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How I Met Your Father
heteronormative
catvalente
I've been watching How I Met Your Mother lately. I kind of love it, and find it interesting on a number of levels, not the least of which is the opening credit sequence, which hits me in this weird emotional place that I wrote about before.

Part of me wonders why I like this show when I hated Friends--it's the same sort of thing, a group of people sort of socially broken except for each other, way too involved in each other's lives and addicted to a single hang-out place, going around in circles and hooking up and breaking up. The easy answer is the HIMYM is much more generational, and of my generation--they talk like my friends and I talk, they are my age, they have similiar concerns and anxieties, and their banter is more often than not quite geeky, full of Star Wars references and internet-speak. Plus time travel appears to exist in this universe, and they sing songs. None of that shit went down on Friends. The show is in general much more genial, naturalistic, and funny than most sitcoms, though it was rough going in S1. I know Big Bang Theory is like that too, but the few episodes of BBT I've seen have struck me as deeply misogynist in that "girls can't be geeks, only objects of geek lust" sort of way. It is SUCH a dude's show, or at least it was the last time I tuned in.

Whereas, while HIMYM has issues, notably, being yet another All White New York show, (Barney, while he spews misogynist crap a lot, doesn't actually bother me. We're not meant to think he's a good and admirable person or anyone to aspire to be. And though he doesn't respect the women he sleeps with, he is happy to have women behave the same way he does, ie Robin and her bro night out, and include them in his circle. Though honestly, I'd bet I'd like him much less if he were not played by NPH, who is gay and a geek icon.) it is much more concerned with women and their lives, and certainly, the whole point of the show is this one guy thinking marriage is super awesome.

Which brings me to my problem, which is that, as I watch the show more and more (I saw up to the S5 finale and then realized I'd never watched S1, so am wrapping that up lately) I hate Ted Mosby. He is, colloquially speaking, a monster douchebag.

I have trouble with him as our POV character, because he's extremely creepy, controlling, and often unpleasant to his friends, who fall over themselves to aid and succor him in his douchebaggery. He is a total shit to most of his girlfriends, breaking up with them on birthdays, cheating on them, using them, all in the name of "the one" (a concept I find stupid anyway). He runs out of his mother's wedding because he wants it to be his wedding and he can't bear that it isn't. He's incredibly clingy and co-dependent and obsessed with getting married and having kids to the point of psychosis. Everyone on the show talks about what a great guy Ted is, but he's really not, unless you fall into the category of maybe-my-wife, and then only for as long as you stay in that category.

What makes all this slightly more interesting is that all of that is pretty typical behavior for a sitcom girl. I mean, he kind of is Melissa from Thirtysomething. I'd recoil pretty hard from a female character with that level of obsession with finding Her Man, and I find whatever patience I have with Ted to spring from it being mildly interesting to see that behavior seated in a straight male character. The fact that a man onscreen desires marriage and children and doesn't see them as hell is pretty rare. And yes, everyone wants to be loved and few people want to be alone--the vast majority of the viewing audience wants to be partnered and that's fine. But Ted goes way over the line into unhealthily fixated.

I mean, everyone on the show is broken to some extent. I love Lily and Marshall, but their insistence and craziness about being each other's one and only, only person they've ever had sex with or seen naked or anything, is grating and out of place with the idea that they do trust and love each other implicitly, and I have to say from my own perspective, I loathe that he leaves her with his family to go play sports in that one Thanksgiving episode, because it goes unremarked on, and is one of the awful thing about holidays--men play and watch sports, women cook and work for them. It was a perfect episode to critique that, and they dropped the ball. I don't really care for how they keep setting up Robin as broken for wanting to be a success at her career (but then, I hated Don the character so I was never going to root for them). Dude, as an anchor she has a limited time to make it or break it, since so much is based on looks. It is ok for her not to want to be Ted's Mommy Mannequin. Barney is, of course, Barney. But at least he's honest about what he is, as pathetic as often as he is cool.

