The Cutprice Guignol

The Sixth Year: American Sigh Story

Tag: how i met your mother

How I Slut-Shamed Your Mother

So, I’ve written before about How I Met Your Mother, because it was one of the first sitcoms I truly loved- sure, it might have paled in comparison to Frasier and Happy Endings and Suburgatory and Frasier (did I mention Frasier?) in recent years, but it’s still my baby and I adore it. I last watched it when the final season was airing in 2014, and I kind of forgot about it after that atrocious ending. A few nights ago, the Consort and I were looking for something to do (besides writing Doctor Who reviews, shameless plug), and we decided to watch a few of our favourite episodes of HIMYM. And both of us came away feeling kind of…urgh. I’d never before realized just quite how fucking grim one of my favourite comedies actually is.

I picked a shot with headless women in the background, because SYMBOLISM.

If you’re in any way acquainted with the show, you’ll know that Neil Patrick Harris, the King of my heart and also of this version of Sugar Daddy from Hedwig and the Angry Inch, plays breakout character Barney Stinson, a hyper-horrible pick up artist who treats women entirely as conquests to be slept with then discarded through any means necessary. Obviously, that’s pretty gross as it is, but generally the audience is encouraged to laugh at his pathetically grim attempts to pick up women, not with him. But then there’s the way he talks about women-hos, sluts, hefties, amongst a variety of other terms, all of which the studio audience howl along with. Guys, guys, look how funny it is that he consistently treats women like shit for engaging in casual sex or not conforming to society’s idealised version of them! And that ends up blurring the line uncomfortably between laughing at his convoluted “plays” to hook up with women, and laughing at the women he takes in with them for being so easy. Equally, there are a couple of episodes where less-than-perfect men are derided for, you know, having a sex drive and wanting to be treated like a normal human being.

If every single tertiary female character didn’t look and act like this, I might feel better about the whole thing.

His character might be a caricature, but the use of these terms isn’t, as evidenced by the fact the rest of the characters regularly describe women like that too. But who can blame them, considering the fact that almost every secondary female character on this show is treated like a dumb slut? They’re consistently stupid, drunk, gullible, vulnerable people, just waiting for our main character to swoop down on them, manipulate them, fuck them, and dump them. Or they’re prudes, torturing our innocent male characters with a lack of sex, (seriously, that plotline turns up an embarrassing amount during the series) which is equally awful. I’ve written before about how sitcom’s compressed time frame often cause sexist/racist/whatever-ist stereotypes, but none have done so as consistently as this. Especially when you compare them to the tertiary male characters, who get actual funny plotlines and don’t have to have their tits out to be shown on camera.

To be fair though, Kyle Machlachlan has a recurring role in the series so I love everything about it and it’s perfect.

But hey, I hear you cry, they have two female lead characters on this show (three if you count the titular Mother in season nine), so they can’t be that bad, can they? Well, yeah, I’m not going to dispute the fact that Robin (played by Cobie Smulders) and Lily (played by Alyson Hannigan) are as well-realized characters as their male counterparts, but they’re regularly shown as part of the Not One of Those Girls trope- they drink, they smoke pot, they enjoy sex, and they’re just as happy to describe women as “bitches” or “sluts” as their male counterparts. It’s okay to deride them, the show seems to tacitly argue, because even though they engage in a lot of the behaviours the derided “hos” do, because they shame other women for doing it, too. There’s something uber-grim about women shaming other women for their behaviour- Christ, it took me months to get rid of the involuntary twitch of disapproval whenever I met a woman who was engaging in behaviours I’d been taught weren’t “ladylike”-but here it’s used to show how cool and down these women are. Ladies, take note: dudes will like you if you call other women dumb sluts!

