Friday, May 26, 2017

How I met your Friends

One of the things that has always filled me with wonder is why so many people are obsessed with celebrities. I love movies and tv, but I really don’t care what the actors do when they’re off work. What amazes me further is that there are so many journalists and writers out there, some of them actually talented, who decide to spend their careers reporting on what is going on with movie stars, fashion models and the sad folk that populate reality tv shows.

In order to see what drives these writers, I decided to have a go at it myself. I know next to nothing about celebrities, something that often messes up my score when I take part in a pub quiz, but I do like comedy, so I figured I could write a celebrity story based on 2 tv shows that I can actually relate to.
I first got the idea for this story about two and a half years ago, when it had been 20 years ago since the first episode of Friends aired. This means that, by now, it has been 13 years ago since the last episode aired, which does not occur to a lot of people because it is still on tv every day.
Soon after Friends ended, its prime time spot was taken by a new comedy called How I met your mother. The 2 shows are often compared to each other and are, to be honest, quite similar.

Friends is a sitcom that follows a group of twenty-something New Yorkers while they go about their lives, loves and careers.
How I met your mother, on the other hand, is a sitcom that follows a group of twenty-something New Yorkers while they go about their lives, loves and careers. 

You can see where the comparison comes from. What further fuels the debate is the fact that How I met your mother started the season after Friends ended. People often ask me which of the two is my favorite and, I must say, I find it difficult to choose. They are similar and both have their strengths and weaknesses. They both have their own identity and I followed both devotedly for about a decade.
How could I choose between the two?

On top of the 20th anniversary of Friends, How I met your mother ended only a couple of months after I got the idea for this story, and I have recently watched all 9 seasons of How I met your mother again (twice) which heightened the desire to settle this matter once and for all.

In order to solve the dilemma, I decided to use an age old technique. A method that is used by those purveyors of truth, that bastion of objective journalism, the pinnacle of quality: Italian tabloid newspapers.

This is how it works: they start an article about a subject that needs a decision between 2 possibilities. This is often a football match, or 2 blockbuster movies coming out around the same time or something equally trifling, but they also use this technique to predict the outcome of elections, the awarding of government tenders or the result of armed conflicts. They then come up with a number of totally random categories and give both sides points in each category, and at the end they add up all the points et voila: here is the certain outcome of any problem you care to  come up with.

So before we finally solve this, let me set the scene for the audience. I am sure most of you will have seen, or at the very least heard of, How I met your mother and I’m positive there is no one left in the world who hasn’t seen at least a couple of episodes of Friends, but for those of you who have spent the last 25 years in the Line Islands, here’s an outline of both shows:

 Image result for friends
Friends ran from 1994-2004 and is set in the West Village, New York City. The show follows the lives of six friends: Monica, a control freak with hosophobia, who lives in her grandmother’s old appartment. She initially lives there with Rachel, an old highschool friend who, in the very first episode, walks back into her life in a wedding dress after she ran out of her own wedding. Monica’s brother Ross, a nerdy paleontologist, lives in the building behind hers. He has just found out that his wife is a lesbian, and pregnant with their first child. Ross being unlucky in love is a continuing theme throughout the show’s 10 seasons. 
Ross’s old college roommate Chandler and his friend Joey live across the hall from Monica (‘Across the hall’ was, accidentally, the original working title for the show. It was changed to ‘Friends’ after test-viewings showed that audiences liked that name better). Chandler is awkward around women, but very funny. He comes from a broken home and therefore hates public holidays. His mother writes erotic literature and divorced his father when she caught him having sex with the pool boy. Dad now works as a dancer in an all male gay burlesque show in Las Vegas. Joey is an Italian-American guy and also the only real New Yorker in the group. He is a womanizer who lives on pizza and meatball sandwiches, but he is a really nice guy who is always there for his friends.
The cast is completed by Phoebe, a free-spirited hippie chick, who is the odd one out in the group. She’s the only one that doesn’t live in the same neighbourhood, makes a living as a masseuse and by taking odd jobs here and there, she is a vegetarian and a musician and sometimes plays live in the group’s coffee house hangout.

