How I Met Your Mother is the new Friends

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How I Met Your Mother, the CBS sitcom now in its fifth season, revolves around the idea that the main character, Ted Mosby, is telling his children the story of how he met his wife. So far, that story has taken more than four years to tell (Ted needs an editor). There have been a lot of hints and foreshadowing to string the audience (and Ted's children) along, making it seem like we're always just a few episodes away from actually meeting The Mother.

Of course, the audience should have known it was all a ruse way back during the pilot -- when Ted met and fell in love with Robin, and after they got together we were told that Robin wasn't the kids' mother. Since then, there have been many headfakes toward the title of the show: There was the promise, in Season 3, that Ted's future wife was at the same St. Patrick's Day party he was attending, and there's been the occasional mention of a yellow umbrella's importance to the story. Last week, we learned that Ted's future wife was in an economics class that Ted mistook for the architecture class he was supposed to be teaching. But obviously we didn't get to catch a glimpse of her, and they still haven't met yet. And now we don't care anymore.

Once you get past the fact that How I Met Your Mother is only tangentially about how anyone meets, it's much easier to sit back and enjoy it for what it is: this decade's defining sitcom. How you feel about the show will determine how you feel about this assertion, but it's true. It's the Friends of the aughts. The 90s had Ross and Rachel and Chandler and Monica; now we have Robin and Barney and Ted and _______. HIMYM is about a group of friends living in New York, they hang out at a central location, and their lives are supposed to be representative of a certain socioeconomic class of white people. More importantly, the show works to insert itself into pop-culture the same way Friends did, via the storylines and jokes that -- despite the astronomic unemployment rate and the rise of telecommuting -- are still described as "water cooler" fare. Take the Slap Bet, for example. Marshall won a bet with Barney, and now he is allowed to slap Barney five times as hard as he can, whenever he wants. He has three slaps left. Like Fireball or the trivia game for the good apartment on Friends, Slap Bet works because it is something just out of the realm of things that would actually happen. You might want to slap a friend, but you probably wouldn't send him in an invitation to Slapsgiving, which is essentially a promise to slap him at Thanksgiving dinner. But Marshall did.

Also, HIMYM has Neil Patrick Harris as Barney. This character could be described as a douchebag -- he's arrogant, obsessed with his appearance, and says "bro" a lot -- but the savvy writing combined with NPH's performance makes him far more complex. His flaws are written as tongue-in-cheek, and Harris' performance humanizes him rather than making him a caricature. Barney can be abrasive, but you never question why he's friends with the other characters. Oh, and pretty much everything he says is hilarious.

We know the show's central premise means that it will mostly likely end the day Ted meets his wife, and we're fine with that. Once you ignore the idea that this is the longest "how did you guys meet?" story ever told, it's much easier to sit back and enjoy it as a sitcom. Besides, we're pretty sure the Mother is Ashley Williams, who played Victoria in Season One, anyway.

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