HIMYM: Thank God That’s Over

Posted by Marisa November 17th, 2009 at 10:14am In How I Met Your Mother

Phew! It was dicey for a while there, but we pulled through it okay. I’m talking about the Barney-Robin romance on How I Met Your Mother.

That was legen...wait for it...darily awful.

This relationship played to the worst elements of everybody’s expectations for this show. I was so not into it, I didn’t even look up and see if fans came up with a cutesy, combined name for them. (Brobin?)

First of all, HIMYM has always been prone to Friends comparisons. Which, to be honest, is fair. Just replace HIMYM’s bar with a coffee shop and its New York location for a fictionalized, la-la land named New York City and you’ve got Friends. However, when people talk about liking Friends, no one is talking about the years where they’re all paired off with each other. Who could forget Chandler and Monica’s whirlwind relationship? Everybody can. And did. Because it was boring, and weird, and soapy, and the show  was better when they were all just friends.

Second, the Barney-Robin relationship fell victim to the same problems that all will-they-or-won’t-they TV relationships have. You can’t string along fans, who presumably want these things to happen, indefinitely, and yet giving the characters all they could want and desire is totally boring. Characters are much more interesting when they’re lovelorn and longing, and it’s best to keep them entertained with a rotating series of relationship red shirts than another character that fans are invested in. Otherwise, you get caught in a Veronica/Logan situation, where screeching fans howled that Rob Thomas didn’t know what he was doing whenever they were apart just because it made them personally happy to see them together, ignoring the fact that the storylines were more compelling when both characters are single.

Finally, didn’t it seem that, when Barney and Robin were dating, that was the entire focus of the show? What happened to Ted? Or aspects of Barney’s and Robin’s lives that didn’t involve their romantic pairing? Eventually, I just got sick of hearing about it.

Thankfully, it looks like the show did, too. Which frees up room for the parts of HIMYM that I like, such as Marshall’s brilliant rant about frozen waffles. Not only was hilarious, but it was true, too.

Now, if we could only get rid of that meeting-the-mother conceit, the show would be perfect.


  • 1. Annie  |  November 18th, 2009 at 12:05 am

    You’re feeding right into the whole ‘Moonlighting’ syndrome, which is really just a sorry excuse for poor quality writing. All of Barney’s storyline last season focused on, at least in part, on how his usual shtick was getting old and he how his feelings for Robin were leading him to think about what was next. Now all of that was thrown away, seemingly without any purpose, this early in the season simply because the writers sucked at writing them as a couple.

    I don’t know why everyone buys into this idea that characters can’t be together in a romantic relationship without a.) unnecessary drama so you as a viewer are constantly waiting for the other shoe b.) too much focus on them and their relationship when it should only be adding to the story, not driving it c.) having the characters bring out the worst in each other, hurting the show, when they could just as easily bring out the best each other with more thoughtful writing.

    Fans screeched at Rob Thomas because he absolutely sucked at writing romantic relationships, and it squandered all of the potential. If any storylines are more compelling when the characters are single, it’s usually because the writing for them together just isn’t up to snuff. It’s a cop out.

  • 2. Annie  |  November 18th, 2009 at 12:09 am

    And also, I don’t understand why you brought up Chandler and Monica’s ‘whirlwind’ relationship on Friends. I can only assume you meant Ross and Rachel because the Chandler and Monica relationship is the one that most people consistently point out as television doing the relationship right, mostly because the writers didn’t fall into any of the traps I listed above.

  • 3. Kyle  |  November 18th, 2009 at 10:54 am

    I don’t know who all these people are who love the fact that Chandler and Monica got together. After the first couple, absolutely brilliant episodes in which Chandler and Monica attempt to find privacy in order to have sex after Ross’s disastrous wedding (The One After Ross Says Rachel). They eventually rope in Joey to help them out, leading to the excellent “Because I’m Joey and I’m disgusting” jokes (The One with All the Kissing). Once everyone found out about it and accepted it, the show took a massive nosedive in quality. I can’t say I necessarily blame the romantic pairing of Chandler and Monica specifically. I think it was an indication of the creative exhaustion of the show, which then started desperately shuffling the characters around physically and emotionally. Friends should have ended years before it did.

