Battle of the Shows: Friends vs. How I Met Your Mother

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The 2000s began with one sitcom apartment door closing and another one opening.

Friends was iconic in its heyday and is still quite popular. How I Met Your Mother aimed to take its place in the hearts of people watching television across the nation. 

While different in premise, both shows were very popular and often compared. Our TV Fanatics Sarah Little and Leora Waltuch sat down to discuss which of the two was the superior sitcom.

Leora: Why do you think How I Met Your Mother is better than Friends?

Sarah: How I Met Your Mother, overall, told a better series-long story than Friends. From beginning to end, you knew that the endpoint was all about finding out who the mother was, and the journey that the show took us on was incredible.

There were hilarious moments, and heartbreaking ones, too. How I Met Your Mother perfectly juggled the funny with the sad. While there were funny jokes and running gags, there were also a lot of life lessons that could be taken away from many of the episodes. 

Leora: You say it was better from start to finish, but one of the most controversial ends of a series in TV history is HIMYM. Personally, I actually liked the end and thought it worked, but that was not the majority opinion, which has to count for something.

Friends never pretended to be any more or less than what it was; a show about Friends. Friends was comfort food. It was about a time in your life when your friends are your family, and we felt like all six of them were family to us. They were welcome in our homes.

Friends Cast Image

HIMYM was based around a love story that half of the audience stopped rooting for a few seasons in. Robin/Ted fans lost faith after How I Met Your Mother Season 1 Episode 1, and Ted/Tracy fans felt betrayed.

Isn't a story about friendship and how it endures a stronger message than a story about love lost and unrequited?

And yes, HIMYM toed the line between funny and sad, but it also gave us some plotlines that were really hard to swallow, and I don't know that I want to be taking life lessons from people as damaged as most of the main characters.

I'd just like to add, while How I Met Your Mother was original and did make strides in the genre, it also built on tropes and dynamic that Friends created and made iconic.

Some believe that HIMYM is just a Friends rip-off, which I think is a big stretch, but you can't say it wasn't influenced by the show and didn't try to mimic certain things in order to build on its success.

Sarah: While I don't disagree that series finale of How I Met Your Mother was a letdown, that doesn't take away the greatness of every other episode before that. Two hundred and six out of 208 is not bad.

If I'm being honest, I ignore the series finale as canon altogether because that was not was the series was about. The series was never about Ted and Robin or Ted and the Mother, it was about the five friends, life and the beauty of it, and heartache.

So I strongly disagree that How I Met Your Mother was a story about love lost and unrequited, it was always about the relationship between Ted, Robin, Marshall, Lily, and Barney. And yes, the characters are damaged, but that's what makes them relatable.

HIMYM took what made Friends great and made it greater, in my opinion.

Or should I say, legendary?

Leora: The premise of the show, as told to the audience, was how Ted found love with the mother of his children. The writers intended it to be the story of a man moving on from losing his wife by reuniting with his first love.

Love was at the center of the whole thing. You can't say that the show wasn't about that.

Ted was the protagonist, and we watched his journey to find love. That's what drove the story.

The friendships mattered, but not in the same way they did in Friends, which was more about friendship than romantic love. Though Friends did have some great ships.

When it aired, everybody was rooting for Ross and Rachel to end up together, and the show delivered on that. Meanwhile, Monica and Chandler were a surprise love story that was healthy and genuine.

Chandler and Monica - Friends

Marshall and Lily were not bad, but they didn't have all the things Monica and Chandler had going for them. And most of the other relationships in HIMYM were hard to ship.

Barney and Robin were plain toxic (and for some reason, wildly popular).

Speaking of, let's talk about Barney.

He may have been a tragic figure who suffered quite a bit, but he was also sociopathic and manipulative.

He was horrible to women, and while he was a loyal and loving friend, Robin, Ted, and Lily all became corrupted and less tolerable, the longer they were friends with him, especially Robin. Not so much Marshal.

And while I'll agree that being a little damaged does make a person more relatable.

A) What I said was in response to what you said about taking life lessons

B) That's not usually what people are looking for in a sitcom. The friends of Friends were relatable enough without becoming unlikable characters of their former selves (I'm looking at you, Scherbatsky).

