What is the difference between a good comedy series and a great one? Certainly, humor has to be in place and it should be of high quality. However, even when the viewers laugh every third minute of the show, there is no guarantee that they will not forget the series shortly after the last season is over. It is the memorable, charismatic characters that make comedy series stick to the viewers’ memory for years. “Friends” created by David Crane and Marta Kauffman and “How I Met Your Mother” created by Carter Bays and Craig Thomas feature archetypal characters, whose purpose is not only to entertain the audience, but also elaborate on typical human weaknesses and strengths.
The lover is a common archetypal character in “Friends” and “How I Met Your Mother.” Joey Tribbiani, an Italian actor, whose acting career is still rather blurred, from “Friends” and Barney Stinson, a suited up guy with a distinct dislike of commitment from “How I Met Your Mother” perform the role of the lover. Both Joey and Barney are seducers, who use love to conquest rather than to find a soul mate. Joey starts hitting on Rachel the day she leaves her fiancé on her wedding day and when Monika reprimands him for doing it, he does not seem to understand that he is doing anything wrong, “What, like there’s a rule or something?” (Burrows). It does not mean that Joey is insensitive or does not care about other people’s feelings. He just loves women and there seem to be no specific type he prefers. When Joey consoles Ross about his failed marriage, he even compares women with different flavors of ice cream and this metaphor aims to show that Joey loves different types of women and he does not want to be committed to only one of them. The same is true about Barney. The first time he appears in the episode, he boasts that Lebanese girls have substituted half-Asians for him and are his favorites now. Such changeability of personal preferences and eagerness to give prominence to a separate nationality rather than a specific type of women characterize Barney as a man who is not ready to settle down. Moreover, he constantly reminds everyone that it is unlikely that he will ever be ready for that.
Although Joey and Barney represent the type of seducers, their characters cannot be called negative. On the contrary, when Joey recommends Ross to opt for other women and to metaphorically “grab a spoon” (Burrows), this is his way of taking care of his friend and cheering him up after a painful divorce. In the case of Barney, his obsession with external looks and his constant demand for all of his male friends “to suit up” (Fryman) is a specific armor, protecting him against disappointments and failures in his personal life. Both Joey and Barney are quite vulnerable, yet they hide it using numerous relationships as a disguise and trying to convince everybody that they do not need a deep personal bonding with one person.
While Joey is limited to the lover type, Barney possesses the features of the jester as well, whose role is given to Chandler Bing in “Friends.” Chandler and Barney use humor to interact with the external environment. There seems to be no occasion Chandler would not approach with a joke or a mockery. He even makes fun of his own personal life. For example, when Monica describes her first date with Paul as dinner with no sex, Chandler quickly responds, “Sounds like a date to me” (Burrows), thus exposing his unfortunate dating practice to the audience. Chandler uses his humor not only to please others and become the life of the party, but also to guard himself against pity. Barney uses humor to maintain his image of a heartthrob and to emphasize how his lifestyle matches his wishes the best. For example, when Ted creates an awkward metaphor by using an expression ‘to take the leap’ (Fryman) to compare his wish to get married with the failed suicide attempt of some guy, Barney objects, “that is a perfect metaphor” (Fryman). However, usually, when people criticize something too much or too often, they might be actually interested in it most of all and Barney might be such case as well.
Another vivid archetypal character, the caregiver, is present in both “Friends” and “How I Met Your Mother.” Monica Geller in “Friends” is a typical caregiver. As a sister, she tries to comfort her brother, Ross, who is not only going through a difficult divorce, but also has to survive the fact that his wife left him for a woman. Monica immediately accommodates her high school friend, Rachel, although they have lost touch a long time ago and Rachel did not even invite Monika to her wedding. Moreover, Monica’s urge to take care and help others makes her easily yield to Paul’s made-up story about not having sex for two years because of a hard breakup. She is driven by compassion and openness, which results in being harmed in return. In “How I Met Your Mother,” Lily Aldrin can also be characterized as a caregiver. She clearly dominates in her relationship with Marshall Eriksen, but she does not use it to show superiority or arrogance. When Lily makes fun of Marshall because of his bad cooking skills or his fear to open champagne, she does it in a loving manner with no hard feelings attached. Moreover, Lily works with kids as a teacher, thus even her profession reflects her internal desire to take care of others.
Ross Geller in “Friends,” Ted Mosby and Marshall Eriksen in “How I Met Your Mother” are romantic heroes. All of them are emotionally open, slightly shy, and willing to have a lifelong partner. This desire is the source of their strength and discomfort at the same time. When Ross reflects about his failed marriage, he is scared because, “what if there is only one woman for everybody… what if you get one woman and that’s it” (Burrows). The thought of being alone and having no committed partner is Ross’s biggest fear. The same is true about Ted. Certainly, the fact that his best friend, Marshall and his girlfriend, Lily, are engaged has a strong influence on Ted, but it is not all. He is simply the kind of a man, who loves to be in a permanent relationship. He is in such a hurry to become a married man that he even manages to say ‘I love you’ to Robin Scherbatsky on their first date. When Ted tries to explain that he is not a psycho, his words confirm his vision of the future, “I think I’d make a damn good husband. Because, that’s the stuff I’d be good at… stuff like making her laugh and being a good father” (Fryman). Marshall practices the same views on the marriage. He has been dating Lily since college and he even invented an olive theory to prove that they are perfect soul mates. When this theory turns out to be a fraud, it does not influence Marshall’s desire to be with Lily because he is sure that she is the one for him. Ross, Ted and Marshall symbolize family men with the traditional worldview and eagerness to commit to one woman.
Whereas “Friends” and “How I Met Your Mother” are contemporary comedies, they feature modern archetypes as well. For example, Rachel Green represents those young girls, who are so used to paternal care and protection that they seek the same in marriage and are ready to compromise many things in return for having no need to work and support themselves. However, at some point, Rachel resists and decides that she does not want to be a shoe anymore and prefers to be a purse or a bag in that her submissive role no longer satisfies her. Rachel is meant to show the audience that it is never too late to change one’s life drastically and to start doing something completely differently. Robin Scherbatsky in “How I Met Your Mother” is Rachel’s opposite. She is the woman, Rachel would like to become someday. Robin is independent, determined, and ambitious. She tells Ted, “I’m hoping to get some bigger stories soon” (Fryman) and she ends their date the moment she is called to work. It is clear that her professional ambitions prevail. As far as Phoebe Buffay from “Friends” is concerned, she is weird and eccentric, yet her attempt to cleanse Ross’s aura or console Rachel by singing a strange song to her, give her character elements of a caregiver, but she seems to be too unique to fit any type.
The characters of “Friends” and “How I Met Your Mother” remind the viewers their own friends and family members because they have recognizable strengths and weaknesses, and their reactions to everyday situations are quite understandable and close. Watching these comedies makes the audience both laugh and reflect on something deeply personal, which is what will keep the series memorable for a long time.
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