Welcome back to the column where we determine who's the most awful human being portrayed on any given show. Today's subject is How I Met Your Mother, and it doesn't take many re-watches to realize that How I Met Your Mother is a show filled with awful people. But who is the worst?
For this column, I'm limiting the participants to anyone in the main cast. So, while Lily's father, for example, is a horrible dad, and you can make a great case for Ted's boss, or anyone working at Barney's company, for this exercise, we'll be speaking strictly about Marshall, Lily, Ted, Barney, and Robin.
The Case For Barney:
And we have our winner. It's Barney. It's clearly Barney. The guy is a serial sex offender and rapist with an accompanying laugh track. Sorry to the other contestants, but it's hard to still consider this a contest after you see someone do this:
Now, there are two ways to play this game, and I think by both counts, Barney is the winner (or loser depending on how you look at it). The first is to judge him from our current perspective in 2020. How I Met Your Mother premiered in 2005 and back then it was considered a hilarious gag pulled off by a loveable horndog for Barney to admit to this:
"I'm going to an amnesia ward with a bunch of photos of my 'children' and a wedding ring. I'm going to find the hottest patient/my wife, and we're going to-" at which point he's interrupted.
Today this is recognized as "rape by deception." The other way to play this game is to imagine yourself as an unseen observer watching the events unfold before you, like a random patron at the bar, and I think, even within that 2005 context, we can still all recognize Barney for being the douchiest, most attention-seeking, most obnoxious dude at the bar.
Again, "rape by deception" might not yet have been a mainstream concept in 2005, but even your 2005 self would recognize this guy for being horrible to women.
He tapes women having sex without their consent, not just in his own apartment, but in Ted's apartment as well. He regularly reduces anyone whom he doesn't find attractive to non-human, and in "The Over-Correction" actually dates an overweight woman, literally using her a ploy to win another woman's heart. In the episode "The Bracket," it is revealed that Barney literally sells a woman in exchange for a Mercedes. If Barney were as anti-semitic as he was misogynistic, then How I Met Your Mother would be the story of a Nazi hunting random Jewish people in New York.
So how then were we (myself included) able to laugh along as Barney committed a string of sex crimes that should have landed him on a registry? I'm not sure. I think it's in part because we were younger and dumber and the culture told us it was ok. I think it's in part because the show humanized Barney. We weren't the unseen moral observer sitting at the bar. We were the unseen observer sitting from our couches and looking to laugh. We were given Barney's backstory and his traumas and his wit and his charm. We were made to empathize with him and to love him. The narrative of the show was that, for all of his foibles, this was a man who meant well, and we believed it because, well, the narrative of the show is the only narrative we have.
Okay, if Barney is far and away the most morally reprehensible character of How I Met Your Mother, and possibly the most morally reprehensible character to ever appear on a sitcom, then who's our second place? That answer is, unfortunately, obvious as well ...
The Case For Marshall:
Just kidding. The answer is...
The Case For Ted:
I wish this were a competitive race. I wanted to tell you about all of the surprising ways that Marshall and Lily might be bad parents. ("Isn't it crazy how much time they spend drinking at the bar when they have an infant child at home?") But for all of Marshall and Lily and Robins' flaws, the truth is that none of it compares to the overwhelming strength of Ted's black hole of suckiness.
This is a guy who lives life like he knows he's inside of a sitcom. He thinks it rains not because of condensation within a cloud, but because the universe wants him to get a date. Ted is sure that his sexual exploits somehow amount to "destiny" as if God were as much a pervert as he and Barney and could only get off by watching Ted have sex. Ted doesn't lie about his identity to seduce women as much as Barney does, however, he does lie about it. Take, for instance, the time the two of them lied to a couple of women about being from out of town.
Ted ultimately decides to fess up, but it's not his moral qualms about deceiving a woman into sleeping with him that causes him to grow a conscious. It's that he's so pretentious that he can't go another second courting a woman from New Jersey.
Keep in mind that the perspective of the show is that of a story Ted is telling his children. What we're getting is a censored account of the time Ted showed up to a woman's apartment and then stripped naked without first getting an okay from her or the time he made his girlfriend get rid of her dogs because they reminded him of her exes. Even if Ted is telling these stories with 100% accuracy, why the hell are you telling your kids the story of how you got a threesome or the rationalization of why you cheated on your girlfriend or tried to break up another woman's wedding? Oh right, it's revealed in the finale that this entire tale is in service to get the blessing of his children to go ahead and date Robin. He just spent what has amounted to nine seasons of screen time undercutting the relationship he had with these kids' dead mother, all so he could feel less guilty about banging the woman that these kids see as their aunt.
Marshall, Lily, and Robin are actually all pretty horrible in their own right. Marshall, for example, only having ever been with Lily, feels free to slut-shame Robin frequently, one time flat-out calling her a slut. Robin treats the women she feels competitive with horribly, making passive-aggressive comments to both Ted's girlfriend at the time, Victoria and Barney's girlfriend at the time, Patrice. Lily has mountains of debt but doesn't disclose that debt to her husband, instead, letting them buy an apartment that they can't afford because she just really wanted it.
There are more examples, but really what makes Marshall, Lily, and Robin so awful is that they hang out with Ted and Barney. It's funny because How I Met Your Mother aired the same year that Neil Strauss' The Game (the original mainstream story about pickup artists) was published, and if you didn't know better you would think they were both written by the same writer. Except even in The Game, Neil Strauss' eventually grows remorseful of his bullshit. Sadly none of the characters on How I Met Your Mother ever fully do the same.
Support Dan on Twitter and he will talk about his life with you in lieu of getting a therapist.
Top Image: CBS