    The Office is a really good example of moving beyond the initial will-they-or-won’t-they of the early seasons by focusing on developing the other characters in the show while leaving the boring details of Pam & Jim’s true love mostly off-screen. There is nothing funny or dramatic about two people happy and in love.

  • 4. Marisa  |  November 18th, 2009 at 11:11 am

    I’m not saying that a show can NEVER have a romantic relationship that works out in the end. Kyle’s right in that Jim and Pam are the best example right now. But he’s also right that the Monica/Chandler relationship represented the “creative exhaustion of the show, which then started desperately shuffling the characters around physically and emotionally.” It seems like when a show has nothing to say, it just starts pairing off its characters, breaking them up, and re-pairing them. Some people are into that kind of soap-opera drama, but, for me, I’m not really interested in those kinds of relationship mechanics. That’s the reason I thought Friends got terrible at the end, because it had nothing left to do but pair off Monica and Chandler. It’s also the reason I never fully got into Scrubs. Once Dr. Cox fell in love with Carla, I was over the show. (Even now, when I watch reruns with Jesse, I hate how I have to take a few minutes to figure out what’s going on with JD and Elliot first.)

    I don’t think that lazy or bad writers are what kept Barney and Robin from being Couple of the Year. I just think that the show already has a happy couple, and any kinds of stories they need to tell about happy coupledom already had a fantastic outlet in Marshall and Lily. So the writers could either double the amount of happy-couple storylines so Barney and Robin could remain together, or make them a not-so-happy couple, in which case it’d be kind of cruel to keep them together forever.

  • 5. jesse  |  November 18th, 2009 at 11:36 am

    I don’t think the Barney-Robin thing was so bad, but mostly I think this because it ended when it did. If they really gave it a shot in that long term Chandler-Monica way, I don’t know if it would’ve worked at all. Not knowing how to deal with a show where four of the five main characters are dating each other is not bad writing, it’s just good sense. HIMYM is a strong enough show that I believe Barney and Robin will be changed by that relationship, rather than just hitting the reset button. Maybe it seems that way from the first post-breakup episode, with Barney doing this big play-con on everyone, but change on HIMYM usually happens in relatively small increments, so I don’t think it’s going to be the end of Barney’s character development. I don’t think a relationship with Robin is the only way to go there. The writers treated it seriously and maturely, and it ended anyway. That’s fine. (Also, the show has been good about ending relationships realistically, and not going back to the will-they-or-won’t-they well, which is really the worst part about this stuff.)

    I do think the Chandler-Monica stuff on Friends was actually pretty well-done in that they didn’t do a constant make-up-break-up cycle, but when you have a show about six friends, and then two of them are in a committed relationship, and two others are sort of will-they-won’t-they forever, suddenly it’s not so much a show about friends, but a bunch of romantic relationships. Which is maybe something you can pull off in the last season or two, but not halfway through the show’s run. Kyle’s right; it’s not bad in and of itself so much as it indicates that the show should’ve wound down a lot sooner than it did. (Also, this business of six close friends all dating each other or getting crushes on each other, I don’t know, I don’t see that happening much once you’re out of college, but maybe that’s just not my experience.) Anyway, that’s why it’s fine that the Barney-Robin thing ended: you already have a well-written happy couple, as Marisa points out, so to add another one is not just a logistical challenge, but threatens to completely alter or partially obstruct what the show is about, and not necessarily in an interesting way.

