Out of the ashes of ‘Friends’ rose a new comedy drama about a group of young adults hanging out in Manhattan.
Actually, from the ashes of ‘Friends’ rose a completely unwatchable travesty (‘Joey’) which even I, the die-hardest of die-hard ‘Friends’ lovers, couldn’t bear to watch. Until I started writing this and went to look up the source, I was fully convinced that ‘How I Met Your Mother’ came from the same writing and production team. I can find absolutely no evidence of this online, not nowhere. Apparently it is a completely separate and original show of its very own.
(I will probably do spoilers, at least in terms of overall structure and feel. I will try to be a bit vague)
So, the show begins with Ted and Robin (Ross and Rachel) going on a date. This does not end well, romantically speaking, but does result in Robin completing the friendship group consisting of Ted, Barney (Joey), Lily (Phoebe) and Marshall (Chandler). Sorry, Monica – looks as if you didn’t make the cut. They did swap a few characteristics around to keep it different (Phoebe and Chandler are in a very cute long-term relationship, Barney is the one with a job nobody can quite define…).
So here’s the thing. Viewed as a new, stand-alone show, ‘HIMYM’ a blatant and unoriginal rip-off of ‘Friends’. It even started within a year of ‘Friends’ finishing, to mop up the same audience (I really truly believed it was by the same people. Damn!). Viewed as a reworking, however, it’s actually quite clever. And I do love a good reworking of a classic. Quite a few individual episodes are recognisable from the original, but fit into the plot arc in new ways – not unlike the first season of ‘Once Upon a Time’, before it lost its way a bit.
And this is a programme which is not afraid of intertextuality and self-referential humour and fourth wall busting and Easter eggs. Barney (played by Neil Patrick Harris) ends one episode by writing his online journal, to the theme music from ‘Doogie Howser MD’; Lily (Alyson Hannigan) asks to call her first child ‘Tara’ (readers, I did sob a little). One can only conclude that the writers knew exactly what they were doing, and had fun with it.
There are still a lot of ridiculous one-off episodes, and the characters do some truly stupid things, but for me, the characterisation is a lot more consistent (possibly related to the fact that 196 of the 208 episodes had the same director), the character development is much more satisfying, and the plot has a much clearer sense of direction. Barney’s entire character and everything he stands for is massively problematic, but part of the delight of the show is the way in which the other characters recognise his failings, embrace and support him anyway. ‘Friends’ concluded quite abruptly with Ross and Rachel’s agreement to ‘stop being stupid’ – well, OK then! But Barney shows very clearly the development he goes through before he’s ready for a committed relationship, and it’s quite lovely.
Other things to love: Long-term monogamy being presented as a serious and appealing option, with all its trials, rather than a hand-wavy future ending too boring to look at in any detail. Conversely, divorce as a thing that happens, that is sad, but that doesn’t have to mean any kind of failure. And bisexuality, clearly and repeatedly and unashamedly demonstrated (although not actually named – that might still be a step too far). The fact that bisexuality and monogamy are present in the same character – well, my cup runneth over.
(The fact that that character is played by Willow herself is just a bonus.)
I’m not going to talk at length about the final episode, partly because my thoughts echo and preempt another post I want to make soon. Just to say: I’ve seen it described in various places as a ‘shock ending’. It’s not really a shock. It’s either an inevitable resolution or a bit of a cop-out, depending how you want to look at it. It is also, though, quite literally the playing out of Marshall’s wet dream, and for that I think the reworkers deserve another little shout.