They’re not like those other girls, because the show often makes jokes of Lily’s high sex drive, or has the men encouraging them to perform lesbianism for them, or other characters calling them sluts for hooking up with people “too soon”. And it’s doubly a shame, because HIMYM has done some awesome stuff with it’s women characters- an infertility plotline was handled fucking beautifully, and the way the show treats their careers as just as valid as the male character’s is heartening. But let’s not forget that one of the biggest plotlines of the series revolves around Barney and Robin, and how he manipulates her by lying to her, dating someone she doesn’t like to make her jealous, and telling her they could never be together, only for her to fall at his feet when he proposes and have it treated as the most romantic thing in the world. For everything good they do with their women characters, they undermine it by holding up manipulation, unwanted persistence, and outright cruel behaviour as something women should look for in a man (and something men should be doing to get women).

Josh Radnor, who plays main character Ted, makes decent riffs on Woody Allen films now. Skip Liberal Arts, go for happythankyoumoreplease.

But when it comes down to it, this is a show that consistently shames women for their sexual behaviour, while it holds up men’s conquests as a victory. And that’s a shame, because it’s a really excellent comedy show- which is not to say that I suddenly don’t find it funny, but, with whole episodes revolving around how Barney has cruelly manipulated women into sex and then discarded them, it’s difficult to laugh along quite as heartily. God-dammit, How I Met Your Mother.

How They Ruined How I Met Your Mother

I’ve been watching CBS sitcom How I Met Your Mother for more than five years now; what started off as a slightly clever dramady turned into one of the sitcom mainstays of American television, running for nine years as it followed the story of five friends trying to make it in New York. No, not friends-don’t mention Friends. The people behind this show have never heard of Friends. They didn’t know what that show was about, though maybe they caught a few episodes when the TV was on in the background. But HIMYM is nothing like Friends, when you think about it-for a start, there were SIX people on Friends. They could go on, but there’s no need, as there is literally not one similarity between their original creation and Friends. Not one.

Either way, the show came to an end on Monday night after nine seasons and many ups and downs-both in the lives of the central characters and the quality of the show. But I stuck with it and it became a regular in my weekly viewing-funny, occasionally sad, a little surreal and ultimately predictable. Told in a framing device where the central character recounts the story of how he met his children’s mother to his bemused offspring, it played off fore-knowledge, flashback and unreliable narration for pathos. And after watching the finale, it’s safe to say I’m furious with how the show chose to throw nine years back in it’s audience’s face while prancing around blowing raspberries and stealing their cigarettes.

I’ll try to avoid spoilers here, but suffice to say the show indulged in a spectacular amount of flashforwards for it’s final hour-and in doing so managed to undermine the relationships they spent so long building, both this season and for nine years. Much of the show revolved around main character Ted’s relationship with (female) Robin-we knew from the off that she was not the mother, but Ted frequently found himself drifting back into the fantasy that she might be The One. Eventually, he began to slowly, painfully let go of that belief and open himself to someone different-someone, probably, better. A brave and interesting way to handle a will they/won’t they, it was believable and felt like an earned growth of character as he finally let her go for the last time.

I think what makes a great sitcom finale is the idea that life goes on. Friends and Frasier did it best; you got the sense that everyone’s lives were going to continue, but you just wouldn’t watch them living them any more. How I Met Your Mother lay everything out with no room for argument-here is exactly what happened to everyone for the rest of their lives. If you don’t like it-tough. There’s no room for speculation. If we want to repeal character development, major relationships, and key plot points, we will. There was a distinct feeling on the ending being decided on years in advance-and it was, with some character’s reactions having to be recorded within the first few years of the show’s inception- and the writers found themselves stuck with it, attempting to steer the careering plot lorry away from the edge of a cliff they knew they couldn’t avoid.

Some people have argued that by making unexpected (and unpopular) choices, the writers have moved HIMYM towards some semblance of reality. What they forgot was that we don’t come here for reality-we come here for glossy fiction. You can’t feed us exotic eclairs for almost nine years then act surprised when we spit out soggy toast and margarine-nine seasons of charming, witty fiction matched with an hour of sad, depressing, unlikely and unguessable stabs at reality left many viewers (including me) feeling cheated. The finale was not the ending to the show I’d been watching for five years-so I’ve decided to erase the ending from my memory and enjoy it at it’s-entirely unrealistic-best.