There are two shows that will always be there for me in my house: Friends and How I Met Your Mother. Of course, these two shows on rotation are entirely my wife’s choice, but over the last five years of our marriage I’ve learned to love them both. They are incredibly similar, with Friends being the O.G. twenty-two minute humor/drama, and HIMYM sort of taking the torch of that formula and modernizing it for a new generation. I think in terms of tone, HIMYM is a bit sillier. From musical numbers, to side skits, to more editing and production. Taking entire episodes on side tangents and not always pushing the pace of the story along, along with some scenarios that just aren’t as realistic. That alone may be the difference in preference when trying to decide which show is best. But let’s take a more nuanced look and break this thing down a little more.
Protagonist- Ted vs. Ross: As these shows go along, you’ll find that each character becomes less “real” and more…. like a stereotype. Protags have to be flawed, relatable, idealists, as well as hopeless romantics (
just like us, right?). BOTH will absolutely grind your gears as they descend into this loathsome person towards the end with all the idiosyncrasies that used to be cute, we now just maddening (sort of like dogs and babies). Ted has the advantage of being the narrator, adding extra layer of depth of humor and levity to each story, but Ross takes the advantage of being deeper as a character. A more fleshed out back story and being played by a superior actor helps Ross in this case too. Ross has some low lows, including being a straight up jerk at certain points (FINE BY ME!). His insecurity often hits entirely too close to home, but in the end, ends up being a guy you root for. Ted goes through all these stages of being likable and unlikable, making decisions that just seem out of character, and by the end you just want him to hurry up and meet the one so he can stop making all these stupid, and frankly unbelievable choices. Advantage: Spudnik over the Hanging Chad.
The Fiance’s– Emily vs. Stella: I never find Emily a believable love interest for Ross, and I never found Stella ghosting Ted in character for her. But as a general rule I enjoy Ted’s girlfriends more as they are given more time to be explored. That occasionally backfires though when blah-blah and Jeanette and Carrie Underwood are allowed to exist for multiple episodes. That being said, what was it about Emily that Ross, or anyone for that matter, actually liked? Stella was someone we rooted for and lost tragically. Advantage: Runaway Bride over Runaway Mouth.
Protag’s True Love Interest-Rachel vs Robin: In the end, our protag’s end up with the love of their life, despite all the trials and tribulations it took to get there. While both shows do a great job at trumping both of the girls up, only one shows manages to keep her on that pedestal, Friends. Robin devolves into an extremely annoying love interest for almost 3 seasons. And while the chemistry is there with Ted, Robin’s character does and says things that just drive me insane. When Robin talks about Patrice for 3 straight seasons… Get over it. Robin and Barney’s tangent seems unnatural, and the wedge between Ted and Robin (her job/kids) that keeps them apart isn’t explored enough over the course of the show to feel legitimate. Rachel remains a target worth chasing after, despite all the bumps in the road. The fracture between Ross and her feels real, and Ross’ crippling insecurity is a version of ourselves we all have to tuck away everyday. Advantage: Getting Off the Plane over The Blue French Horn.
Intro Theme Song- Fountain Splash vs Photo Collage: It’s Friends, anyone who disagrees here is a dumb-dumb. Fun fact, Hannah and I watched the show for years and I one day asked her what the lyric was for the Friends song, neither of us knew. “Your job’s a joke, your broke, your love life’s DOA.” Just for reference. This one is a blowout. And YES it matters, you are going to hear this thing 500 times, it needs to be good.
Funny Guy- Barney vs Joey
Speaking of blowouts, Barney is a vastly superior character with more depth, humanity, and comedic timing than Joey could ever dream of. As the shows progresses, Barney’s layers get peeled back slowly to reveal more and more about him and give greater depth. Joey starts as an interesting character, and then he just devolves into a walking “how you doin'” who is too stupid to open milk. Friends doesn’t even bother to end his story arc because they have nowhere they can go with it. Barney goes down as an all-timer (dare I say legendary) personality with some bits and one-liners that will be etched into our brains forever. Advantage: Playbook Author over the Failed Playwright
The Best Friend- Marshall vs. Chandler: It’s an all-timer debate. No matter what, we are all winners on this one. Love these guys! Chandler’s self-deprecating humor and quick wit often can carry an episode. Hitting 4 or 5 times in twenty minute episodes is not uncommon at all for him. Countered by Marshall being the fun-loving easy-going best friend that you have always wanted. I love Marshall so much, his flaws seem genuine, his love for Lily feels real, and his optimism brings me strength. But even I can admit that Chandler is a deeper character, with issues stemming from a broken home and awkwardness with people that feels all too familiar. Not to mention the Chandler-Monica season brings a ton of depth and is an amazing change of pace. It is must watch TV watching their relationship evolve as they tackle new challenges together. And when Chandler gets serious, the show reaches depths in your heart you didn’t know you had. Advantage: Cigarette Smoker over “Sandwich” Smoker.
