Column: Why are TV’s two big fantasy shows so epically humorless? (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
When you think about TV, you probably don’t think about The Big Bang Theory and How I Met Your Mother. Neither one is a show on its own. They’re an extension of everything that’s come before them, and a means of bringing a lot of different strands of thought together to create something unique—something both wildly silly and wildly intelligent. But for all their differences, The Big Bang Theory and How I Met Your Mother are fundamentally, in large part, the same show: They’re comedy-drama shows whose subject matter is built out of the show’s own absurdities.
I’ve already written about how some TV shows can seem to go against their own logic. I argued that Lost often seemed to be a critique of the very concept of time on television. I said that The West Wing often seemed to be a commentary on the concept of the presidency itself—how easy it is to run for office in the age of cable news, while also criticizing the fact that office is so much more popular now. These shows were, in short, an attack on the way television is made. They were, by definition, trying to take a whole show and smash it into pieces.
The Big Bang was built that way, too. The show’s absurdity, while often entertaining, was meant to be the very last word on the subject it was exploring. If you didn’t know the show was supposed to be absurd when it was first introduced, you now have to watch it all the way through to hear it. (That’s why I’ve decided to call it “The Big Bang”—it’s almost like a TV show that you need to watch.) How I Met Your Mother is no different. It’s also built that way, to be honest. How I Met Your Mother just has to be weird. That’s not a bad place to start.
But if you’re actually interested in thinking about television and its problems, there is a problem with the Big Bang and How I Met Your Mother: At their core, both of them are based fundamentally on the premise of one person who has just found out that