But Ted rubs me wrong in a way none of the rest of them do. He will do anything to get The One. He will hurt anyone and break any law. He's seriously deranged about it, and of course, it's often been pointed out that the frame of him telling this to his kids doesn't work that well when he's telling them about creepy threeways and his stalking of their Aunt. But Ted would totally do that. The way he talks about finding the mother, you'd think he discovered Antarctica or defeated Sauron. It's all epic and amazing and world-stopping in his head, instead of, you know, what most people end up doing. So of course he forces his kids to listen to his heroic adventure--it's clearly the only real thing Ted ever accomplished. It's the only story he has to tell. While veryone else in the show has pretty cool adventures doing various things--even Lily went to France--Ted's only story is this woman he convinced to play the part of the mother in his pantomime. I'd only be mildly surprised to learn at the end that the mother is buried in the basement because she departed from Ted's script one idle Tuesday.

Since they've committed to only revealing the mother at the end, I'd be surprised if my opinion ever changes. She can't help but be a shallow character, slotted in to make Ted chill the fuck out and stop being awful to everyone. I'd love a spin-off series from the mother's perspective, but I don't think we'll get it. I love the show--I just can't bear Ted, his heteronormative freakouts and selfish behavior, his inability to see or do anything that doesn't somehow get him closer to that one dad one mom two kids goal. Though like Barney's suits, it's almost interesting that this life, which used to be shown as repressive and boring and a curse, and the purported misery of which is still the root of much comedy, is in HIMYM a goal of talismanic, Grail-like proportions. I can't help but thing that's because we live in a world where it's pretty hard to pay for and maintain a house and kids, and that picket fence life is brutal to acheive.

But still, you don't have to be such an asshole about it, Ted.
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Have you seen the Saint Patrick's Day episode where Ted realizes he's a douche bag?

Yeah, but the realization doesn't really seem to stick. He doesn't change at all, and he doesn't think he's a douchebag for being crazypants about getting married while cheating on people and dumping them cruelly.

My Best Friend Jeff(TM) maintains that the show should really be called "Barney Stinson Hates Himself" and just be about Barney instead.

More or less, yeah. That's what makes him an interesting character--that he does hate himself, and does want other things, but is sort of in a prison of his own making.

Exactly. I enjoy the hell out of the character, but good GOD I wouldn't actually want him around.

Right. On.

(I'm also deeply, deeply troubled by the idea that Ted Mosby grows up to be Bob Saget but that's not really relevant.)

Yeah, I don't really get the necessity of that. Voices don't change that much with time.

I think the show's in the process of jumping the shark, but at least up to season 4 I thought it was a really interesting exercise in telling a story from the point of view of an unreliable narrator. I'm used to first-person POV in books but rarely do we see it in TV shows. So you see Ted's lack of self-awareness when he does douchey things and you see secondary characters through the lens of what Ted thinks of them with hints of what they might be like objectively. It's like in The Great Gatsby - Nick Carraway isn't always aware of it when the people around him are asses, and he's sometimes not even aware of it when he himself is an ass, but the reader is clued in long before he is, and that's one reason the book is so awesome to me every time I read it.

What I wish the show would do, even though I know it won't go there, is bring in The Mother and show how she forces Ted to outgrow his pretentious douchey-ness and his idea that everything in his life has to lead up to getting married. It would be deliciously ironic if The Mother called him on his bullshit and forced him to get over himself. Saget as Ted occasionally hints at regret for having behaved certain ways or made certain decisions, so I would love it if we saw Ted starting to evolve as a person alongside the right partner.

Yeah, that could be fun. Turn the show into (in effect) "How I Convinced Your Mother I Was Worth Marrying".

"I asked her to marry me. She said no, and explained why. In great and insulting detail. Which is why she isn't your mother either. But kids--that's when I realized what a total douchebag I was. She was right not to marry me.

"But by the time I met your mother, I _was_ a man worth marrying. It happened like this...."

Edited at 2010-07-03 10:55 pm (UTC)

In some ways it's sad that the show will end with her, so that it remains All About Ted, and the identity of the mother is really irrelevant--she's just for Ted, not her own person.

I didn't think S5 was as bad as some do, but I agree that it's an unreliable narrator and that's cool. I just wish it were a different sort of UN, one more pleasant to watch. Barney is a shit but he's fun to watch.

