CMNS 236 Understanding More Television: To All the Boys That Have Loved HIMYM

Carlo Javier, Matchmaker on the side // Illustration by Cynthia Tran Vo

I have developed a bit of a problem with How I Met Your Mother and it sucks because for a time, it was my favourite television show.  

My TV diet during my teenage years was primarily composed of NBA basketball, late night talk shows and South Park. How I Met Your Mother, which ran for nine seasons from 2005 to 2014, was essentially my first foray into sitcoms and serial programming. 

It was easy to like How I Met Your Mother. At its very core, the show is about a man’s quest to find true love. That’s just about everything you need to captivate the interest of boys who think that someone smiling at them is neither arbitrary nor a mere act of courtesy but is instead a sign of interest.  

My retroactive disdain for the show stems not from seeing better shows since then (which I have, many times over), nor does it come from a change in perception regarding its quality (I still think it’s a solid comedy that fills a role and a niche.) I have come to change my stance on the show because I believed in it. Along with friends and fans of the show, I saw Ted Mosby’s (Josh Radnor) quest to find his true love as a benevolent and admirable search. I saw his unyielding desire to be romantically happy as romantic in itself and deemed it to be a necessary rite of passage for any adolescent male.  

Then I grew up (regrettably, not in terms of height.) I didn’t repudiate my stance on Ted because of some debilitating heartbreak or a seemingly endless personal struggle to find my own romance. I went back on my stance because I did find romance and I couldn’t help but look back on how for the entirety of Ted’s quest to find “the one”, every step of the way seemed to be predicated to his decisions.  

Let me be clear, I’m no expert on romance – no one but the Courier’s Rachel D’Sa is – but in retrospect, How I Met Your Mother’s biggest flaw was the characterization of Ted.  He was in love with the idea of being in love and it seemed to have never occurred to Ted (or the writers), that maybe it wasn’t always going to be up to him?  

My stance now may be a by-product of our current socio-political climate, but my critique on Ted has been slowly gnawing at me in the past few years. How I Met Your Mother was a very popular show. It consistently drew around eight million viewers per season during its original airing, and naturally, I have friends who also enjoyed the sitcom. I also have friends who have adopted the same philosophy that Ted had – this idyllic view of romance and that it’s something that can be consciously shaped. I have friends who dreamt of finding their own, real-life Robin Scherbatsky (Cobie Smulders). Friends who adored her characterization as this All-Canadian woman who loves sports and athletics just like the boys, but not too much because otherwise she would then be taking up space from sports discourse. And obviously, there are friends who still glorify Barney Stinson (Neil Patrick Harris) and his hyperbolic, womanizing lifestyle. (Yes, I have a lot of friends… on Facebook.) 

I understand How I Met Your Mother is ultimately just a TV show, and a work of fiction, but its main character really was the perfect avatar for fragile masculinity and disseminating that type of thinking through TV is as effective as can be. TV is a prevailing agent of socialization and Douglas Kellner’s study on Media Culture summed it up best: “[the] television… industry provides models of what it means to be male and female, successful or a failure, powerful or powerless… media culture helps shape the prevalent view of the world and its deepest values: it defines what is good or bad, positive or negative, moral or evil.” 

Romance is the backbone of many television programs. We collectively like to see and hear love stories because there’s a realness we can relate to or aspire towards. It just so happens that many television writers have forgotten, ignored or have been ignorant about the realities surrounding romance. Not every couple is going to be heteronormative, partners won’t always come from the same race and/or ethnic background and stories don’t always have to be about a mid-20s or mid-30s love affair. Many more stories about romance are utterly invisible in television, and really, these are the stories we need to see and be told. How I Met Your Mother may have been right to preach about love as the be-all end-all, but its methodology was a tad suspect.  

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