Friday, October 07, 2005

An Open Letter to the "Writers" of the Odious Sitcom, "How I Met Your Mother"

An Open Letter to the “Writers” of the Odious Sitcom, “How I Met Your Mother”:

We wanted to like you. Really, we did. We New Yorkers wanted someone to fill the gaping, Gothamless void left by the late, great scripted comedies of Sex and the City, Seinfeld and, to a lesser extent, Friends.

We were rooting for Ted. We wanted to see him find love in the big city – if it happened for him, it could happen to us. We have tons of warm fuzzies for Alyson Hannigan, our beloved Willow of Buffy, and adore Jason Segal of Freaks & Geeks. We even have a soft spot for Neil Patrick Harris (Doogie) after seeing him perform on Broadway, and his cameo turn snorting coke of a hooker’s ass in Harold & Kumar. We set our Tivos in anticipation. What could go wrong?

Lots, apparently. Three times we watched, and three times we struck out. This letter is probably a waste of breath, given that you’ll likely be cancelled before the season runs out. But you obviously need a real-life New York City consultant, so I am offering my services for free on the Internet, since none of you obviously LA-based writers are gonna be schlepping to New York anytime soon.

Here is what sucks about your show (and, there is a lot):

1) Your “New York” looks nothing like New York.

One name-drop of Park Slope does not local cred bestow. There are no outside shots of New York. We don't know what neighborhood your characters live in (though if I had to venture a guess judging by their vapidness, I'd say Murray Hill, but more on that later...). Friends opened in Washington Square Park. Seinfeld ate his egg-white omelettes at a diner whose facade, at least, was a real New York place. Sex and the City was constantly dropping in on Bungalow 8 or whatever nightclub was hot at the time. You might as well be set in Waukegan or Walla Walla.

2) Your “New Yorkers” don’t act like New Yorkers.

So Ted, Marshall, Lily, Robin and Barney are all ostensibly New Yorkers. However, only one of them has a job (that we know about). This is Robin, who is a local TV reporter who claims of long, tiring hours, yet somehow finds time each and every night to hang out at some antiseptic, vaguely Irish pub with her friends. We learned in the first episode that she has five dogs in her apartment. Wow, how does she find the time to get on the subway, go back to Brooklyn from her job in the city, and walk them three times a day? We don’t know, because you never told us. In other New York-centric shows, they at least gave the characters New York-style jobs. Carrie Bradshaw was a big-shot columnist. George Costanza worked for the Yankees. There were high-powered publicists, lawyers, agents, comedians, and even grifting slackers like Kramer. You’ve got one fledging reporter and a “law student” who attends a New York university that you haven’t even bothered to name and somehow manages not to study. My, how do they afford all those martinis! Your main character doesn’t even have gainful employment that we know of! Wouldn’t this help round out his “character”?

Also, real New Yorkers don’t go to the bar every night after work, at least not the kind of strivers you look like you’re trying (though failing) to portray. They go to the gym. They work on their art, their music, their comedy, their book – whatever it is they are really here to do instead of their day job. They go to bars or clubs or restaurants for book launches and web site launches or parties where they can network. They go to museums or they volunteer or see movies or concerts, or maybe they go bowling, for irony and fun. Sometimes they go to the park or go for a jog.

Get your characters out of that stupid bar and into an office, a gym, a park – in any of these places poor Ted is more likely to meet the Mother, and perhaps you can introduce some interesting outside characters, since the ones you currently have are as flat as month-old soda. If they “live” in New York, they might as well take advantage of it – and you can, too.

3) You don’t understand New York.

In episode 3, Barney and Ted go to the airport. They run into two ladies who are departing for a flight to Philly in the baggage claim area. That can’t happen. You can’t get from baggage claim to boarding. Also, a New Yorker would never fly to Philadelphia. It takes less time to get to Philadelphia on an Amtrak – less than an hour – or even a New Jersey transit train than it does just getting to one of NYC’s three airports and getting through security and to your gate. NO ONE WOULD EVER FLY FROM NYC TO PHILLY.

Barney calls his cab drivers by name as though they are his own personal chauffeurs. We don’t know our cab drivers’ names. The less we know about each other the better. It’s simple: We try not to puke in their cabs, and in return, they try to get us to where we’re going. That’s about the extent of the familiarity there.

4) Your characters suck.

If only it was your obvious lack of familiarity with New York that was the problem with the show. Your characters blow. We don’t care about them. Ted isn’t even cute. How your writing could be so bad and unsurprising and mindless that you make Alyson Hannigan – Lily – into someone who’s no more than a nympho boor is beyond me, given her brilliance in “Buffy.” I wanted to scream as she and Robin shouted “HEY-Ohhhhh” at each other at the bar. WHO SAYS THAT?

You take the adorable Jason Segal and give him nothing to do and nothing to say, with no discernible personality. Ted – your MAIN CHARACTER – is the most annoying of the bunch. He looks like a bristly-haired potato and seems to constantly be broken out in a cold, clammy sweat. He’d get eaten alive in this city. The only one with a tiny bit of a spark is Barney, Doogie’s character, and you try our patience with him by having him repeatedly flog away at jokes that aren’t funny (“Legendary!”).

I doubt you can get your act together in time to keep this ship from capsizing. But if you let the crew out of the nameless bar and send them out into New York City, you should know that Houston Street is pronounced HOWston. Not Hyooston.

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