December 3, 2012

I still watch How I Met Your Mother. I cannot account for this behavior. I don’t love the show; I don’t hate it. It’s not like The Simpsons or Seinfeld—shows that I’ve rewatched endlessly in syndication, memorizing jokes and trivia to deploy as socially-alienating references. Once I’ve seen an episode, I will go out of my way to never watch it again, which would suggest that it’s the show’s achingly thin ongoing plot that keeps me interested—a plausible theory, except that I’m not interested at all.

I’m not the only person with this affliction. Last season, the long-running CBS sitcom attracted an average of 9.67 million very bored people—the best weekly numbers in the show’s history. And yet I have never heard someone say, “Hey—did you see the new How I Met Your Mother?” There are a lot of people out there watching this totally average show and doing their utmost not to discuss it. It’s a dark personal secret. It’s not something you brag about. How I Met Your Mother is something to hide.

That kind of obsessive hobby-hiding is suggestive of psychosis, which makes sense. Deep-seated mental defects are required to enjoy CBS comedies—even the one that’s closest to tolerable. How I Met Your Mother does some fun things structurally—jumping around in time, keeping up with ongoing stories—and yet it’s completely hamstrung by network blandness, the creators’ addiction to sentimentality, and the worst main character in the history of broadcast television.

Yep. I’m talking about Ted Mosby, superschmuck.

I’m not going to get too deep into how unbearable the show’s narrator and hero is. Anyone who’s seen the pilot knows that this brain-dead mediocrity’s search for The One got tiresome after 22 minutes, nevermind nearly 4,000 of them. I used to think that the only way to watch this show was to ignore the man at the center, to forget the framing story of an aged dweeb’s rambling attempt to explain to his children how they were conceived, and focus on the comparatively delightful supporting cast—Willow from Buffy, Nick from Freaks and Geeks, and Doogie Howser. But I’m here today to tell you that that’s wrong. You can’t watch How I Met Your Mother without focusing on Ted. Like a mutilated cat, he’s impossible to stop staring at. The only way to watch this show that I and nine million others are, for some reason, still watching is to focus on his awfulness, and accept one miraculous truth.

Ted Mosby is a psychopath.

Think about it. It’s the only way the show makes any sense. Nevermind that his convoluted storytelling is indicative of serious brain damage, and forget that those two kids he’s talking to have been captive for God know’s how long, and are very likely not his children. Focus instead on the improbable number of episodes that end with heartfelt strings, a declaration of Ted’s renewed faith in his eternal optimism, and a romantic problem being solved by one of Ted’s trademark grand gestures. Everyone is impressed by his unflappable romanticism; the girl is swept off her feet; everybody loves Ted again.

Now remember that the story is being told from his point of view, to two children whom he has, presumably, abducted. In real life, Ted’s grand gestures would never work. When he does things like break into Robin’s apartment, accompanied by a chamber orchestra whose instruments have been painted blue, she is charmed. In real life, she would mace him and call the police.

Far from being an exactly-average sitcom, How I Met Your Mother is the most powerful exploration of psychosis ever aired on broadcast TV. The man thinks that destiny allows him to control the weather, for God’s sake. He’s a hard-bitten lunatic, my friends, and so are you.

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