What Ho Wee Readers – well it’s been a rough couple of years hasn’t it, but I feel like we’re reach end of the tunnel. Soon the only mask any of us will be forced to look at is that stupid one we wear each Halloween. But until that day, I think it’s important to focus on the positive – and while the lockdowns across the world have had many, many downsides – one of the upsides for those of us whose situation wasn’t threatened by it, was the extra time the lockdown offered to go on a streaming binge. To finally watch through all those shows you’d liked in passing, but never had the time to fully commit to before. Well, you’re stuck in your house trying not to dwell on the apocalypse we’re all currently living through – what else you gonna do? Wow, that was a long and rather bitter way to introduce our current topic; I apologies wee readers, I don’t know where that came from.
Anyway, long story short – this lockdown I binged watched ‘How I Met your Mother’. For those of you not in the know, ‘How I met your mother’ was a sitcom that ran from 2005 to 2014, staring Josh Radnor as Main Character Ted Mosby and Bob Saget as Ted’s older self as he narrates the story of how he met their mother to his two kids. Alongside Ted on his journey to meet the love of his life – which spans a full nine seasons – is Ted’s best friend from college Marshall Eriksen played by Jason Segel; Marshall’s fiancé Lily Aldrin play by Alyson Hannigan (from Buffy fame); new girl Robin Scherbatsky played by Cobie Smulders (before the Avengers) and finally my favorite character (yes, I’m a giant cliché) playboy Barney Stinson played by Neil Patrick Harris.
It is a show that has been accused of being a rip-off of Friends, a criticism that while I think is a little harsh and not quite seeing the whole scope of either show, is at least somewhat correct in some of the minor details. For instance, while I don’t actually think either Lily or Marshall has any similarities to Monica and Chandler, other than being a married couple – which if you’ll stay with me isn’t a similarity, so much as a common form of relationship ; on the other hand, the other three main characters do have some noticeable similarities to the cast of Friends. Take Ted Mosby our protagonist, who is so similar to Ross Gellar that he might as well have been cloned. Hey look at that, they’re both teachers at a university, and they even have the exact same hairstyle – I smell foul play. Then we have Robin, who while being slightly more of an original person than Ted, does have some strong shared traits with Rachel – being the newest member of the gang, dating the nerdy sensitive professor, and being career goal oriented – and Monica – her difficult relationship with her parents, her tom boyish nature and her hair colour. At last, and most bizarrely of all we have our boy Barney Stinson who seems to be a weird amalgamation of Chandler’s unknowable corporate life, Joey’s womanizing, and Phoebe’s wild mood swings, hair colour, and abandonment by her father, and reconnection with his second family years later. I made that last one sound a lot similar that it appeared on screen, but I just find it weird that two such different characters like Barney Stinson and Phoebe Buffay have so much in common.
But strange similarities aside what I find the biggest difference between these two sitcoms is the narrative voice.
What I mean is that when we watch an episode of Friends, no matter how ridiculous the characters may be acting, that is what actually happened in their lives. There’s no hint to the audience that anything we’re being shown is a lie to the characters, or that there’s some stronger narrative force pulling them forward beyond their own dumb decisions. Ross and Rachel sleep together and Rachel becomes pregnant; yes, the people watching might think that that was done to get a good story, or heighten the drama between the on-and-off-again-couple, but to the characters that was just something that happened in their lives. The same cannot be said about ‘How I met your Mother’. Because in the end ‘How I met your mother’ is not actually show about a group of friends figuring their lives out in New York, it’s the show about Ted Mosby telling his kids how he figured his life out.
It’s such a simple plot device, and yet it changes the way we view everything about this show. It transforms what would have been a still decently funny show, with suspiciously strong similarities to Friends, into something much more interesting, and indeed memorable. For that framing device, that ever present narrative voice, provides a second barrier between the realty of the audience and the reality of the characters. To take a famous example, just because we see one of the characters get high from a sandwich instead of weed; doesn’t mean that in the universe of How I met your Mother, sandwiches are a narcotic. It’s not like Friends where when we look at the screen all we see is the reality of that fictional universe. There are two realities of the Himym universe: the one the audience sees (the memories of older Ted); and the one the characters actually experienced (the true reality of the Himym universe).