Image result for how i met your mother
How I met your mother is centered around main character Ted Mosby. He is an architect who is obsessed with one thing: finding the love of his life. He arranges his life around his search for his soulmate and this is the main theme of the show. The show is set up as a flashback from the year 2030, when Ted tells his now teenage children how he met their mother all those years ago.
Ted shares a Midtown appartment with his former college roommate and best friend Marshall, a friendly giant of a guy who is originally from rural Minnesota. Marshall sometimes finds it hard to adjust to life in the big city and make it as a big shot lawyer. Marshall’s girlfriend Lily practically lives there too, but it is revealed somewhere along the line that she kept her own appartment in Queens without Marshall knowing about it. (How she can afford to keep a New York City appartment, besides the one she already lives in, on a kindergarten teacher’s salary is a mystery to me, but let’s not dwell on that too much). The three of them spend their time hanging out in a bar on the ground floor of their appartment building with their friends Barney and Robin. Barney is an over the top party animal and womanizer whose sole purpose in life is to get drunk and hook up with girls. Robin is a tv news presenter who is originally from Canada but has come to New York to build her career as a journalist.
So now that really everybody knows what both shows are about, let’s get to the fun part: the scoring.

The setting.

Friends: Central Perk, a coffee house in the Village.
Image result for central perk

How I met your mother: McLaren’s, an Irish pub somewhere in Midtown Manhattan
Image result for maclaren's pub
Verdict: Wooh, first blood to How I met your mother!
Though the setting of a coffee house was considered hip and edgy in the early 90s, you can’t beat a New York Irish pub.
Unfeasible as it might sound now, with every street in the world having at least 1 coffee house on it, the idea of a group of twenty-somethings spending their days in a coffee house was quite revolutionary in 1994. The creators of Friends came up with this idea to give the show a different setting but were initially urged by the network to change the backdrop to a diner or bar. The creators didn’t budge though, because they thought switching the setting for the show would make it resemble existing shows too much as Seinfeld, the number one show at the time, largely took place in a diner and a bar setting would remind people of Cheers! too much (It may seem ancient history to younger readers, but when Friends first started, Cheers! had only ended about a year earlier). It is later revealed, in one of those flashback episodes that increase in number as a show progresses through the seasons, that Central Perk was in fact originally a bar but that the owner thought it a good idea to do something else with the space.
Though Central Perk is a strong focal point in the show, McLaren’s gets the point in this category as most of the show’s important moments take place in the bar, whereas in Friends most memorable moments happen in Monica’s apartment.

The Verdict:
Friends:  3 points
How I met your mother: 5 points.

Speaking of apartments..

The apartment
Friends: When you say ‘sitcom apartment’ to someone these days, for most people, the first thing that comes to mind is a vision of Monica’s apartment in Friends. It is the quintessential sitcom apartment of the past 25 years. Apart from the first 2 minutes or so, the apartment is the focal point of the show, literally from the word go until the final second of the final episode. Nearly every major event in the show’s 10 seasons takes place in the apartment, and it is the constant factor that keeps the show together. Monica ofcourse lives there for the entire duration of the show, 6 years with Rachel and 4 with Chandler, but we learn throughout the show’s run that every mmber of the cast has at some point lived there. Phoebe was Monica’s roommate at some undetermined point before the first episode (though Phoebe mentions in one episode that it was in 1992), Joey and Chandler lived there together for 2 weeks when they won it in a bet and Ross, we learn in the final episode, lived there with his grandma one summer when he was in highschool and took a ballet course during school holidays.

