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Couch Potatoes Anonymous: 'How I Met Your Mother' is The 'Lost' of Sitcoms

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Oct 06, 2011 | 8:02am EDT

Introductions first. Welcome to our new, bi-weekly television column, Couch Potatoes Anonymous. It's a place where we, the lovers of television, can converge to gripe, groan, praise, muse and contemplate all things small screen. For his first entry, our columnist takes on the enigma that is How I Met Your Mother.

Lost How I Met Your Mother Cast Photo

ABC’s Lost was a series about a group of plane crash survivors, learning to live together and trying to survive living on a mystical, magical island.

CBS’ How I Met Your Mother is a series about a group of friends living and loving on the real-life mystical, magical island of Manhattan.

Whether you’re a fan of one or both shows, you may not notice, but both shows share some rather prominent characteristics. But how can a science fiction series about a group of stranded plane crash survivors and a romantic comedy series about a group of friends in New York be so similar?

First are the easy similarities – like both shows take place on an island. For Lost is it an island forever traveling through time and space (if you never saw the show, it would take about seventeen more columns to explain that; however fans know exactly what I mean). How I Met Your Mother (or HIMYM) mostly takes place on the island of Manhattan. Both shows feature all kinds of callbacks to earlier episodes, future events, and alternate versions of the characters. Both shows require repeated viewings if you want to catch every single Easter egg. Luckily for HIMYM, it differs in that it is a sitcom, which means even with the show’s interweaving narrative, you can enjoy episodes without seeing every single season.

It’s All About the Flashbacks

One of Lost’s hallmarks was its use of an important storytelling tool: the flashback. For the majority of the series, each episode delivered flashes of an individual character’s backstory where we’d learn about some point in that person’s life before Oceanic 815 crashed. As the series progressed, we’d see the character’s stories told in flash-forwards, and even alternate reality flash-sideways, as they would come to be called. The series was akin to a giant jigsaw puzzle; pieces randomly fell into place along the Lost timeline as the series progressed.

HIMYM uses all of these storytelling conventions as well. First, the entire series is one giant flashback. The main character, Ted (whose future voice is that of Bob Saget) is in the year 2030 telling his teenage children the story of how he met their mother; which makes every episode a flashback in and of itself. Within the framework of each show there are mini–flashbacks which show Ted, Marshalll, and Lily in college; Barney before he suited-up; Robin as a Canadian teenage pop star; or whatever the story calls for. We catch glimpses of characters as children and teenagers, and as future and even alternate versions of themselves like Mustache Marshalll or Lesbian Robin.

Lost Jack and Kate

Gotta Love Those Sad Sack Ringleaders

Don’t let the title fool you. I happen to like both Jack Shephard (Lost) and Ted Mosby (HIMYM). But both characters are lovelorn guys with hero complexes. Both characters are presented to the fans as the “main” character of the ensemble, the one we should be rooting for, but they both become slightly grating and whiny: Jack constantly insist on going back to save people; Ted is on a constant search to find the future Mrs. Mosby and thinks he can salvage every relationship he’s ever been in with some cheesy “tailormade-television” act of romance. Most importantly, both ringleaders get lost in the shuffle when it comes to their respective series’ supporting characters.

The Ballads of Jin and Sun and Marshalll and Lily

When we first meet Jin on Lost, he’s a real piece of garbage who lives by the old world culture, demeans his wife, and refuses to be a part of the group. It’s only when Sun shames him that he starts to realize the error of his ways and moves forward on his path to redemption. Jin and Sun might not have been Lost’s hottest couple, but they were definitely one of its most intriguing ones. From the reveal that Sun could speak English, to the couple reconciling as Jin leaves the Island during the Season One finale (which is still the best season finale I’ve ever seen), to the amazing double-twist flashback for Jin and flashforward for Sun, to Jin’s tear-jerking sacrifice to not leave his wife and die by her side in a watery grave, we found weight in their story. The Kwons might have seemed meek at first, but they became some of the best characters on the show.

In HIMYM’s pilot, Marshall proposes to Lily, who of course says yes. Luckily for her, Marshmellow is the anti-Jin right from the start; there’s not a damn thing he won’t do for his little Lilypad. Well, sadly for Vanilla Thunder, his would-be bride-to-be had to go on her own redemptive quest. While her departure wasn’t as terrible as Jin’s, she did leave the guy at the end of the show’s first season finale in her own exodus, leaving a distraught Marshall sitting on the steps, heartbroken in the rain. They would rekindle their relationship early on in Season Two and be married by its end. Like Jin and Sun, Marshall and Lily have the ability to steal the spotlight whenever they’re in the scene, which they regularly do. In fact, since Ted’s quest to find the mother fell to the wayside in recent seasons, it’s been Marshall and Lily’s married life that has dominated the series and become the heart of the show. Luckily, Lily and Marshall are sitcom characters so I think it’s safe to assume we won’t see them wind up at the bottom of the East River.

Oh, The Loveable Scoundrels

They both love catchphrases and nicknames; each one has a thing for Star Wars and hard-edged women; and most importantly, they’re both loveable confidence men. James “Sawyer” Ford conned to scratch out a living before boarding the doomed Oceanic 815 and Barney Stinson will con any girl into bed and he’ll con his own friends just to prove a point. Both Sawyer and Stinson are on redemptive quests that will allow them to be with their would-be women. For Sawyer, it was Kate. Barney had Robin. However by Lost’s end, Sawyer would realize that Juliet was really the gal for him. If the connections between the shows continue, then the true girl of Barney’s dreams (and the one who we will find out he is marrying by season’s end) would be Nora.

barney Robin photoshop How I Met Your Mother Cast Photo

Speaking of Kate and Robin…

They’re both fiercely independent, in love with bad boys, and they’re running away from their pasts. Kate served as an unofficial second-in-command for the Losties whenever Jack was nowhere to be found or off on his own foolhardy mission. She came to the Island as a fugitive who’d been running from U.S. Marshalls for years because she murdered her step-father and committed insurance fraud to set her ailing mother up for life. During the first few seasons, there was love triangle brewing between Kate, Sawyer, and Jack. But by the time she and Sawyer were locked up together on Hydra Island, they finally consummated their affections for one another.