My primary comment here is: WORD.

I have begun to time myself. On average, I can make it about 7 minutes into an episode before I begin encouraging the other characters to hit Ted.

P.S. - I am not quite as far along as you are (season four, I think), but I am also starting to hate Yellow Umbrella Girl and her Neruda fixation with the white hot hatred of a thousand Manic Pixie Dream Girls. Those two crazy kids might actually deserve one another ....

The umbrella thing has actually been resolved by S5, without the mother appearing. It's pretty lame.

I think Ted is almost to the point of borderline personality disorder. He skeeves me, and "shut up, Ted" is commonly heard around our house.

Though I felt bad for him in the episode where he meets people who talk about art and literature and is accepted because his pretentiousness is no longer out of place--it was nice, but the show felt the need to prove to us that Those People suck, and it felt all needlessly class warfare.

Yeah, that episode annoyed me a little because the show is very negative on Those People, while showing Ted fitting in with them, without actually letting it reflect on Ted. Sort of hypocritical. It also really brought into focus for me why Ted's douchebaggery doesn't bug me so much--I spend as much time feeling sorry for him that he's stuck with friends that just don't get things he's passionate about as wanting him to shut up.

I don't dislike Ted this much (although I have a lot of the show to catch up on), but this I'd only be mildly surprised to learn at the end that the mother is buried in the basement because she departed from Ted's script one idle Tuesday. made me laugh and laugh.

Precisely and completely true. I watch that show for everyone else, and try to edit Ted out as best I can.

I agree, to a point. I think we differ in the way we see Ted's achievements.

I do not think that getting married is Ted's only achievement. He has mentioned that he becomes a successful architect somewhere down the line and points out a building he designed that is now part of the New York skyline (which was a long term goal/dream of his). However, despite these achievements, he seems to be so focused on getting married that anything else he achieves is overshadowed by that obsession. He doesn't see anything else he may have accomplished as worthy of more than a cursory mention. Even the building he designed gets only a "BTW, kids.." in the middle of an episode.

Ted has and will do some pretty cool things, like the others, he just won't recognise them if they're not marriage or "The One" related.

I could be wrong but I thought that building plan was cancelled, he never contributed to the skyline, and became a professor.

That was a different building but that was the first time he thought he would contribute to the skyline, yes. The building he does contribute is built years later and hasn't been included in the story yet, aside from the brief mention. He is a professor in the intervening years and, presumably, designs this building after or during his teaching career.

I think the "skyline building" is mentioned in S1 or early S2?

There are quite a few instances where it's implied that Ted does achieve quite a few of his architectural goals, but not for many years after the story is set.

Edited at 2010-07-04 04:53 am (UTC)

There's also the fact that if you watch the bloopers and DVD extras, the cast seems to genuinely like each other. (To my understanding, that wasn't the case on Friends)

My own fiance and I agree on this times a million. He however argues that he was in fact a lot like Ted before he met me and that in many ways I called him up on his hipster "bullshit". I think we should give Ted a chance his been a lot less douchey in season five.

I stopped watching HIMYM after the episode called Slapsgiving, as I hated it ferociously. Because all the characters decided that one of them should be on the receiving end of slaps on a major holiday spent with his "friends". But to be honest, I only watched it for Barney and for sometimes really good way of plot-development (re: Marshall and Lily's wedding).

And as for TBBT, there's Leslie who's a geek, and then there's Leonard's mother. You should watch the episode with Leonard's mother (it's called "Maternity Something", and there are two of them, as she returns; she's the most awesome character on that show.)

Christine Baranski as Leonard's mother is one of the most sublime acting gigs ever.

And the karaoke scene, always makes me laugh! :D

I don't have much to add, apart from to say you hit the nail on the head. Or Ted. Whatever.

You made a lot of good points here. My biggest issue with the show, though, is Lily and Marshall's possessiveness and jealousy. Even tthough I like them better than Ted, as someone who's poly-friendly it makes my teeth itch.