Sarah: That is true, it was all about how Ted met the mother of his future children. But I believe it morphed into something more as the seasons went on, and the show was all the better for it.

Yes, the series-long mystery about the mother was fantastic, but so was the story about the five friends.

Why can't it be both?

But you are right, at the end of the day it was about love, but it was the different kinds of love, from familial to romantic and everything in-between.

Friends was great at portraying friendships, but it wasn't as strong at portraying other relationships (besides Monica and Chandler, of course). But, it was a show called "Friends" after all.

I disagree. Marshall and Lily and Barney and Robin were great love stories, especially Marshall and Lily.

Barney was terrible to women, but so was Joey and Ross and sometimes Chandler. Let's face it, both these shows had highly problematic components to them.

David Schwimmer Promo Pic - Friends

And I don't agree with the statement that Barney corrupted them, they were all their own characters, and all made their own choices. They all went through their own arcs, and I feel like they all stayed pretty likable until the very end.

Leora: I never said Marshall and Lily weren't a great love story. They were. But they weren't as great as Monica and Chandler.

I think we didn't see them as much as their own people because they were already in a relationship when the show started. We saw Monica and Chandler individual of each other, we saw their friendship, and we saw their relationship bloom in a way that was so natural despite the fact that the writers never intended to go down that road.

As for Barney and Robin, I'm sorry, but I just can't see them as a great love story.

Actually, I take that back. For once in my life, I'm not sorry. They were terrible for each other.

They worked really well as friends, but once they go together, they brought out each other's worst qualities. They were both running away from relationships and commitment, and instead of addressing that, they combined their issues into one mismatched relationship.

They didn't work at all the first time they got together, and they didn't last long either time. The writers knew that they were not a story meant to last, simply one that needed to be told to get to the wedding and the mother and to keep Robin off the market and away from Ted.

Truthfully, at that point in her life, Robin wasn't in a place to be in a relationship with anyone. She wanted to be independent, she didn't want kids or to settle down.

Ted wanted those things and Barney, and while he pretended otherwise, wanted them too. He'd had such a messed up childhood, and he just wanted to be loved and have a family, but he was afraid to want it.

I think it was clear that he wanted a more traditional life as the show went on and developed his character, and that never would have worked for Robin. 

She could have "fun" relationships, but a healthy, lasting, stable relationship wasn't something she was ready for until she "lived her life."

I liked Barney falling for Robin and discovering that he could love that way, but it never made sense for Robin to return his feelings. She opened him up to love, but he could have shared that love with Nora, who wanted what he wanted or even Quinn, who was a good match for him and never expressed not wanting a family.

Instead, he went back to someone who he said he loved because she was "almost as screwed up as I am," and who he not only constantly lied to but who when she asked him not to lie to her anymore, his response was, "You don't want me to lie to you? Lies are the reason that we're together."

He may have turned it into a grand romantic speech in the end, but how is a relationship that knowingly bases itself on lies remotely healthy?

And yes, Joey wasn't great to woman, neither was Ross, and even Chandler, but they were bad in a flawed human way.

Matt LeBlanc Promo Pic - Friends

There is a difference between being a flawed human an a sociopath. None of them set out to hurt and manipulate in the way that Barney did. He was incredibly toxic, and the way the show tries to normalize it because he is a good friend is a little sick.

There's also the timing to consider. When Friends came out, the "nice guy" trope wasn't a thing that was being called out yet. A lot of the un-PC things Friends did they did before it wasn't PC.

How I Met Your Mother came later and should have known better, but it was more offensive and crude than Friends ever was.

People are mostly okay with Joey's behavior, which is written off as being idiotic more than anything else. And yes, he is a player, but while he's with a woman, he's usually pretty sweet to her. He's the charming, not too bright actor who is more or less what he sells himself as.

He didn't create a book with a million ways to deceive women and trick them into bed. He doesn't have an answering machine that randomly calls girls and tells them he saw them, and they are fated to be together. He doesn't have a bed that magically sends girls who won't leave to who knows where.

Sarah: I actually would argue that Marshall and Lily were better than Monica and Chandler. We got to see Marshall and Lily together longer as they got engaged in the very first episode.

But, we also got to see the progression of how they got to that point through flashbacks, which were always epic by the way. I feel like we kind of got it all with them. But, Monica and Chandler are also amazing.

