I was watching a rerun of “How I Met Your Mother” the other day, and I realized something: There is a rampant symptom of sitcoms ruining their main characters. By “ruining” I mean making them whiny, effeminate caricatures rather than the original romantic, idealistic people we as an audience enjoyed in the first place. The three biggest offenders: “How I Met Your Mother,” “Scrubs” and “Friends.”Let’s start with “How I Met Your Mother,” because that’s the one that inspired this post. When that show began, the audience connected with Ted Mosby. Ted was the classic romantic idealist: Someone who wanted desperately to fall in love and have a relationship like his friends Lily and Marshall. He was so swept up in the idea of love that he told Robin on their first date that he was in love with her. The whole first season is spent with Ted pining over Robin (even as he dates Victoria), and the end of the first season culminates in his making it rain (literally) so that he and Robin can be together. The audience is rooting for Ted the whole time, and he’s our proxy into this fun, faux-New York world. Though he and Robin break up at the end of season 2, I enjoyed his time with Stella (up until she left him at the altar). But, since then, the writers have spun their wheels with Ted. Zoey went nowhere, and even the return of Victoria felt flat. But, more importantly, the writers made Ted into, for lack of a better word, a wuss.
When Robin starts dating Don, Don admits that he thought Ted was gay. Why did he think that? Ted took calligraphy classes, cooked fancy food, drank appletinis, and asked if athletes had new “costumes.” This is the same Ted who took Marshall to a Yankees game in season 2 and proudly wore an Indians jersey. Sure, the Dr. X stuff and the red cowboy boots painted the picture of a man who was a little bit full of himself (and the box “For my Biographer” in the episode I referenced earlier shows Ted does have quite the high opinion of himself), but the writers basically made Ted into someone for whom we have no respect. Worse, this year after he broke up with Abby Elliott’s character (who is so forgettable I’m not going to even look up her name), he says that he’s “finally” ready to settle down. Except he was “finally” ready to settle down at the end of the pilot episode! This is Ted Evelyn Mosby, the hopeless romantic! But the writers have saddled him with character flaws and plot lines that have sputtered to the point where I don’t recognize season 1 Ted anymore. in fact, the closest I’ve come to appreciating his sentimentality is in this clip from the end of season 8, and truthfully, the only reason why I like it is because it makes me think “the mother” has been dead the whole time he’s been telling his kids the story (and I think that would be an interesting twist).
Fine, you say, but Barney is the best character on that show anyway, and why should we care? That’s all well and good, but it’s not just “How I Met Your Mother.” Ted is getting the exact treatment that J.D. got on “Scrubs”: going from a romantic, idealistic young professional to an effeminate punchline. J.D. season 1 reveals his father issues, revels in his closeness with Turk, and struggles as a young doctor for the approval of Drs. Cox and Kelso, all while pining after Elliott. He is, for all intents and purposes, someone with whom the audience can identify. And yet, the writers decide to make J.D. a blithering man-child, making him decidedly uninterested in sports or anything “macho” and mostly concerned with his own hair. How many episodes had a throw-away joke about how he didn’t understand the game that was on TV? And how many included jokes about him drinking an appletini?
And then….we come to Ross Geller. Remember season 1 Ross? He was so head over heels for Rachel, despite everything going on with Carol and Susan (and Ben). He was never the manliest guy in the group (that would obviously be Joey), but viewers were practically begging for him and Rachel to get together by the end of that first season. An accomplished paleontologist, a good father, a good brother, a good friend….we all wanted what was best for him. And then, in later seasons, the writers gave us scenes like this, where Ross breaks into an apartment to get his salmon shirt back. What happened to the Ross for whom we were all rooting? He got annoying, whiny, dumb…the same things that happened to J.D. and Ted.
Is this merely a symptom of shows getting on in years, and trying to find new shades to their main characters? Maybe. But to me, it also seems to be a problem that these shows have attacked their main characters rather than supported them, and maintained their integrity. The one thing that could be encouraging is that it provides the opportunity for a rehabilitation of the character; for instance, Ross in the “Friends” series finale is the Ross we all liked to begin with; similarly, this last scene with J.D. on “Scrubs” was everything we like about him from the first season: treacly and saccharine, yes, but not emasculating or whiny. I can only hope that Theodore Evelyn Mosby gets the send-off he deserves, and not the way everyone treated him at Punchy’s wedding.