Image result for friends apartment
How I met your mother: While the apartment that takes centre stage in the show has some memorable moments (Who can forget the sword fight, or the night that Ted and Barney turn the apartment into a bar?) it doesn’t represent the same consistency as Monica’s apartment in Friends. Ted and Marshall move in to the apartment after college, then Lily moves in. Marshall and Lilly move in to their own apartment, which turns out to be an architectural nightmare with slating floors. Robin moves in with Ted. And then moves out again, realizing that their past together makes it impossible to live together as friends. At this point Ted buys a house in the suburbs, as a fixer-upper. Then Marshall and Lily move to Long Island when Lily’s grandparents give them their house (yes, GIVE them their house) but they eventually get bored and want to move back to the city. Ted then moves out of the apartment for good, realizing that he will never be able to get over Robin if he stays in the apartment where he spent his entire time as Robin’s friend and boyfriend, and leaves the lease in Marshall and Lily’s name.
It’s all a bit messy and that ultimately costs How I Met Your Mother the points here.

Image result for how i met your mother apartment
The Verdict:
Friends: 4 points
How I met your mother: 3 points

Funniest Character (Main cast)
Friends: What made Friends so instantaniously popular (and makes that it is still such a great show after all those years) is the fact that it was the first sitcom that had an ensemble cast. All comedies that had come before had one central figure the focus was on. Ofcourse, Cheers! wouldn’t be the same without Norm and Cliff and all the others, but it is essentially the Sam Malone Show. Seinfeld, obviously, existed around Jerry Seinfeld and even though Married With Children was about the Bundy family, Al Bundy was the star of the show and the rest of the cast was just there for him to bounce off. 
Friends changed all this. No matter who your favorite character in Friends is, you simply can not make a case that that character was the focal point of the show. All characters had times when they were the focus of an episode, like Joey when he first moved out of the apartment he shared with Chandler, or Rachel and Ross in one of the approximately 327 episodes where they either break up or get together, but when you look at the entire show, there is no single character that is more important than the others. 

So depending on your personal preferences, you could nominate any character for being the funniest in their own way- Joey for being so dimwitted, Monica for being such a control freak or Ross for being such an enormous dork without he himself realizing it, but in the end I have chosen Chandler here. Chandler is the only character that is predominantly funny because he himself is funny. Monica is funny because she is obsessed with neatness, not because she is funny. Joey is funny because of his shallow view of the world, which revolves around women and food. Ross is funny because people constantly make fun of him and his dinosaurs, while Ross himself still thinks everybody finds the subject just as interesting as he does.
Chandler, however, is just a funny guy who constantly pokes jokes at his colleagues, his friends and random strangers. He is the comic centre of the show and therefore wins this category.

Image result for chandler

How I met your Mother: Though you could still consider How I met your Mother as an ensemble cast, the set up of the show focuses it on Ted. Though all characters have their issues to deal with, in the end it always comes back to Ted and his neverending search for the love if his life. There is just one problem with: the guy can be a bit of a bore at times. He has his moments, certainly, but he mostly seems to live with one foot on the brake, afraid he might miss the love of his life. Marshall is much better when it comes to comedy genius and Robin has her funny moments too, though these are mostly based around her Canadian devil-may-care attitude to life. Lily is rarely funny and functions more as a sort of spin doctor who is too busy trying to interfere with other people’s lives behind the scenes than as a comic relief.

But there can be only one winner here and that is Barney Stinson. I hate womanizers in real life but Barney Stinson is so unbelievably over the top that you just can’t do anything but laugh. Because of his high-salary/low-intensity job as an executive at some shadowy banking conglomerate (more on that later) he spends every day of his life partying and coming up with insane schemes for more parties and getting more women into his bed.

Barney has writen a book called The Bro Code, which explains in the most minute details how one should treat their bros and how to behave in every situation possible. He also wrote a book called The Play Book, which sets out every move and detail of all his mental schemes to get women to sleep with him, and regularly comes up with futile but entertaining festivities such as Bangtober fest, The Perfect Week and impromptu wild nights out that make no sense (my favorite of those being “The night we partied with The Mole People”). His apartment is full of high tech gadgets that help him get rid of women after he has had sex with them, like a moving bed that disappears into a wall, a non-functioning kitchen (no need for awkward breakfast talk) and a hologram projector that allows him to make appearances as a ghost or enigma if need be. 