I completely disagree, Barney and Robin constantly made the other one better, even when they were just friends. They were pretty much the same person and pretty compatible if you ask me.

Of course, the first time they got together, it was too soon, and they weren't ready for it. But once they grew as individuals, they were ready for the serious commitment.

They were hot messes to start with, but I love both of their individual character arcs throughout the show and how they were sort of parallel with one another. No one person or one relationship is perfect, but they really did love one another, and that's all that matters.

They did make Barney quite the dirtbag for comedies sake, yes.

How I Met Your Mother premiered one year after Friends ended, I would say the timing isn't that off. Friends was not that long ago, and timing excuses nothing, in my opinion. Let's just agree that there were problematic elements to both and leave it at that.

And I know a lot of people think How I Met Your Mother was this super crude show, but I don't believe it was worse than any other sitcom. It was just a bit more obvious about it.

Leora: Okay, we're getting into shipper wars now, so let's agree to disagree about Robin/Barney.

Moving on from that, I agree with you about Barney's character arc in the show. It was a great arc. But I can't say that I liked Robin's.

I found her really likable in the early seasons, but later she became a kind of a caricature of herself. She was annoying, and her backstory was unrealistic, the more we learned about it.

I could buy the father who wanted a boy and literally raised her as one, forcing her to go in the wilderness on her birthday and survive, etc. And I can buy the teenage pop-star with the boyfriend's who treated her so horribly. But both of those are pretty outrageous, so for them to come together like that ... it was kind of hard to swallow.

And they kept trying to make her more and more outrageous for the sake of the laugh. In the beginning, she was this ambitious journalist from Canada who wasn't looking for a serious relationship.

As the show progressed, they drove everything to the extreme, from her tom-boy tendencies to her Canadian roots, which they were always making fun of. As a Canadaphile, I take offense to that.

Ted also went from a romantic if somewhat naive character to a character that nearly every fan found annoying. He's been called pretentious and accused of being a "nice guy." Plus, sometimes, he was kind of a stalker. And he was supposed to be the lead.

Marshall was likable throughout the show's run. he was pretty much the only character I liked from start to finish. But after a while, even the actor complained of being stuck in a role with no great character development left to him and wanted to leave the show.

To your earlier point about it being a show about five friends, yes, it was that, but it was also about how those friends and people, in general, can be super close at one point and then fall out of your life. They lost touch with a lot of people, and they lost touch with Robin for a long time.

I'm not saying the message is exactly inaccurate to the real world, but it isn't the warm hug that Friends was. You don't watch a sitcom to learn the harsh realities of the world, such as that whomever your friends are now, you'll probably grow apart at some point and won't even know what is going on in their lives.

Sarah: I mean, it's a sitcom. A lot of plot lines and character stories are created for the sake of comedy, and Robin's backstory worked to achieve that goal.

There were outrageous storylines on Friends too, particularly Phoebe's life, especially how she mugged Ross. Or that Ross and Monica were actually each other's first kiss.

Lisa Kudrow Promo Pic - Friends

But they are sitcoms, and they create outlandish scenarios to be funny.

I personally loved Ted from beginning to end, even if he got desperate for love at times. And you can say the same things that you said about Ted about Ross.

To be honest, I don't expect sitcoms to be rainbows and butterflies all the time, Friends was definitely not at times. I want there to be laughter, emotion, relatability, and all the things I look for in television shows.

Escapism is definitely a component that goes into watching television, but it's also about finding characters and stories that you can relate to.

Of course, you can't relate to a specific scenario Ted is going through in one episode, but you can relate to his feelings. And that's what I love about How I Met Your Mother because it had it all.

Friends Cast Photo

Leora: Fair enough.

I think the main points here, putting shipping and character likability aside, is that both were sitcoms of a similar breed. How I Met Your Mother built off Friends, and you can say it made it better, or you can say it stole what was there. It depends on how you want to look at it.

I feel like Friends went just far enough with the jokes and the outrageousness, where How I Met Your Mother went maybe a bit too far at times. But at the end of the day, with a sitcom, it's about what makes you laugh and makes you feel good.

It's about what makes you keep watching, buying DVDs, paying for overpriced streaming services to watch something you've seen a thousand times.