    Regarding Veronica Mars, I really think Rob Thomas was just being honest about how how ill-suited Veronica and Logan were as a couple. Veronica’s stories were compelling with her as single because it was a noir detective series! Noir does not usually feature a lot of functioning romantic relationships. If anything, it was the impulse to ever reunite Veronica and Logan again that was weaker than the impulse to break them up. The conflicts that Veronica and Logan had would have absolutely happened between those two types of people in real life. Logan is an interesting character almost entirely because he doesn’t really work as the loving boyfriend. For me the analogy isn’t Moonlighting so much as The X-Files; it’s not a show about romantic relationships, so not having the central “couple” together isn’t so much about dragging out a will-they-won’t-they relationship as it is about staying focused on what the show is really about. It probably would be hard to write happy-couple stuff for Veronica and Logan, yes, and I’m not saying it couldn’t be done, but I am saying it might not be worth the effort: all of that care going into something that to me was always pretty incidental to the greatness of that show.

    Regarding Scrubs, the Dr. Cox being in love with Carla thing is actually almost immediate — it’s a very, very early storyline. But Marisa, you probably made that mistake because of all of those soapy variations that show had (or, you were saying you lost interest almost immediately, which I would also believe). For some reason, it doesn’t really bother me on Scrubs, because it’s a funny/cute flipside to the standard medical drama, so I guess I expected soapiness.

    This thread is pretty great, though!

  • 6. sara  |  November 18th, 2009 at 1:22 pm

    I think it might have been interesting if the HIMYM writers had had the audacity to keep Barney and Robin together (the best portmanteau I heard for them was “Swarkles,” incidentally) but transitioned them into a different kind of relationship. It would fly in the face of all kind of TV convention if they had an open relationship, or were just occasionally having threesomes or something. And that’s something that I don’t think would ever happen on an 8 p.m. show on CBS (although I’ve been wrong about that before).

    I don’t think the Monica-Chandler relationship doomed Friends. I think the endless Ross and Rachel bullshit, after their initial two-season relationship, is what doomed Friends. Honestly, after those first three or four seasons, which I love catching in reruns because they are really funny, the show became Thirtysomething, and once the actors were all making a million an episode, everyone became kind of horrible. I think I hate late-Friends Ross more than I’ve ever hated a fictional character.

    Jesse, you’re right that Veronica Mars was a lot more compelling when she was single, or when there was a tension involving more than one potential romantic partner for her, like in season 1, when she was kind of juggling Duncan, Logan, and maybe the kid from X-Men (or was that season 2?). Ali sold me on Veronica Mars partially by saying it was a show where a teenage girl character didn’t have to settle down with her twu wuv forever, but was kind of allowed to play the field. That was new and different and interesting. Although the Piz stuff still sucked.

  • 7. jesse  |  November 18th, 2009 at 2:38 pm

    Even the much-maligned Piz stuff on the show was, to me, completely believable and mostly worthwhile. Piz is the kind of guy who *would* be a totally decent boyfriend and who Veronica might want to try out in college after spending a lot of time and energy on a couple of brooding rich kids. But I think a lot of fans had been so trained to look for a Central Couple that it was just considered needless complication to the Veronica-Logan relationship. I considered it pretty necessary, though. As you touch upon, Sara, the show trains us to have too much affection for Veronica to think that she’s going to settle down with a high-school sweetheart.

    Late-Friends Ross is pretty awful, and I feel like that’s a writer’s-room thing. Writers get bored, and/or intimidated by how much has already been done with the characters, so their only recourse (as they see it, anyway) is to push things further. You can see this sometimes even in a brilliant show like The Simpsons, later-season jokes that just play like writers trying to top each other with weirdness or grossness or shock laughs (or in Ross’s case, being creepy or unlikable or whatever). So: good for How I Met Your Mother; they’ve had some off episodes this season, but it never threatens to become that show.

  • 8. sara  |  November 18th, 2009 at 7:59 pm

    It is quite genius how the HIMYM writers have been able to keep Barney’s character fun and awesome rather than creepy and gross. Also a credit to how appealing NPH is, even when he’s saying things that would be hideous coming out of anyone else’s mouth.