Ted is boring and lame, but my big issue with the show is Barney, who's the best character, and who's misogyny/borderline sexual abuse of women just turns my stomach. Some women have personhood, most not in his world. Ugh.

What makes it dealable for me is the show does not think this is ok. It does think Ted is ok, even admirable.

Interesting commentary!

I really loved this show for the first two seasons. I thought one episode in particular, "Brunch", was an amazing feat of non-linear storytelling. You have to really pay attention to see how a line spoken now is relevant later because of something that happened earlier....

But this show is losing me fast. Part of it is what you've said: Ted is an incredible loser who acts like an asshole a lot of the time. Part of it is that it's just going over the top, with doppelganger everyone... It's just getting silly instead of funny.

I think the show is drifting because it keeps getting renewed and the creators have not put an end date on it, which has to happen prior to 2015, by the age of the kids (assuming they are both Ted's biological children), but otherwise is not pretty much subject to the continued popularity of the show. The only other limiting factor is that the creators have said that the mother will be revealed in the last episode.

Which, IMHO, is really stupid, because the story of how anyone meets the person they marry should include how they got to know the person and how their relationship grew. And Ted, as self-obsessed as he is, would not stop telling this story with the day of their meeting, not after all these completely unrelated details. The mother should get at least half a season, and they should decide that they are only doing two more seasons of the show so that we can have some forward momentum toward a real goal.

Wow, somehow I thought there were only going to be 6 seasons.

No. Alas, the creators have gotten greedy, and said that they will string it along as long as it's popular. If there were only going to be 6 seasons, I think we would have seen much more momentum.

It's gotten to be The X-Files: episodes that focus on Ted seeking The Mother are like the conspiracy episodes - boring and frustrating - and the ones about the other characters are the monster-of-the-week episodes - much more entertaining.

But I think that it remains tolerable at all because the creators are aware that Ted is kind of a douchebag, even if Ted isn't aware of it - the very fact that he is forcing his kids to listen to him against their will is portrayed as kind of a weird, narcissistic thing, so I do think that the creators know Ted is a bit of a jerk.

I like the unreliable narrator aspect of the show, and the fact they aren't afraid to show that Lily and Marshall are a bit creepy in their devotion, that Barney is almost intolerable but manages to do just enough genuine good that they keep him around. Robin's choice of career over relationships is accepted - the one time she chose differently turned out badly - which is refreshing to see for a female character.

I do think they are sort of stuck at this point and it would be a lot better if they decided to do two more seasons, one around the arc of Lily and Marshall having a kid, since kids are part of the growing up process that is already established in the continuity here, and one wherein Ted finally meets Mom and at least half the episodes are about how they ended up together. I think ending on the Mom Reveal is a stupid idea, and letting the show drift for as long as they can milk it is equally stupid.

all in the name of "the one" (a concept I find stupid anyway)

My god, this. "The One" implies that somewhere there are two people who have been packaged up for each other like Oreos and Milk, and all that needs to be done is open and enjoy. I hate this logic with the burning passion of 100000 suns. God forbid a relationship should actually be, you know, work. That you should just have to accept some things you can't stand (dirty socks on the floor) in favor of the things that make a relationship worthwhile (a husband who gets up at 6 with the baby, then makes you coffee before waking you at 8). Nope, nope, somewhere out there is your sockless perfect someone, ready to do all the things you want and none of the things you don't, right out of the box.

When I was dating, and someone started to go off about their "search for the one", I would back slowly away and start scoping out possible safe retreats.

Ted even breaks up with a girl at some point because it's work, and he says "at some level it has to be easy." Ugh.

Also the world doesn't end if you see another dude naked. I'd be more impressed with Lily and Marshall if they were a little more chill about stuff like that.

If I remember correctly, they started out acting as if they were chill, and egged each other on into jealousy. Which is a very sitcom thing to do.

hahaha
I'll be watching How I Met Your Mother tonight (just started, enjoying season one) and now I have a new critical lens to examine it with. I never thought Ted was an asshole, just flawed as we all are. I admire people who cut their losses and say "this relationship isn't working for me" even though I probably would never date someone who was all about marriage, as though that was a trophy of wonderful.

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