I actually enjoyed both shows, but personally, if I could only watch one of them ever again, I would pick Friends.

I think it really provided something that was needed, and it still does years later. I don't know if How I Met Your Mother will hold up the same way; only time will tell.

Friends Cast Pic

Funnily enough, while they were clearly trying to be the next Friends, I've heard people say that the show that was actually the next Friends in how a generation responded to it was The Big Bang Theory. And that's ironic because the group in that show was dysfunctional and horrible friends to each other.

But it's the fact that the term "the next Friends," is a thing that makes my point. Friends set the standard and are the standard, the gold standard as a certain CW couple would say. Nobody ever says, "this could be the next How I Met Your Mother."

The Friends formula worked well enough to be mimicked, but when they tried to make a "How I Met Your Father" show, it never got the green light.

And I guess, just personally, I relate more to a story about friendship with some love than a story about love with some friendship.

Monica and Chandler are the gold-standard couple because they naturally evolved from friends to more than in a healthy, relatable way.

Chandler Proposes - Friends

Marshall and Lily, great as they were, were always love-interests, even back when they met in college. It was contrived, and it came off that way.

How I Met Your Mother teaches that love doesn't have to make sense to make sense, but Friends teaches that the best relationships are rooted in friendship and take a lot of work.

Monica and Chandler never read each other's minds, and they didn't agree on everything the way Lily and Marshal did, but they were compatible, they cared about each other, and they put in the work to make their relationship happen.

Again, love Lily and Marshal, but the relationship was trying so hard to be more in love than the gold standard that they left the realm of reality behind, whereas Monica and Chandler are one of the few healthy and realistic relationships you see on television.

Courteney Cox Promo Pic - Friends

And that's in a sticom!

I'm getting into ships again. Sorry.

But the point of Friends was that true friends are always there for you, they will be your family and your important relationships. That's a good message, and it makes you feel good. I would love to have a friend group like in friends.

Sarah: They definitely are similar, which is why this is such a hot topic between fans everywhere! But I think they are very different in a lot of ways.

The main difference is that How I Met Your Mother is almost like a mystery show. Fans loved looking for clues and different hints as to who the mother was, and the reveal of her on How I Met Your Mother Season 8 Episode 24 was epic because it was so unexpected.

Plus, most sitcoms nowadays are basically just about a group of friends and/or coworkers anyways, but we enjoy them individually still. I would argue that Friends was the "next Cheers" or the next "Golden Girls." There's always going to be a show prior to another that influenced it.

As for spin-offs, Joey didn't do that well either. How I Met Your Mother showed a lot of tension between their group of friends, and I would say that it also proved the importance of friendships and that they take a lot of work. There was just also the component of finding your soulmate too.

Leora: So you're saying the show was about the mystery of the mother, but a lot of people were let down with how the mother's plotline was handled. And again, she was barely in it.

I mean, you can go farther back with Friends to Carl Jungs 12 archetypes. But I think Friends was very original in how they put them together in an ensemble like that and had them mesh with each other. Friends defined the modern-day sitcom, and shows were always trying to mimic it.

And has anyone actually said that Friends was the next anything?

Sarah: I would argue that the Mother was in it throughout the whole series run, at least, her spirit was. The end goal was always about how Ted met Tracy. So once he met her, end of show.

And that is what happened.

Thankfully we were able to figure out who she was and see some of her backstory on How I Met Your Mother Season 9, which really helped to build her character. But I think people were more disappointed with her death than with how the show handled her overall story.

They did a great job of planting seeds and building up the mystery of who she was, and that is part of why the show was so enjoyable and is what set it apart from Friends.

I'm sure back when Friends first premiered, people who were die-hard Cheers fans thought it was a rip-off. I'm not saying it was, I'm just saying you could probably make that argument about anything.

Matthew Perry Promo Pic - Friends

There is no denying that Friends was an epic show that has stuck with a lot of people, and I believe that How I Met Your Mother deserves that same legacy. It lasted nine seasons, and a lot of people still love it as well.

Leora: Well reasoned.

I did like Tracy, and while her death was sad, the sort of dropped hints along the way, and the show actually made more sense when you reveal that the mother was dead the whole time.