  • 9. Belle  |  November 19th, 2009 at 12:36 am

    RE Veronica Mars:

    “But I think a lot of fans had been so trained to look for a Central Couple that it was just considered needless complication to the Veronica-Logan relationship.”

    Hey, the majority of people might disagree with you (as you acknowledge, saying the “Piz” character/storyline is “much-maligned”). The show just pretty much fell apart by that point. And as far as affection for Veronica, that was also pretty much gone, thanks to the writing of the staff (led by RT) and the acting of K. Bell in season 3. Hence a quick (but not quick enough to spare embarrassment) cancellation.

    I agree with Annie. The lazy writing killed VM, not any romantic relationships.

  • 10. Luci  |  November 19th, 2009 at 1:03 am

    You know what’s also nice? Character progression. Evolving. Sure, Player!Barney was/is hilarious but after three seasons, and one season *dedicated* to Barney gradually falling for Robin and what’s important to him slowly falling to place…you would expect for Barney’s development to continue. Not disintegrate and regress back in to old Barney because they didn’t know how to do it. It’s not like their romance took over the show and made it less funny, hell, it added to the humor. Barney didn’t stop being himself and yet we saw a different side of him, it was a pleasure to see.

    I don’t see the relevance in comparing Robin and Barney to Logan and Veronica, either…as LoVe were in college and not to mention the whole Not A Sitcom. The fans had right to protest, too, it’s not like Logan and Veronica were based on real people and these real people actually split up at the end. It was incredibly out of character and left field. You can’t WRITE a character/couple one way for however long and then do a complete f*cking makeover on their personality on a whim and expect everyone not to notice/care.

    In fact, this article is all over the place. Monica and Chandler? Seriously? I can not see how their coupling put a damper on the show at all. I detect some bitterness, perhaps you just want to find a show where all the characters are one dimensional and stay single for the whole series?

    Everyone is entitled, etc…but seriously, some people appreciate watching and caring for fictional characters who tend to grow past their funny facade and you can’t really blame them for getting upset when said character reverts like the growth never happened to begin with. And at that point it IS the writers’ fault.

  • 11. Marisa  |  November 19th, 2009 at 11:01 am

    I like character progression, too. In fact, that’s one of the reasons why I was against the Barney/Robin relationship. One of the ways to stall character progression is to give the characters everything they could want. In this case, it’s much more interesting to me that Barney *thought* he wanted to settle down and have a real relationship, but when was in one he figured out that’s not what he really wants. I think there are many more places he can go from here than if he had stayed with Robin forever and ever. (And, I’ll be honest, Barney is funnier without being tied to Robin, and the comedy moreso than the relationship arcs is the reason that I personally watch the show.) Remember, moving backward is a kind of progression, too. In real life, it’s never a straight line from A to B to C.

  • 12. jesse  |  November 19th, 2009 at 11:22 am

    I don’t mean to turn this into a V-Mars thread, but a lot of hardcore fans of the show, like a lot of hardcore fans of anything, have some delusions about the hows and whys of the show’s quality as well as its business. The show was killed by low ratings, which plagued it for all three years, not because of fan outcry because they didn’t like Piz or Kristen Bell was suddenly giving a bad performance or whatever craziness love-hate fans come

    I also find it strange to argue that you “can’t” write a character a “complete makeover” (which is a massive overstatement concerning some changes in Veronica’s character) but you also “can’t” have a character like Barney regress at all once changed. It’s far too soon to say whether the writers are really having Barney unchanged from his relationship with Robin, but neither argument (against Veronica or Barney) has much to do with good and/or realistic writing. That’s more just fans saying “we like it this way and now you’re changing it and not changing it the way I want it changed!”