Robin – as Ted pointed out negatively and Barney pointed out as a positive trait – does not need anyone to help her in life. She is the quintessential career woman, putting her journalism career ahead of being a wife and mother. She came to Manhattan island to realize her newswoman dreams while running away from her former life as a ‘90s teen pop star in Canada – anyone else want to see a Robin Sparkles spin–off? While she finally let herself fall for Ted at the end of the first season, the couple realized they were on borrowed time and called it quits at the end of Season Two. However, from the first moment she became Barney’s wing-woman in Season One’s “Zip, Zip, Zip” episode, it was clear that she and the Barnacle had chemistry. That chemistry isn’t realized until Season Five, and when they dance together at Punchy’s wedding during this season’s premiere, their connection flares up again. Unfortunately, if my theory of connection between the two shows is correct, then Robin could be devastated by season’s end by Barney marrying Nora.

Bad Luck, Thy Name is Jorge

The heart and soul of Lost was also the eventual ruler of the Island: the forever jinxed, Hurley (Jorge Garcia). The poor guy played a set of numbers – 4, 8, 15, 16, 23, 42 – to win the lottery and thought he was cursed ever since. His Uncle Tito suffered a heart attack; a meteor struck his burgeoning chicken franchise; a dock he was standing on collapsed, killing several people. Oh, and he was in a mental asylum. And all of this happened before he boarded 815. The poor guy then went nuts when he started seeing dead Island inhabitants like Charlie and Mr. Eko. For his troubles though, Weezer named their last album after him, so I guess that’s something.

The bad luck continued to haunt Hurley portrayer Jorge Garcia when he guest-starred on HIMYM. While this tale is not as tragic as Hurley’s, in an inspired meta bit of casting, Garcia played Steve Henry, Ted, Lily, and Marshall’s college buddy in Season Six. Garcia’s episode, “The Blitz,” refers to a curse Steve’s curse: he always leaves the room right before something amazing happens, effectively causing him to miss out on some great memories and to be a bit steamed that he missed it. Plus, when the gang bet Marshall to text a random stranger, Steve offered up the random numbers -- you guessed it, 481-516-2342 -- and throughout the episode when the blitz is transferred the Lost hum cues and smoke is visible.

Finally, Remember the Rabid Fans and Their Ever-present Theories

Maybe I should be committed to Santa Rosa like Hurley, but there are all kinds of interesting similarities between How I Met Your Mother and Lost, here’s hoping that HIMYM ends on a better note than the polarizing one on which Lost left us. But somehow I doubt it; shows like this are loved by far too many people to actually please every fan, who by the finale may have had about hundreds of different ideas running through their heads about how the series should end – or in the case of Lost have actual websites dedicated to those theories. For me, I’d like HIMYM to let us meet the mother and deliver an episode or three focusing on Ted’s courtship. With my luck though, Ted will just see Mrs. Mosby from afar and say “and kids, that’s how I met your mother.” But the “How Should How I Met Your Mother End?” column is a column for another day. One thing’s for sure, both series have extremely devout fan bases that keep track of the series' timelines and constantly debate every last facet of their favorite show. Fans of Lost debated just about every possible thing they could about the series, except maybe the blades of grass found on the Island. They debated who is a better fit for Kate -- Jack or Sawyer. They debated the way in which paraplegic Locke was suddenly able to walk; the origins of Smoke Monster and the Others; where the heck our heroes actually crash-landed; and many other minutiae of details that ultimately meant nothing at the show’s conclusion. The polarizing finale was more about character moments than answers; and while the above mentioned topics more or less received answers during the show’s run, many facets of the show (like Waaaaaallllltt!!) did not.

In recent years, HIMYM has been able to add mini-mysteries as well. Who will Barney marry at the end of this season? Now that she’s preggers, when will Lily give birth? When will the fifth slap occur? Considering how unreliable future-Ted is as a narrator, how true is each story being told?

How I Met Your Mother's great mystery is still, “Who is the mother?” After all, it’s in the name of the show. We know that it’s not Robin, Stella, Cindy, or Zoey. On the sixth season DVD, there is a special feature that runs the gamut of which females we know isn’t the mom and what we do know about the future Mrs. Mosby. We’ve seen her foot and her umbrella, and we know that she was in the classroom that Ted mistakenly walked into. The feature also says that it’s not Victoria, the baker, and it teases her surprise return at the beginning of this season. It’s a question that is as layered as any great mystery of Lost. Is it the girl who bumped into Ted in the third season’s “No Tomorrow,” since it was a random throwaway scene and screenwriting 101 dictates that you don’t show anything without it meaning something (e.g. a gun seen in act one must be used by act three)? Is it the girl that Ted almost met in season one’s “Milk?” As long as the writers don’t pull something screwy and somehow make “Aunt Robin” into “Momma Robin,” they will have succeeded in my opinion.

One thing’s for sure, a show that has run for as long as HIMYM has a tremendous audience who loves spending time with these characters and share in their joy (Lily and Marshall’s wedding), laughs (just about every bit of an episode’s 22 minutes), and their pain (Marshall losing his father); and we all want our friends to succeed and live happily ever after. Luckily, as we’ve seen glimpses of our heroes in the future, we know that they do – so the greatness of this series lies in seeing how they get there.

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