Of course, this observation is nothing particularly new – the narrative voice of older Ted often admits when he changes things, or outright forgets facts and even the names of the women he dated. One of my favorite instances of this was the episode ‘Bagpipes’; where the sound of the aforementioned pipes replaces the actual sex noises Ted’s upstairs neighbors were making in the true reality. It’s interesting to note that in one episode of Friends Monica and Rachel have a similar problem with their upstairs neighbor, but there’s no hint of the show trying to hide what those noises actually are. Honestly, I think the bagpipes make it funnier. But regardless, all this leads us to the conclusion that the narrative voice cannot be trusted.
And I know what your gonna say, well gee Wee Lassie, that’s a lot words for Ted is an unreliable narrator; whose okay with telling his kids about all the women he slept with over the years, but somehow thinks they need to be shielded from the reality that their father used to smoke pot. I say to that, wow, that was a specific thing to say that I entirely agree with. But beyond that, my actual point is that Ted as the unreliable narrator goes beyond the parts of the story where he obviously slips up or forgets something. It goes beyond what the audience can clearly recognize as the lie. Yes, for those of you in the deep know, I am going – very briefly – into that theory.
I refer of course to the fan theory started on Reddit that Older Ted portrays Barney as a serial womanize, and let’s face it, a bit of a douche – so that when he reveals that he wants to pursue his friend’s ex-wife romantically, his kids will be all on bored. There is some legitimacy to this theory – beyond viewers wanting to enjoy a problematic character with a morally clean conscience. In fact, Neil Patrick Harris (Barney’s actor) subscribes to it himself; citing episodes like “The Bad Patch” – where Barney and Robin are unhappy in their relationship and so let themselves go. This includes Robin losing large chunks of her hair and teeth and Barney gain 75lb. However, voiceover Ted admits to his kids that while Barney and Robin only let themselves go a little bit, this is what it felt like to him. Thus, Harris concludes, there is evidence for Ted’s revisions to his friends lives (I paraphrase of course). I thought my sandwich example was funnier, but you do you Harris, you do you.
However here in 2021 on The Wee Writing Lassie Blog, I would like to make an amendment to this theory. Oh, not that it’s not happening – giving all the evidence, and support from some of the creative talent behind Barney Stinson, it clearly is. But rather why it’s happening. That is, in the theory Ted is deliberately portraying Barney as a jerk, because he wants his kids to support Ted and Robin’s relationship. And yet in that pre-recorded ending, it is the kids themselves who reach this conclusion, and Ted who is shocked by it. Of course, he could just be lying, but giving the romantic framing of the final shot of Ted with the blue French horn – it is unlikely the writers intended for Ted to be quite so intentionally manipulative of his own children. Thus, the reality the audience must accept, is that Ted did intend to tell his kids how he met their mother – as the title suggests – but unconsciously revealed how he’s actually always loved Aunt Robin.
So thus, Ted portraying one of his close friends as such a terrible person, with the intention of pursuing Robin, is simply not plausible in the show’s reality. And yet, you can’t exactly argue that some of the things Ted says about Barney aren’t deliberately intended to make his kids think less of their surrogate uncle. I mean the Playbook alone is horrific if you look past the humour of the series. But that leaves the hanging question, why is Ted doing this, if it indeed has nothing to do with Robin?
Well to that I say, it may have nothing to do with Ted’s feelings for Robin, but it absolutely has everything to do with Ted’s feelings for himself. That is as the kind of man Ted wants both himself and his kids to see him as. A good guy, a terrific friend, a gifted intellectual, whose only flaw if you could really call it a flaw was that in his younger years he always went after the wrong woman. But really that’s a side effect of him being a hopeless romantic, something he himself has to bear, and nothing he dumps on other people time and time again. For any of you even vaguely familiar with the various plots and episodes of How I met your Mother, you may recognize this as complete horseshit. Ted has indeed many flaws – not least among which is that his absurdly specific list of requirements for his perfect woman, makes him treat the many real women he dates through the course of the nine seasons of Himym, terribly. Even managing to dump the same girl twice, both times on her birthday. But I’m not going to focus on the terrible way he treats women – not because there isn’t enough to talk about (there very much is) but because others have done so more thoroughly and better than I’d ever have the time to.
Check out The Take’s video on the subject here.