The 6th Most Important Character- Phoebe vs Tracy: Love Tracy, she lives up to the incredibly high hype in almost all of her episodes. Notice how I am counting episodes however, got to go with longevity on this one. Phoebe plays many roles in the group from voice of reason to sage adviser to team goofball. Phoebe’s plots throughout the show remain interesting without having to get romantic with a different friend in the circle. This is a totally unfair comparison but Friends needs credit for having an additional character that we are invested in. Smelly Cat over La Vie En Rose.
Stable Couple Female- Lily vs Monica: I am struggling to write about Monica vs Lily. I want to say, I enjoy both characters. I feel like Lily grounds the show in a way Monica does not. Monica’s two biggest traits are used to be fat and being OCD. Lily’s two biggest traits are being a great friend and being a great wife. I think neither of these characters really drive the show. They are well acted, rarely annoying, believable, mom’s of the group. Monica is humorous more often, and when she is pushed to the edge as character we get some of our funniest moments. Advantage: It’s a tie. I feel like each one could exist in each other’s show and neither show would be better or worse for it. It’s a dang good thing it is a tie because I can’t think of a funny caption anyways.
Service People- Ranjit vs. Gunther: Love my man Gunther, unsung hero of the show. I think we can all relate to being single and a little weird around a “Rachel Green”.
Story Arc: While the initial narrative of “Aunt Robbin” and who the actual Mother is can be interesting, there is a large section of the show we find ourselves just waiting to get on with it. There was quite a bit of fatigue in real-time with HIMYM when it first debuted. That fatigue can now be overcome by Hulu binging as opposed to one episode a week, but I can still feel the burn in the middle section of the series. When Mother finally shows up, you want more time to bask in it. Give us the payoff we so desperately waited for, the show seems to be a marathon that ends in a sprint, and the pacing feels all wrong. As opposed to Friends, in which an end-game is never really clear. We don’t know what we are building towards, HIMYM had this big story board that had to last a certain amount of seasons to finish. Friends felt like it could have lasted forever. That is to it’s detriment and to its benefit. The pay-off for the final friends episode is executed in such a perfect way. As I said before, getting off the plane, and moving out the apartment, and headed to Central Perk just felt so right. It’s not often these long shows end with you feeling the way you feel as Friends fades away one last time. Central Perk over MacLaren’s.
Episode to Episode Execution: Friends does single episode execution as well as anyone. What I am talking about here are episodes that are memorable in a vacuum. They even bank on it by the naming of their episodes. “The One Where No One’s Ready” , “The One With the Embryos” , and “The One With the Jellyfish” all stand out vividly in our heads. It’s not fair to Friends’ though, as HIMYM does this better than any other show that has ever existed. The level of wit, charm, and cleverness packed into each episode with it’s own unique theme is what separates HIMYM from every other show of its kind. Rabbit vs. Duck, Slapsgiving, Robin Sparkles, Girls vs. Suits, Perfect Date, Stamp of Approval, the list goes on. Can you believe “bang-bang-bangity-bang” and “superdate” are in the SAME EPISODE…and that same episode is FEATURING JLo?? HIMYM takes the narrative style of each episode and can hammer it down over and over again in just a short 22 minute adventure. They have more room to do this due to having a “flawed narrator” but at times the storytelling aspect of show is the true genius of it all. Both in episodic themes, and in the long-form plot twists that have been set up for the course of the show, HIMYM just gets more creative more often. Goat over Monkey.
Humor: Mostly opinion here, I laugh more often at Friends but they can come cheaply. I laugh hardest at the top tier cracks in HIMYM.
Conclusion: Your not going to like my answer here, I promise it isn’t a cop out. The first watch-through of these shows vs the modern day “always have it on/stream” version of these shows is a vastly different way to consume them. I don’t think anything will compare to the first watch through of Friends, the drama, the characters, and the plot throughout the show, it constantly ramps up and up and meets a well-timed, thrilling, conclusion. HIMYM drops the ball here by feeling a little long at points, sometimes goes on story telling tangents that are annoying, and then misses slightly on the pay-off with meeting the mother. (It just doesn’t feel “good” for long enough.) But now, in the age of Netflix, HIMYM is a better show. Flying through it feels really good, you never get fatigued with it, (since you don’t have to chew on a bad episode for a whole week), and are constantly delighted when you see the title of the next episode and say “ooooh this one”. HIMYM takes a goofier tone, which makes it more consumable, but Friends captures the soapy nature you need to be truly invested in a fictional character.. If I had to delete one from the face of the earth and keep the other: I would… I would… delete Friends. There is scary world where Friends leaves Netflix and this becomes a reality. Netflix I will unsubscribe so fast!