'How I Met Your Mother' Built Its Emotional Foundation Not on Ted, But on New York City
How I Met Your Mother, like the majority of network shows, films in LA. But its setting, and its heart, has always been NYC. MacLaren’s Pub is just a set, but it feels like a Midtown bar. Or take the central apartment, whose size could only be considered appropriate in space-strapped New York. HIMYM has rarely if ever outright defined its unique city geography… but through conversation and reference points and the right set dressing, we’ve always understood intimately that these characters live in New York. ARE New Yorkers, especially Ted.
I'm going to propose that New York is the only place this show could have ever been set. And to prove it, I'm going to outline what HIMYM would look like had it not been about late 20-somethings living in the City That Never Sleeps... but the City of Angels. Picture it:
Ted’s no longer an architect trying to make a name for himself in a city that’s already got too many buildings, but a screenwriter — of “post-modern literary fantasy” — struggling in a city that doesn't understand his genius. MacLaren’s, by the way, has been replaced by The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf. Scene blocking has to take into account the 2-3 MacBook Airs in every shot.
Barney, naturally, is now a WME-employed Ari Emanuel-type agent douche. As the series progresses he goes from dating Perfect 10 models to Real Housewives to Ted’s mom, a bit player on a popular 80’s sitcom. Eventually he hooks up with a down-to-earth indie actress, say Greta Gerwig, who changes his life or something.
An entire episode set on the 405, in which Ted desperately tries to connect with a woman he keeps seesawing with in the next lane. But every time he’s about to say something the traffic picks up again. Eventually Ted crashes. Lyft driver Ranjeet picks him up.
- Three years somehow pass between seasons four and five, something that is never explained either in the press or on the show itself. When season five kicks off, literally nothing has changed except for a few salt and pepper strokes in Marshall’s hair. The characters even talk about the events of three years ago. Everyone gets used to it.
- "Nothing good happens after 10pm."
- In the season six finale, Marshall and Lily decide to move to the Valley and are never heard from again. For the first few episodes of season seven Ted, Robin, and Barney ask “what happened to those guys?” before they stop coming up in conversation. Ted is invited to their baby’s christening midway through season eight, but again — it’s in the Valley. Ted goes to Ojai instead.
- It’s the end of the series and Ted finally, finally meets the Mother…on a really lame Grouper. She’s the only one in the foursome who doesn’t want to talk about traffic, which piques Ted’s interest. Ted is by now too beaten down by life to chalk this connection up to “serendipity,” but she seems nice enough! Marshall and Lily can't make the wedding, because they live in the Valley.
It should go without saying that my carefully constructed How I Met Your Mother: LA would never exist, has no relation to reality in any conceivable way. But since we’re already deep into this game of Devil’s Advocate — bleak, huh?! Gone are those romantic late nights winging your way down down the Westside Highway to your true love’s apartment, or those crazy, life-changing run-ins that only seem possible on the sidewalks of New York. And just how many jokes about New Jersey can you make in Los Angeles? (Only so many, I can tell you from personal experience.)
HIMYM has never been shaped by its setting to the extent of, say, Friday Night Lights and West Texas, but New York has played an indelible part in not only the HIMYM story… but its very emotional foundation. Ted’s undying romanticism, which has guided the show from the very beginning, could ONLY function in the context of a city that’s practically BUILT on feeling.
I know, I know — a problematic video in light of recent events. But couldn't you imagine Ted narrating that same introduction (trying to, anyway) in his mind? New York is Ted's perfect city, this overstuffed urban Twinkie fit to burst with emotion and idealism. Maybe Ted and Co. could have found themselves in Los Angeles (or hell, Austin)... but the feeling would be all wrong. Ted wouldn't be Ted.
And for better or worse, we wouldn't have the messy, big-hearted show that's kept us laughing and crying and exasperated and elated for nine long years.
Images: CBS; Getty Images