is pretty cool, and she fits well into the group, which also includes Marshall & Lily. Marshall is a law student and a total sweetheart, completely devoted to Lily over the many years they've been together. He's full of random quirks like a fondness for the Loch Ness monster Nessie and a tendency to break into the Robot, but Jason Segel sells it all. Like everyone else on the show, he describes most everything as AWESOME, and I approve. Marshall and Ted were roommates in college, and they continue to live together in New York, and it's really nice to see such a strong friendship between guys, especially since I don't really have anyone like that. Marshall's girlfriend (spoiler alert: fiancée) is Lily. Since it's Alyson Hannigan, perhaps the best way to describe her would be Willow with more of a backbone. She's full of all those cute retorts we know and love, but she's just as aggressively sarcastic as the rest of them. Lily is comparably devoted to Marshall; the two of them represent the ideal couple. When she proclaims, "We're adorable!" she's telling the truth.

And then there's Barney, a.k.a. the second coming of Neil Patrick Harris as heralded by Harold and Kumar. Barney is the obligatory Breakout Supporting Character that can elevate a show to a higher plane. Truthfully, I found him slightly irritating at first, as he seemed to be nothing more than a walking bag of catchphrases (you've heard them all by now, I'm sure). But as the show went on, two important things happened: the writers were hilariously creative with the recurring catchphrases and, more importantly, Barney started to feel like a person, both by virtue of the writers giving him layers and NPH completely committing to this absurdity of a character. He's a filthy rich, suit-wearing womanizer who's broken down the world—women and relationships, mostly—into all sorts of rules and graphs and codes that he truly believes in. He's extremely self-absorbed and narcissistic, and he's kind of an awful person. But yet...he's also kind of awesome. Barney Stinson is so awesome, in fact, that he gets an origin story. As you learn more about Barney's past, you start to see why he is the way he is (his love of Laser Tag needs no explanation because, come on, LASER TAG). He's still kind of an awful person, but he's very entertaining. And he does have a heart (like Tony Stark!).

I love this group of five friends because, well, they're so good together! They tease each other mercilessly, but they love each other dearly. Also, I love that they're all kind of lame and immature at times, because it's nice to see a 28-year-old giggle at the word "package" since, come on, it's still funny! They make ridiculous puns because they just have to be made. They're the kind of people who are all "Yeah I did" and "What up!" after making a joke, but it's endearing rather than irritating. But they're also quite mature at times, which is some of the best stuff in the show. I love the way the show examines human relationships and, even though it's a sitcom, it allows them to be complex and realistic. There are no simple answers; it's always more than just "Person A is right and Person B is wrong." It mines conflict from within the characters.

Hands down, however, what sets HIMYM apart from all other sitcoms is the narrative structure, which I fucking love. Because every episode is essentially non-linear. Not just because of the frame story: the episodic stories themselves are told through judicious use of flashbacks (even breaking the rule of not having a flashback-within-a-flashback). We rarely see things as they happen; instead, we hear what happened afterward as a character tells someone else. More stories! This often employs the device of having the story broken up in little chunks so that each beat makes you think it's going somewhere that the next flashback informs you it's not. It's like a miniature version of the series itself, except these stories actually get to the end. Another technique is revealing that you've been seeing part of the story from a distorted perspective (Ted is somewhat of an unreliable narrator (I HEART UNRELIABLE NARRATORS)). Perhaps my favorite device—and the most brilliant—is one in which an earlier scene is actually a setup-in-disguise for a later flashback that reveals that there was more going on in the scene than first observed, because of the limited perspective. You always have to be on your toes because nothing can be taken at face value; it might turn out that Marshall was just to the right of the frame ALL THAT TIME or something. For example. The show loves to play with audience expectations, which means it loves to play with storytelling, which means I LOVE IT.

When you're telling one long story, it helps to make it feel like one long story. Which is why the show employs our good friend CONTINUITY! Besides the host of recurring gags, you get returning characters, references to throwaway lines, and, of course, one of the greatest ideas in the history of the sitcom: the Slap Bet. And because of the narrative style, you can even get retroactive continuity; sometimes Future Ted will jump you ahead in the timeline (or even just tease you or give a subtle spoiler), and you have to wait for it to make sense when you get to that part of the regular story. Episodes can generally be enjoyed pretty well on their own, but the continuing story and character arcs are very rewarding.

The creators have talked about the fact that the show started around the time people were declaring that the sitcom was dead. And, like I said, I've become so accustomed to single-camera comedies that I hesitated to check out what seemed like a traditional sitcom (even though I loved traditional sitcoms like Friends and Seinfeld, but for every one of those there are about ten others that aren't worth my time). And HIMYM does feel sitcom-y in the basest sense of its look and a lot of the beats and, well, the damn laugh track (which becomes surprisingly easy to tune out after a while). But it's far more creative and inventive than most sitcoms, and, as the creators and actors say over and over on the DVDs, it has a lot of heart. The characters draw you in such that you want to go hang out at MacLaren's every day.

Did I mention the show is funny? I thought that would be a given since it's a comedy. But if you want my assurance, there it is. It's very funny. It can even induce an LOL! There have been many episodes that have caused me to bust out with "Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha." True story.

Finally, the show just makes me happy. And everyone needs a show like that.
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(53 memoirs | Describe me as "inscrutable")


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