It wasn't a bad show, and I did enjoy it, though I would never want to know any of those people or be friends with them in real life.

I think where Friends started out okay and got steadily better until it was something you couldn't stop watching, How I Met Your Mother had some really weak seasons, especially later on as the characters became less likable and less relatable.

Both were good for what they were, but I prefer one to the other because it's more in keeping with what I like. It's hilarious, but not over the top, it's a level of mature, but not crude, certain things are played for jokes, but it has the right balance of humor and realism for a half-hour sitcom.

I guess my argument isn't so much that How I Met Your Mother is bad, so much as it is that Friends is better. It was still as good by the end as it was in the beginning. More so. And we would have been happy to have it continue, though it's good they ended on a high note.

People are still clamoring for a revival to happen. They are always making those fake trailer on youTube.

And it was a big deal when Matthey Perry guest-starred on Courtney Cox's show and proposed to her.

We still want more Friends, and the ending left us with a good taste in our mouth. Like ice-cream, you can never have too much.

Sarah: Not even Marshall? Come on, you know you would want to be friends with Big Fudge!

That aside, I think Friends had a couple of weak seasons as well, I can't even watch most of Friends Season 3.

And Friends Season 10 was lacking in some departments.

But I think that could be said about any show that goes on for that long. It can come down to a matter of taste with the Friends vs. How I Met Your Mother argument, and for some reason, How I Met Your Mother has stuck with me more.

I do love Friends, I just believe that How I Met Your Mother was funnier and more clever with how it handled its storylines. I also love how it handled the subject of death and life in general. It was the perfect balance for me.

I think Friends ended where it needed to because I feel like, after a certain number of seasons, a show overstays its welcome. A one-off reunion episode of Friends would be amazing, as would a re-imagining of the series finale of How I Met Your Mother.

Both shows were amazing overall, with a few bad parts to them, as is the case with the majority of television shows. I do believe that How I Met Your Mother was a more interesting show, though.

Leora: I'll give you the death thing. Marshal's father's passing was well-handled. It was one of their better arcs, and Friends never really did anything like that.

Most of their emotional episodes were relationship related, like break-ups. Though there was Phoebe having to give up the twins. And I always get emotional when I think of the scene where Chandler tells Monica that they might never be able to conceive.

I love season 3 of Friends! Friends Season 3 Episode 2: The One Where No One's Ready! Chandler and Janice! Joey and Kate! And as sad as "We Were On A Break" is, it was a pretty epic episode.

I don't think How I Met Your Mother needs its finale to be re-imagined because that was what it was working towards all along. It was clever writing, but most of the audience didn't like it, which kind of goes back to what I said at the beginning.

The show doesn't make sense without the finale, but the audience wanted a different ending. It's like if you say you love Harry Potter, but you think that Voldemort really should have won.

The fact that the point of the show was unpalatable to the viewers says something. I'm not sure what, but it says something.

That being said, yes, it comes down to what you like. We both like both shows and both prefer different ones. Neither shall sway the other, so let us part as friends and leave it to the fanbase to vote.

Sarah: See, I disagree about the finale, even though that probably hurts my argument. The finale was not what the show was about, and a lot of people agree. That is the only part of How I Met Your Mother that I dislike because it didn't make sense to me.

But a lot of things didn't make sense to me on Friends -- Rachel and Joey anyone? Fat Monica?

Both shows had their hiccups, but there's no denying the impact they both made.

Yes, we shall let the fans vote!

Leora W was a staff writer for TV Fanatic..

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Friends Quotes

Ross: I get home, and I see Julie's saline solution on my night table. And I'm thinking to myself, "Oh my God, what the hell am I doing?" I mean, here I am, I am with Julie, this incredible, great woman, who I care about and who cares about me, and I'm like, what, am I just gonna throw all that away?
Joey: You got all that from saline solution?

Phoebe: (About Ross bringing luggage) How long did you think this barbecue was gonna last?
Ross: I'm going to China.
Phoebe: Jeez, you say one thing, and...
Monica: You're going to China?
Ross: (Not wanting to get into it) It's for the museum. Someone found a bone. We want the bone. They don't want us to have the bone. I'm going to try to persuade them to give us the bone. It's a whole big bone thing.