On top of all this, he constantly comes up with outlandish, unprobable stories (which he always announces by lifting his index finger and saying ‘True story!’) that are steeped in myth and filled with vague characters that are somehow related to him. His favorite amongst these is one Barnabas Stinson, allegedly one of the founding fathers and a personal friend of George Washington, whom he regularly summons to explain why he and Ted should go somewhere or give in to something. 
Barney Stinson is not only  by far the funniest character in How I met your Mother, I would even say he is one of the funniest characters in sitcom history, rivalled only by Norm from Cheers! and Al Bundy from Married with Children.

Image result for barney stinson

The Verdict
Chandler Bing is a funny guy, but can’t live up to the comic brilliance of Barney Stinson

Friends: 3 points
How I met your Mother: 5 points

Funniest Character (Supporting cast)
Friends: At first I considered Fun Bobby for this accolade, because he is a funny guy, but then I remembered that he was only in 2 episodes at the very start of the show’s run and after that is never seen again. I then considered Jack Geller because he is funny and entertainingly awkward without exactly venturing into  Jim’s Dad territory, but eventually I decided that Gunther should take the cake. He is mostly in the background, but a running theme is that he is hoplessly in love with Rachel throughout the entire run of the show but Rachel never realises this, despite him doing anything to please her, like buying her horrible hairless cat and all of Ross’s furniture when Emily insists he gets rid of everything Rachel ever touched.  Gunther never really has any major influence on the plot of an episode, apart from the time he ‘accidentally’ rats out Ross to Rachel for cheating on her. It also turns out that he speaks fluent Dutch

Image result for gunther friends

How I met your Mother: Again, there were several candidates here. Ted’s father and his microbrewery (played by the same guy who played the boringest sitcom dad ever; Steven Keaton in Family Ties), Barney’s real father Jerry and several others, but none of them have any real impact on the show and only occur in a couple of episodes. The winner here must be James Stinson, Barney’s gay black half brother. He is essentially the same as Barney, always looking for hook ups and trying to get people to sleep with him.

Image result for how i met your mother james

The verdict:
As they are recurring characters, neither has really put their stamp on their respective show, but because Gunther is responsible for escalating the ‘We were on a break’ joke, one of the major themes throughout the show’s history, he wins this category.
Friends: 3 points
How I met your mother: 2 points.

Hottest girl
You could make a case for each of the 3 main female characters, but it was an easy choice in the end. Phoebe aged about 20 years in the show’s 10 seasons, unlike Rachel, who looks like she hasn’t aged a day in that same period. Even today, at the age of 48, you wouldn’t give Jennifer Aniston a day over 35. But in the end, my vote goes to Monica. Even though her character is bossy and neurotic, she looks great and I’ve had a soft spot for her ever since she was in that Bruce Springsteen video in 1985.
And really.. who can blame me, when she looks like this at age 50?

Image result for courteney cox at 50

How I met your Mother:
This was a lot harder to decide, despite having only 2 characters to choose from.
I’ve been a big fan of Michelle Hannigan ever since I saw the first Amerian Pie movie. She’s cute and funny and of Irish descent. She doesn’t have the greatest role in the show- Lilly Aldrin is a deceiving manipulator with a hidden agenda, but is still great fun to watch. Feel free to enter your Band camp jokes here.
I had never heard of Coby Smulders before I saw the first episode of How I met your Mother, but I liked Robin Scherbatzky from the first scene she appeared in. She’s beautiful, not afraid of anyone and of Dutch descent. She is essentially the focal point of the show, despite not being the mother from the title, and the character that both keeps the rest of the group together and pushes them apart.
Difficult choice, but I have to go with Robin.

Image result for robin scherbatsky
The verdict:
This was difficult to decide, but Robin Scherbatzky’s down to earth character beats Monica’s neurotic mannerism. But only just.
Friends: 2 points
How I met your mother: 3 points.

So how will it finish? Check back in tomorrow to read the end of the story.

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