No, instead as the title might suggest, today we’re going to look at the way he treats his friends – and in particular, Barney Stinson. Ted treats Barney like shit, I mean don’t get me wrong Ted treats most people in his life like complete shit, but unlike the others the narrative passively implies that the audience should see Ted’s mistreatment of Barney as commendable. Or at the very least something that we shouldn’t condemn Ted for.
After all Barney is awful, so why shouldn’t he constantly be put down by the man he views as his best friend? Why shouldn’t he be actively excluded from the friend group when Ted no longer has need of his wingman services (s02e10: Single Stamina – where after four fifths of the group end up paired together, they no longer want to go out [even to get a beer], with the unsubtle implication they only needed to do that because they were single before, actively excluding Barney who is still single from the group. And if this sounds like it goes completely against the previous characterisation of Lilly and Marshall, who have been in a relationship from the beginning and never acted like this before, and Robin who has always enjoyed her independence and excitement in her life even when she’s in a relationship, then you’d be right. This was only a plot device to get Barney [now desperate for someone to hang out with] to invite his gay brother James over and start the real plot but I digress.) Why shouldn’t Ted think of Barney dying as sad only because of all the enjoyment he (Ted) might miss out on watching his wild antics? (s06e18: A Change of Heart – an episode in which Ted also compares Barney to an animal, again after talking about the possibility of his dying).
Of course, – we could make the same argument of all the characters. Besides a few general sweet moments, they do treat and speak to each other rather awfully. It could just be how their dynamic has grown up. Thus, to fully make the argument that Ted treats Barney badly enough, for him to cast his close friend as the cad in his stories to make himself look somewhat more heroic – I would like to highlight three separate occurrences were there were no such excuse. This wasn’t just friends ribbing on each other, this wasn’t just the swing of the conversation or a plot contrivance – at least not completely – these were three instances where Ted treats Barney like complete dogshite.
3. The Exile
In the sixteenth episode of season three, Barney and Robin sleep together. That is, it, Ted and Robin have been broken up for about a year by this time, in fact Ted is deep into a relationship with Stella (the woman who would later leave him at the alter); and Barney and Robin are both single at the time. There’s none of Barney’s usual trickery involved, they were just two people who grew close, and ended up in bed together. And yet the following episode (The Goat: S03e17) treats the action like it was some great crime committed against Ted, with both Barney and Robin consumed with guilt, and later individually confessing to Ted what they did.
Ted of course forgives…Robin, Barney however, yeah not so much. Now before anyone says anything, I don’t actually think Ted deciding that he can no longer be friends with Barney is the bad in this situation. Sure, it was hurtful to Barney, and the reason it happened was both incredibly stupid and more than a little sexist; however, cutting off a friend who you find toxic, or just unpleasant, is not a bad thing by any accounts. Sometimes friendships just don’t work and forcing them could do more harm to both parties involved, than a clean break ever could. But that’s just my oppion. No, my actual issue with this plot point is the execution and the fall out – namely the way Ted ends the friendship comes off remarkably cold and almost cruel. He tells Barney that earlier that day he was packing a box away labelled ‘things I no longer need’, and that maybe Barney belongs in that box. It’s dehumanizing and degrading, to be compared to a thing, particularly a thing that only has value so long as it earns its keep.
Sure, things can be said in anger that we don’t really mean – but the point is Ted isn’t a real person that can hide behind that excuse. He’s a fictional character, more importantly he’s a fictional character that his writers expect the audience to like and sympathize with. There were other ways to phrase Ted ending his friendship with Barney: ‘I don’t trust you anymore’; ‘I can’t do this anymore’, ‘we’re done’. All still upsetting to Barney, but all ending with a Ted that is still somewhat sympathetic. I say somewhat because the reason for his anger and hurt, is very nebulous considering what a shift in the group dynamic it’s going to cause. Why is Ted so angry? Is he still in love with Robin, then why is he still leading Stella on? And if he’s not in love with Robin, then is it really Barney? Is it him going a step too far in Ted’s eyes? It’s never made entirely clear, which I find very irritating especially considering this nebulous anger has just banished Barney from the group.
Because, in reality that’s what I particularly hate about this storyline – because when Ted drops Barney seemingly everyone else does too. Ted is not, nor should he ever be the thing that holds the five friends together. And yet Marshall makes note of how he’s losing the high-five calluses in his hands, and misses Barney – implying that without Ted’s approval Barney is no longer allowed to be friends with Marshall, Lily or even newcomer Robin. With the only time (Robin) being seen hanging out with Barney during his separation with Ted is when he explicitly blackmails her to do so.
