HIMYM Synopsis (2005-2014): A father recounts to his children, through a series of flashbacks, the journey he and his four best friends took leading up to him meeting their mother. (IMDB)
Friends Synopsis (1994-2004): Follows the personal and professional lives of six 20 to 30-something-year-old friends living in Manhattan. (IMDB)
Review: I have wasted a lot of time watching television sitcoms. During college, everyone I knew obsessed over How I Met Your Mother. Having never seen the show, I did not share that enthusiasm. Then I attended summer school. Anyone who takes college classes over the summer knows that campus life dies between the months of May and September. Those of us still crawling around the dorms during the dead time tend to spend a lot of time alone, usually watching television. After hearing about HIMYM all year, I succumbed and watched the show. A couple of years later, my brother’s girlfriend (now wife) kept rhapsodizing about Friends. Having also never watched that show, I took her advice and tuned in once it debuted on Netflix.
Friends and How I Met Your Mother follow the lives of a group of 20ish to 30ish friends as they navigate life in the Big Apple (New York City). In Friends, the main anchoring relationship revolves around Ross and Monica, the siblings. Marshall and Lily, the college lovers turned married couple, provide the heart to How I Met Your Mother (HIMYM). Neither show would have quite worked without these relationships to anchor the fantastical elements of the narrative arcs. After watching both shows, each one offers a unique perspective on growing up and figuring out life. However, of the two, Friends offers a more realistic examination of young adulthood in a big city and, I think, stands up better over time.
I am probably one of the only people who felt the HIMYM finale made sense. First of all, it is just a sitcom, so all the teeth gnashing over the finale seems anticlimactic. Second, HIMYM really deals with Ted’s relationship with Robin, not the ubiquitous Mother. HIMYM revolves around Ted, a frustrated architect, looking for love in all the wrong places. He is joined on this adventure by Barney, Marshall, Lily, and Robin. Barney and Ted bump into each other in a bar and stay friends. Marshall went to college with Ted; they then shared an apartment upon graduation. Lily dates Marshall and is the de facto third roommate. Robin bumps into every one at a bar and joins the friend group. In typical sitcom fashion, Ted meets Robin, they like each other, and the show keeps them apart for nine seasons. All nine seasons function as a long flashback of “older” Ted telling his kids about how he met their mother, hence the show’s title. The show ends with the “mother” dying and Ted running back to Robin. While this ending seems like a cop out to most fans of the show-based upon all the internet reviews, it fits with the overall narrative arc of the story. Ted pretty much only wants Robin; but she did not want children and he did. He found someone else who wanted kids, and once she died, decided to pursue his first love interest.
Despite his entertainment value, Barney is the weakest link in the HIMYM friend group. Granted, Neil Patrick Harris give an energetic performance and easily steals every scene due to his natural charisma. However, Barney stays relatively unchanged for all nine seasons. He is the consummate womanizer, always chasing a new, young model every evening. Given his good looks and smooth talking, Barney charms nearly everyone who crosses his path. While his backstory makes Barney’s outlook on life reasonable, he barely matures over nine seasons. The show ends with him realizing there is more to life than younger women and booze. Over the course of the show everyone else matured and he managed to remain the same. Barney is the living embodiment of style over substance.
Marshall and Lily met in college, fell in love, and have stayed glued to each other ever since. They provide the emotional center of the show. Everyone else bounces their crazy love lives off of them and are secretly jealous of their stability. Lily teaches kindergarten and Marshall wants to save the world as an environmental lawyer. However, this does not pay the bills and he ends up going corporate. The show would not work without them as they function like the pseudo parents to Ted, Robin, and Barney. Whenever the rest of the gang needs advice, they inevitable end up talking to Marshall and Lily.
Narrative wise, the show rises and falls with Ted’s outlook on romance. Some seasons he is overflowing with joy and in others it is the doldrums. The show was not shot in front of a live audience and the production value increased concurrently with viewership popularity. There were complex dance routines, lots of celebrity cameos, and entire episodes dedicated to finding the world’s best burger. However, I feel the show falls flat in that the characters never really feel like they moved on. The characters at the end of the show do not feel that different from when they started. I think the greatest mistake in the narrative was the over reliance on sex jokes. Barney’s routine gets old really quickly and Robin and Ted have little compunction about jumping into bed with their respective dates.
Friends debuted in 1994 and became an enormous hit. This show revolves around Monica, Chandler, Joey, Rachel, and Phoebe trying, and failing, to fulfill their full potential. Writing wise, I think Friends has stronger characters than HIMYM. Mainly because they are memorable and familiar, I think most people have encountered a Phoebe and a Rachel at some point in time. Unlike HIMYM, Friends does not revolve around one person trying to find romance. Instead the show followed a standard format every week with one “A” plot and two “B” plots. This allowed for all six actors to be equally highlighted and have all six characters grow in the “A” storyline over 10 seasons.
Monica and Ross are siblings. For most of her teenage years, Monica suffered from weight issues. Then she lost all the weight and became a chef based upon a throwaway line from Chandler, who was Ross’s college roommate. She lives in a glamorous and incredibly tidy apartment with Phoebe. Then, one day, Rachel, a friend from high school, reappears into Monica’s life. Rachel was running away from her own wedding and ends up living with Monica. Ross, a paleontologist, has nurtured a crush on Rachel since high school. However, his pregnant wife just left him for her female lover and he does not feel quite up to pursuing Rachel. Chandler lives across the hall from Monica and Joey moves in with him. As a struggling actor with few prospects, Joey relies on Chandler to cover most of his expenses. Phoebe is the crazy hippie friend who somehow manages to walk the line between funny and creepy. Over the course of ten seasons all six friends experience heartbreak, professional setbacks and achievements, and other growing pains.
Unlike HIMYM, Friends filmed in front of a live audience. Shooting on a closed set versus a live set does not impact the storytelling too much, but it does impact the delivery. The cast of Friends had to rehearse numerous times before filming the final take so that they could maintain character during audience reactions. Since HIMYM shot on a closed set, the cast did not have to worry about live laughter. Multiple times throughout the season the cast clearly struggled to keep from breaking out laughing while filming. Friends had simpler storylines due to the shooting logistics, but every character up with equal screen time.
The reason Friends remains such a popular series lies in the strong writing. Everyone can relate with unrequited love, growing up, feeling attracted to toxic people, and problematic relationships with parents and siblings. My one gripe is that Ross and Rachel would never get together in real life. Their relationship never felt quite as strong as the other couples. Ross is insecure and incredibly clingy, while Rachel fluctuates between codependence and borderline stalker. For two people who keep declaring their love for each other, Ross and Rachel certainly sleep with a lot of people. By the last two seasons, you want them together just so they stop talking about not being together.
One point of contention, how can Monica afford such a plush apartment on a Chef’s salary? And how did Rachel help with rent when she worked at the coffee house? In real life they would need maybe three other roommates to make rent. Phoebe is the ethereal character who never seems quite all there yet, also, manages extremely lucid answers on occasion. How she paid rent on a masseuses’ salary is also mysterious. Only Chandler and Ross, in the beginning of the show, had believable enough jobs to justify their apartments. Not a true critique, just a pet peeve about television sitcoms and housing arrangements.
Overall, I think Friends beats How I Met Your Mother in terms of storyline, plotting, and character development. All the Friends’ characters grow up and readjust over the course of the show. The HIMYM characters seemed caught in a never ending loop of existential crises. Ted, while relatable, gets rather exhausting to listen to over nine seasons. Nevertheless, both shows are enjoyable and somewhat relatable. Though I am not in a rush to watch either again anytime soon.