How I Met Your Mother

Credit CBS


UK TV:  Channel 4


Writers Craig Thomas and Carter Bays based the idea for the show loosely on their own experience living in New York.


How I Met Your Mother is a hybrid comedy unlike any other American show (though sharing some uncanny similarities with a British comedy Coupling 2000-04). It combines the cutaway gags and jumps in time and space of single camera comedies but filmed with multiple cameras like a live audience sit com. The narrative style makes a traditional filming schedule impossible. So the final cut is later shown to a live audience whose reactions mixed with a laugh track go together on the final edit.

Season one was like a Romantic Comedy turned into a sit com with Ted's quest to find a wife leading him through many adventures. Season two onwards saw the narrative struggle to stay as compelling because the writers decided to indefinitely string out the story of when Ted would meet his children's mother. That struggle continues with each season but had no effect on the show's ratings. The show has consistently had between eight and eleven million viewers tuning in since its premier in May 2006.

The show has benefitted hugely from being a part of CBS strong comedy block on Monday nights and not changing night at any point in its seven seasons so far. Stablemates Two and a Half Men, The Big Bang Theory and Mike and Molly are some of the most successful comedies of the decade and have doubtless helped keep an audience tuned to one channel on Mondays. However How I Met Your Mother has more often than not been the lead off show for the evening so doubtless it has also helped build an audience for other shows.


The 1990s seemed like a golden period for sit coms with Seinfeld, Spin City, Friends, Frasier and a host of British shows all breeding a passion for the twenty two minute episode in me. By the time 2007 came around I had lost touch with American comedy and wanted to see what was now filling the schedules. How I Met Your Mother seemed the most promising of the shows available. The show wasn't particularly funny at any point but was very strong light entertainment throughout season one. The clever changes of perspective and narrative and some fine acting from all involved drew me in to the story.

However once season two began my relationship with the show began to sour. The narrative impetus was lost and slowly I lost interest in the narrative. I remained interested in where the characters would end up but I now had to endure the writers' painful attempts at comedy. Learning almost no lessons from their glittering predecessors Carter and Bays have produced a massive list of awful jokes and moments that aren't funny and damaged the sense that the world we were watching was real. The characters were often asked to make lists of puns, overact, portray themselves at an earlier age unconvincingly or suddenly be blind to their own defects in ways that didn't remotely resemble the people they were back in season one. It's a criticism that I would level at many comedies but not many of those shows descended so swiftly into these laughably unfunny tactics.

The show's hybrid formula worked against these attempts at humour. The writers often wanted to mine the kind of silliness that shows like Scrubs, Arrested Development or 30 Rock revelled in. The problem is that the performance aspect of a soundstage comedy demands a sense of reality that a single camera comedy doesn't. The silliness that can be done in private on those shows look far faker and more ridiculous when they are meant to be happening in a bar with normal people sitting around you.

I will continue to chronicle the show's path until the end because there is still enough goodness in the show to keep me engaged. The unique hybrid qualities of How I Met Your Mother also gives me a lot more to write about compared to shows which I dislike from the start and so end up repeating myself.

December 2011

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