If ‘How I met your Mother’ were a straight narrative to audience experience like Friends or the Big Bang Theory, then the only thing we could chalk this up to is bad writing. After all, all three of the other members of the group have had plenty of opportunities to grow closer with Barney independent of their shared connection with Ted. Marshall with his work, Robin with her similar interests to the playboy; and while I can’t think of a particularly instance Barney and Lily grew closer before the split, in season 4 she is the first one he confessed his love for Robin to. So, it’s not a leap to presume that their connection was already pretty strong. Therefore, it doesn’t completely make sense for these three characters to drop Barney, just because Ted has. However, it completely makes sense for Ted to presume they have. Ah narrative voice, you’ve saved yet another chunkily written arch – sort of, it’s still a poorly explored idea, that ends with my favorite character getting run over by a bus. (Oh spoilers, just in case that wasn’t obvious). But at least everyone’s in character now.
2. The Locket
I was slightly reluctant to include this one in my ‘Barney-been-done-wrong List’ because Robin is also hurt by this action – but in the end I decided to go through with it, because considering just how much its implied Barney loves Robin, this would probably hurt him twice as much.
First though a little background on one of the character foibles of Ms. Robin Charles Scherbatsky Jr. (Yes, that is her full name). She subconsciously sabotages her relationships. She and her partner will be going along just fine for a while, then she gets spooked (usually about the increase level of intimacy in the relationship) and she will fixate on something she doesn’t like about said partner, and start pulling away. This is spelled out by the characters explicitly during a relationship in a one-off episode; but we actually see a much subtler version of this phenomenon happening over the course of the series. Most noticeably both times she ends up with Barney.
I won’t go into the first time, as that ends for different reasons that don’t feed into my argument at all. So, for simplicity’s sake we’ll jump straight into the second time Robin has a bit of a wobble in regards to her relationship to Barney. She’s decided that she needs to find her grandmother’s locket, that she buried in central park during a visit to New York when she was fourteen – so that it can be her something old on her wedding day. Long rambling story short, she can’t find it; and so, must continue on with the wedding without the presence of her grandma’s locket. Hoping for some strange reason that this doesn’t mean that the universe is telling her not to get married to Barney. Which if that sounds like an excuse to cut and run without examining the deeper reasons behind that impulse, congratulations, you’ve read my mind.
In the end, after a lot of hoo-ha, Ted ends up with the locket – I’d try to explain how, but honestly it doesn’t really make sense. But the important thing is that Ted ends up with the locket and decides to give it to Robin on her Wedding Day, to one of his best friends. The locket that he knows Robin had decided was some kind of arbitrary sign on whether or not she should marry Barney; that for some reason she’s decided the man who finds that locket should be the one she marries. That same locket whose search was the instigator to Ted and Robin’s weird moment the previous season – when they held hands in the rain. Ted decides to give this locket as a wedding present for Robin, or thinly veiled reason to leave Barney at the alter and run away with Ted, you pick. What I’m saying is that this is Ted trying to break up the wedding.
And that’s not just my own conspiracy, that’s stated in the show itself. Lily tells him time and again, not to give Robin the locket as it will ruin the wedding – going so far as to tackle Ted to the ground. I like Lily, she’s kind of awesome like that. Even Ted’s narrative voice implies that he will ruin the wedding, and possibly everything else, if he gives Robin that locket. And what happens, he gives Robin that locket and she tries it run away from the wedding. And if she hadn’t bumped into ‘the mother’ and received some good solid advice, she might have even gone through with it. Thanks Ted, thanks for all your wonderful help.
1. The GNB Building
Look everything before this you could explain away through Robin and Ted’s feelings for each other – which do seem to be there in one form or other for most of the nine season long run of the show. Maybe Ted was just so in love with Robin – without knowing it – that he was just too angry when she slept with Barney to think rationally; causing him to lash out and say those terrible, terrible things. And maybe he was just so overwhelmed with his unresolved feelings for Robin, that he ended up bringing the physical embodiment of her relationship insecurities to her wedding to his best friend. It doesn’t mean he’s a bad man, just one that’s kind of stupid when it comes to relationships which is…yeah, kind of in character.
But this…no, there is no excuse for this next one.
