I noticed something during the penultimate episode of How I Met Your Mother (HIMYM) which (a) will prove what a religion geek I can be even when watching television, and (b) prompted me to write this post. Last Monday, during three pivotal scenes, pictures of Jesus were displayed in the background – I re-watched the episode recently to be sure. On the wall in the bridal suite where Robin is talking with Ted about being tempted to leave Barney at the altar and run away with him, hangs a portrait of Jesus praying in the Garden of Gethsemane. In the next scene Ted is in the hallway holding a locket Robin had been looking for, the one she’d hoped would be a sign of who she ought to marry (it’s a long story). On the wall behind Ted is a picture of Jesus, the Good Shepherd holding a lamb. Later, and maybe the one that is intended just for humor, in Barney’s Groom Suite is a picture of DaVinci’s Last Supper – perhaps an allusion to Barney the playboy’s legend—wait-for-it—dary string of one night stands coming to an end. I’m not sure what (if anything) the writers/directors were going for with use of the religious imagery, but through the years of watching HIMYM I have been impressed with what they have been doing with this show.
All this reminded me once again that while this show has been crude and sexist at times, there has also been this streak of goodness in it. We Christians are good at pointing out what is wrong with things – we have quite a reputation for doing that – but I think we have a higher calling to celebrate what is good. As the Apostle Paul puts it in Philippians 4:8, “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things” (NRSV). On the day when Ted will finally tells us how he met his wife and the mother of his children, I wanted to take a moment to celebrate something right about How I Met Your Mother.
Five years ago, I became a fan of How I Met Your Mother. I had seen a couple of episodes from the first couple of seasons and laughed along with Barney, but when Marshall met Lily at the airport with the marching band, I began watching every week. As the episode began, Marshall and Lily had convinced themselves that their relationship should have evolved beyond silly, little things, like meeting at the airport after one of them had been on a trip. They could just meet up at home at the end of the day like a more mature couple. In the end, they decide the little things matter, and vow to continue them – hence the marching band at the airport. (When Googling this, I found out I share this favorite moment with Alyson Hannigan, the actress who plays Lily.)
Since then I have been impressed with the way HIMYM has portrayed marriage. Yes, I know there is a lot of sexist, over-the-top, casual sex stuff in the show, but the ultimate view of love and marriage is Lily and Marshall, who are deeply committed to one another. Ted often acknowledges his quest for a wife, has been motivated by wanting what they have, a love and commitment to last a lifetime.
In Monday night’s next to last episode this theme continued. When most shows get sappy and sentimental about weddings, the writers of HIMYM instead instead chose to challenge the whole idea of lovey-dovey wedding vows. According to Barney, Lily and Marshall have broken every one of the sweet vows they made on their wedding day. In a warm, funny scene, Marshall takes Lily to the church where Barney and Robin’s wedding will be in a few hours, and there at the altar updates his vows with Lily. Together they make more realistic promises toward one another. Again, all of this happens in a church, which for the writers was not necessary, but I believe something is going on here.
Marriage is held in very high regard by HIMYM. Lily and Marshall are the ideal, Ted wants is so badly the show is named for his quest, and Barney is transformed from shallow playboy to madly in love. HIMYM never takes marriage lightly. Never is there any implication that these marriages are temporary. Time and again, the characters on the show value their spouses and relationships – a message our culture, and the young people who have contributed to this show’s ratings, need so desperately to see.
Which leads me to a final point. As I look forward to the wrapping up of the series tonight, I have a line from the end of the next-to-last episode echoing in my ears. As we watch Barney and Robin kiss and process down the aisle as a newly married couple, present day Ted says to his kids, “love’s the best thing we do.” As a Christian, it is really hard to argue with that.