The geek credentials of How I Met Your Mother
James makes the case for just how geeky CBS sitcom How I Met Your Mother, soon to enter its ninth season, really is...
In a few weeks, the final season of How I Met Your Mother will be underway and the most long-winded romance of the last ten years will come to a close when Ted Mosby reveals to his children just how he came to meet the one they call mum. Putting aside the small fact that there is something just a bit weird about your dad sitting you down to recount the nine-year tale of all the women he ever slept with (this was acknowledged in the very funny promo for season nine), How I Met Your Mother has grown from some humble beginnings to one of America’s leading, mainstream sitcoms. As a Friends-style sitcom, it isn’t the sort of show that immediately leaps on to the Den of Geek radar.
But before you all start with the cries of “Why is this even on here???”, How I Met Your Mother is a show with an impressive array of geek credentials and as it starts its last hurrah, what better time to take a look at some of them? If you want to imagine this article narrated in the voice of Bob Saget, please be my guest:
Ted, Marshall, Lily, Robin and Barney
For the uninitiated, HIMYM is the NYC based story of Ted Mosby’s life journey to meeting the mother of his future children. Narrated from the year 2030 and told in flashbacks, besides Ted’s romantic conquest, the show charts his relationships with and amongst his friends, university mates and couple Marshall Erikson and Lily Aldrin, Canadian news reporter Robin Scherbatsky and suit-wearing lothario Barney Stinson. Or as we could call them, a freak and geek, a wiccan member of the Scooby gang, an agent of S.H.I.E.L.D and Doogie Howser M.D.
It’s a bit difficult to find any real geek links with Josh Radnor who portrays Ted, but the rest of How I Met Your Mother’s main cast are sworn-in members of geekdom. Jason Segel, Ted’s best friend (thought not according to Barney Stinson) Marshall Erickson, was one of the principle cast members in Judd Apatow’s cult comedy Freaks and Geeks as Nick Andopolis. He’s had a guest spot on J.J. Abrams vastly underrated Alias and last year he headlined the new Muppets movie.
Alyson Hannigan (Lily Aldrin) may have gained mainstream attention for that line in American Pie where she revealed, out of the blue, just what happens at band camp, but to us at Den of Geek she will be forever be primarily known as Willow Rosenberg, bookish side kick to Buffy Summers and kick-ass witch. The reason your writer first watched How I Met Your Mother was the inclusion of this Sunnydale High alumnus in the cast.
Cobie Smulders might not have the longest list of nerd credits to her name but she has the biggest, as one of her more recent roles was as a member of S.H.I.E.L.D. Smulders took time out from her duties as Robin Scherbatsky to fill the shoes of Agent Maria Hill in The Avengers and will appear in the pilot for the new S.H.I.E.L.D. TV series, possibly returning as a regular character once her time on HIMYM draws to close. In addition to this, she’s also popped up in Smallville, Andromeda and Tru Calling.
Finally, Neil Patrick Harris’ Barney Stinson. If Doogie Howser M.D. is a little on the fringes to qualify Harris for geek membership, then I have two words for you – Starship Troopers. Harris wasn’t front and centre in Paul Verhoevan’s alien shoot ‘em up but he was one of the more recognisable faces. Harris is also the only member of the How I Met Your Mother cast to have played Spider-Man. Sort of. He lent his voice to the character for the 2003 MTV animated series. It won’t ever be remembered as the greatest Spidey cartoon but Harris didn’t stop there and since provided the tones for animated versions of The Flash, Nightwing and the web slinger again in the Shattered Dimensions game. If all that doesn't convince, then perhaps Harris' starring role as Dr. Horrible in a certain Whedon family-created online superhero musical alongside Nathan Fillion and Felicia Day will tip the balance for you.
How I Met Your Guest Stars
How I Met Your Mother is the creation of writers Carter Bays and Craig Thomas. On the creator commentaries that accompany some episodes they often declare their love for other shows but one that comes up time and again is Joss Whedon’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and when a guest star is required, Bays and Thomas have often raided the Hellmouth.
Alexis Denisof has appeared on a number of occasions as narcisstic news anchor Sandy Rivers (“Use my full name, people get a kick out of it”). Amy Acker popped up in the season one finale as a girl who helped Ted make it rain. Tom Lenk had a small but funny part as coffee shop assistant in season two’s Swarley, which also starred Firefly’s Morena Baccarin. Mayor of Sunnydale, Harry Groener has taken a turn in a couple of episodes as the free spirit that has wooed Ted’s mothers. Danny Strong had a role in a season six episode, and most recently Seth Green played a former college friend of Marshall and Lily’s who’d been living in the past for some time. The inference back to the Oz and Willow relationship in Buffy was a very nice, and incredibly geeky, touch.
Outside of people who have worked with Joss Whedon, the show has welcomed guests from other geek staples such as Twin Peaks – Kyle Maclachlan and Ray Wise, and while it might not be considered the height of geek cool by some, Dawson’s Creek’s James Van Der Beek and Katie Holmes have both taken roles that were vastly different to their Capeside characters. Holmes does an unforgettable rendition of One Week by Barenaked Ladies during her appearance.