Okay, backstory time, let’s take a long breath and say this as quickly as possible so that we can get into the ripping Ted Mosby a new one. Everyone with me, deep breath, and here we go:
So, Barney got Ted a job at GNB as the architect for the bank’s new headquarters; but when the building was cancelled Ted got fired by Barney’s hire ups and found a job teaching instead. However, to make his friend’s dream come true, when the project started back up again, Barney put his own job on the line to make sure they would hire Ted as the architect.
After some chicanery, Ted agreed to come on to the project, realising after all that it was his dream to build a building in New York. However, the plot thickens when Ted meets Zoey, an apparently attractive protester – the only snag in the new love story is that the thing Zoey is protesting now is the destruction of the historical Arcadian hotel, which is being blown up to make way for Ted’s new building. Oh dear, oh and she’s married but never fear Wee Readers, this is How I met your Mother – I’m sure the writers will fix that for Ted soon enough. And what’ll you know, that’s exactly what happens – Zoey breaks up with husband, her and Ted get together, but there’s till the tension of the looming GNB building between them.
However, after a night spent at the fairly horrible Arcadian Hotel, where Zoey opens up to why she’s really trying to save it – I won’t ruin the reason here, you’ll just have to watch the show yourself – Ted decides to take her side in the whole matter. Planning to declare that he thinks the hotel should be a historic landmark to a community that is going to decide whether of not it should be.
So, all ends happy right?
Wait, I hear you say…didn’t Barney put his job on the line so Ted could get this position? And to that I say, thank you wee Reader; you’ve made my segway into the next part so much easier now.
It’s made clear both to the audience and the friend group that if the GNB building is not built, Barney will be fired. And considering what we know of the company he works for, ‘being fired’ seems likely to be another way of saying ‘being murdered’. Now, of course, I’m not saying that Ted’s actions – if such an outcome had happened – would have been directly responsible for Barney’s death. Of course, that blame would lie at the feet of his actual murderer. But it is interesting to note his reaction when he hears that Barney might lose his job. Unlike say someone like Marshall – who had also been going after the GNB project due to the cruel way he was treated by the company – Ted shows no guilt whatsoever, or even an acknowledgement of the consequences of his actions. Being more annoyed at Barney, and strangely smug in his relationship with Zoey.
He’s putting his best friend’s carrier, livelihood and future physical well-being on the line, not only seemingly on a whim, but for a girl he clearly doesn’t actually love, or for that matter even like most of the time. And yet he does it all with a smile on his face.
It could be easy to blame Zoey for the friction within the group, and indeed the narrative of Ted’s story goes out of its way to place more of the blame for what happens on her shoulders and away from Ted’s. Positioning Zoey and Barney almost like two opposing forces fighting over, if not Ted’s soul, then the chance to achieve his love and affection completely. For him to choose them over everyone else. But as with Barney, it’s important for the viewer to remember whose side of the story we’re hearing. Ted might seem like a great guy, motivated by a desire for love, friendship and the need to do the right thing but that’s simply not true. Because in the end what motivates Ted to choose Barney’s side is not concern for a person who by now could be considered a very close friend, or any perceived flaw in Zoey as a romantic partner, but rather in a desire to see his own dream – that of designing a building in New York city – come true. That is, when given the chance to choose between the welfare of his friends, or the welfare of a woman he supposedly loves, Ted will always priorities himself above all others.
But of course, that’s nothing new when it comes to sitcom protagonists – thus what I find actually interesting about Ted Mosby is not that he is in fact a terrible person. But rather that on some level he is aware that he is a terrible person. Or at the very least that his actions were not the conduct of the likable guy, bleeding heart romantic, and all around lovable doof that he wants his kids to see him as. But what is he to do then? He can’t have his kids hating him just because of mistakes he made in the past. And he has a purpose with this tale – both intentionally and unintentionally – so he can’t leave too much out either. Thus, Ted does the only thing he can do, given the circumstances, he creates a contrasting jerk. A character in his story that his kids will look at and think, okay so my dad ran away with Victoria on her wedding day, and then dumped her several months later – but at least he’s not Barney Stinson. It’s not about Robin consciously, not really, it was just that someone had to fill the role of the jerk in the group, and it might as well be Barney Stinson. And who cares if he’s probably ruined his kid’s relationship with their surrogate uncle, the important thing here is Ted comes out looking good. Because in the end Ted’s feelings come before all.
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