  • 13. Annie  |  November 20th, 2009 at 3:46 pm

    The show was killed by low ratings, which plagued it for all three years, not because of fan outcry because they didn’t like Piz or Kristen Bell was suddenly giving a bad performance or whatever craziness love-hate fans come

    Nobody in this thread said that the show was cancelled for those reasons. Of course it was low ratings, but the low ratings might be attributed to decline in quality, which caused the ratings for the show to decline, as it did as season three progressed. And I’m not referring to any relationship problems the show had, though it had many. The writing was at its worst when the mysteries were haphazardly slapped together or really not mysteries at all (and those stand-alone episodes are some of the worst of the series). I think it’s pretty common opinion that the third season too a particular nose-dive in quality, and it’s one that is shared among die-hard fans or just casual viewers (and even members of the cast).

  • 14. jesse  |  November 20th, 2009 at 5:57 pm

    Belle, above, wrote:

    “And as far as affection for Veronica, that was also pretty much gone, thanks to the writing of the staff (led by RT) and the acting of K. Bell in season 3. Hence a quick (but not quick enough to spare embarrassment) cancellation.”

    That is pretty much directly saying that the show was cancelled because of the writing and Bell. But the show’s ratings had always been up and down and pretty lousy overall. In fact, the first story arc of the third season, the first eight episodes or so, hit some near-peaks, ratings-wise (and it was even performing approximately on par with the first bunch of episodes of Gossip Girl the next season, after V-Mars got axed). I mean, it was always pretty niche, and never blockbuster numbers, but it wasn’t inconsistent with the first two seasons. The big ratings dive that season happened when the show went on a break for a bunch of weeks, effectively killing its momentum (the finale of the rapist arc was one of their highest-rated episodes). It’s not easy to prove, of course, but I don’t think the ratings slide when they returned from the break was fans tuning out (because fans will keep watching to complain about it). This long break/ratings slide has happened with a lot of shows (Pushing Daisies comes to mind).

    I’d certainly rate the third season the weakest, but I wouldn’t call it a nosedive. It’s like going from an A to a B+. It does seem like a lot of shows in the past ten years experience hostility towards stand-alone episodes, but I was always puzzled by the idea that V-Mars should be this huge serial. As well-developed as the first season it is, it has a ton of really good stand-alone episodes, and a lot of the continuity stuff in season two gets a little too convoluted. There were some really poor stand-alone mysteries in the third season, granted (for awhile it seemed like their default solution was: the rooommate did it!), but there were a lot of good ones, too, One of my biggest problems with Season 3 was how they felt obligated to give Logan major screen time even when they didn’t have the money to keep the full ensemble on every episode. At some point he became the “male lead” on a show that didn’t really need one.

  • 15. Annie  |  November 21st, 2009 at 2:04 pm

    I don’t feel like Logan had major screen time in the third season. He seemed much more prominent in the second. In the third, almost everything about him was tied to Veronica, and he became The Boyfriend Role, which was a huge disservice to the character.

    The third season suffered greatly by limiting the screen-time and storylines of most of the secondary cast, or focusing on lame relationship stories when they did get them on air (like Mac, whose relationships could have been more about her and her dealing with the Beaver aftermath but that didn’t really pan out). Wallace was MIA for most of the season, and same with Weevil, even if all of those problems had more to do with behind-the-scenes stuff. But that was among many of the many, many problems with the final season (the misogynistic tone, poorly executed mysteries, lack of continuity, somewhat further Mary-Sueing of Veronica).

    I’m sure the hiatus hurt the ratings, too, but I think the retention out of Gilmore Girls showed that the more casual viewers were tuning out as the season progressed, and I know many hardcore fans who stopped watching after the final return because of the decline in quality for the episodes before hiatus.

    Look, as far as any fictional relationships go, if the pairing suffers once the characters get together, many fans are going to take issue with the writing, because in most cases it feels as though the writers half-assed it and the onscreen relationship suffered as a result. Like I’ve seen said before, the storyline could have been better if it was written better. If it’s written terribly, I’m not going to be happy when it’s put to an end just because the awful storyline is over- my beef is going to be with the writers for making it suck in the first place.


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