The show also featured for a couple of episodes the man that many claim to be the coolest man working in television today – Bryan Cranston. The mere mention of his name is enough to get Breaking Bad geeks watering at the mouth, but on HIMYM he was Hammond Druthers, the self-serving boss at Ted’s architecture firm with a passion for designing phallic shaped buildings. His inclusion alone surely earns the show ten geek points.
“Think of me as Yoda. Only instead of being little and green, I wear suits and I'm awesome. I'm your bro. I'm Broda.”
Okay, so you may be thinking “So what? Any show can reel in a cast who’ve appeared in a bunch of sci-fi and fantasy shows – Kyle Maclachlan was in Sex & The City; didn’t make it geeky, apart from all the stuff about shoes.”, and you’d have a point.
How I Met Your Mother though is often a celebration of the nerdier things that many of us hold dear. While over on The Big Bang Theory, the writers have made a habit of poking continuous fun at geek habits and constantly reminding the audience that “girls don’t date guys who watch Star Trek/collect comic books/play Dungeons & Dragons”, HIMYM revels in such a culture, and not just with its male characters.
The greatest geek culture that HIMYM mires itself in is undeniably Star Wars. Given the age of the characters and creators, this isn’t much of a surprise but the passion that they have for George Lucas saga perhaps is. This is best exemplified when upon hearing that Ted’s season four intended Stella (the so annoying, we’re really glad that the show didn’t get cancelled at the end of season three so she wasn’t the mother, Sarah Chalk) has never seen Star Wars, Marshall’s vehement reaction is as follows: “She's never seen Star Wars? Ted the only people in the universe who have never seen Star Wars are the characters in Star Wars and that's cause they lived them Ted, that's cause they lived the Star Wars”. It’s a pretty acceptable stand point, if you ask me.
Star Wars references litter How I Met Your Mother. Ted nicknames Lily “Chewbacca” because of the loud noise she makes when she eats and not as Marshall assumes because “she’s loyal, wears shiny belts and I resemble a young Harrison Ford”. A flash forward during season four sees Marshall carving the Thanksgiving day turkey with a lightsaber. Barney’s apartment, or the “fortress of Barnitude”, is decorated with a life size storm trooper, though it’s actually one of the early clone troopers and when Ted meets a girl who likes Star Wars at a Halloween party in season one, Marshall is curious to know her stand point on Ewoks… something undeniably important in a potential mate.
There are many other times the franchise pops up on the show from Ted drawing Barney a thank you picture of a topless Princess Leia, to Lily sabotaging one of Ted’s relationships by dressing up as Darth Vader to pretend she’s the girl he’s dating. These characters are Star Wars fans and the show celebrates that. There’s even a whole episode devoted to how Ted, Marshall and Barney watch the original trilogy every three years.
“Ray, if someone asks you if you’re a God, you say yes!”
Still not convinced? Perhaps you’re thinking that Friends did the whole Star Wars thing first with the gold bikini episode? Well, How I Met Your Mother doesn’t just stop at Star Wars when it comes to the tributes to geek greatness.
Ghostbusters comes up from Robin Scherbatsky a couple of times. When Ted takes her out in the pilot episode, the fact she quotes the above “obscure” line is one of the things he likes most about her. In the episode Little Boys when Robin dates a guy with a son, upon being confronted with him she phones Lily with the line “It’s here Lily, it’s looking at me”, echoing Peter Venkman’s first encounter with Slimer. So, it’s not just the guys in HIMYM who get to geek the show up.
Superman gets the nod during season eight’s The Fortress. The story, revolving around Barney having to sell his apartment, the aforementioned “Fortress of Barnitude”, which comes equipped with a Barney communication via holographic floating head à la Jor-El. Barney’s actually just broadcasting himself from in the closet.
Indiana Jones is shown tribute when Ted gets a new job as an architecture professor at a university and dons a fedora and is gifted a whip by Marshall, ignoring the fact that Indy was an archaeology professor?! Barney theorises that the rules for dating as the same as those for keeping Gremlins in the same episode and there’s an episode named after everyone’s favourite Danny Glover character, Roger Murtaugh from Lethal Weapon, which is mainly about being too old to do stupid stuff but has numerous Lethal Weapon references too. Ted stays up all night watching the films, something I tried to do recently but went to bed after Lethal Weapon 2 when I realised that I really was “too old for this sh*t”.
This is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to geek culture references in How I Met Your Mother; the show is steeped in them, and if you’re not well versed in them then you’d miss a lot of very cool stuff.
The characters of How I Met Your Mother do spend a lot of their time in the pursuit of a happy ever after, but they also play laser tag, video games, take an annual trip to show called ‘Wrestlers Vs. Robots', invent their own board games and hold Star Wars marathons. They are geeks. Cool, good-looking geeks, but geeks all the same.
The show has had its ups and downs, like most long running sitcoms, but it’s going to sad goodbye to Ted, Marshall, Lily, Robin and Barney for a lot of people when the new season finishes next year. We can only hope that the finale is, as Barney would say, legen………wait for it……..dary!
How I Met Your Mother season 9 premieres on CBS on Monday the 23rd of September.
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