Although I am a few years too late, I have just started binge watching “How I Met Your Mother.” Having friends who rave on and on about this show has finally pushed me to the point at which I need to understand what they are talking about. And in watching the show, I see many parallels to the way in which “Friends” was developed. Both shows portray the lives of a group of friends in their mid-twenties, and how they cope with the reality of life. In watching these two shows, I realize that sitcoms have kind of got it right in terms of portrayal of female characters.
Television in many ways lends way to a more accurate portrayal of life. While a movie can play with time a lot more in terms of manipulating it, and also having a very centered plot and focus, life is more like television. We don’t have to fit entire phases in our life into 2 hours. 30 minutes each week, and in the case of “HIMYM” and “Friends”, over eight years to develop is not quite how life works, but it sure is a lot closer. Because of this time allotted for character development, the female characters have just as much an important role as the men do in these shows.
One of the reasons for these well-developed female characters is that they are shown communicating with men in non-romantic and non-sexual settings. Most sitcoms have male and female characters interacting for different reasons than wanting to pursue the opposite general romantically and sexually. While both shows do portray these relationships, there are other focuses on the stories of the main characters as well.
In film, the objective of each character has to be more focused in the smaller time frame. If the main character, male or female is looking for a love interest, almost every scene is about this. While in reality it may seem like we focus so heavily on dating, there are other aspects of life as well that film does not get the chance to portray. Take Ted Mosby in “How I Met Your Mother.” The entire show centers around him looking for his future wife, but not every plot line revolves around this. Other characters have their own problems with romance as well, but they also struggle with their careers, money, moving, etc. The show does not need every scene to be about Ted finding love because that is not what actual life is like. Whereas a movie like “The 40 Year Old Virgin” has a similar premise in a man trying to find a significant other (although for the purpose of sex as opposed to marriage) and because it is a film medium, every scene has to focus on that. That sitcoms do not have this time limitation makes them easier for people to connect to the characters, and the characters themselves to develop.
This is exactly why some of the most well developed female characters that are so relatable come from a sitcom. Not necessarily all forms of television, but sitcoms in specific give way for female characters to have time to develop just like the male characters in addition to being able to actually have developed relationships with male characters outside of the bedroom. The main cast of “Friends” is three women and three men, and there is no one main protagonist. One episode may focus on Rachel over Joey, and the other vice versa. If one of the male characters, such as Chandler wants to find a significant other, the other female characters do not have to revolve around this plot line because they exist on their own. Similarly, if one of the female characters, such as Rachel is dating someone, the other female characters do not have to exist just to give her advice with the guy. In the case of “Friends” the medium of the sitcom allows each character to have his or her own life, resulting in each character being as equally strong and developed, even the female characters.
“How I Met Your Mother” has somewhat of a protagonist in that the show is about Ted Mosby telling the story of how he met his wife. Even though the plot revolves around him wanting to find a female character to marry, the other characters lead their own lives as well. Additionally, the two female characters, Lily and Robin have their own developed stories. Robin struggles with problems at work in addition to dating problems of her own. Lily and Marshall are a strong married couple that play off of each other comedically and balance each other in their relationship. One character is not funnier than the other, in both their marriage and the group dynamic in general. These characters interact realistically because with a little suspension of disbelief for comedic purposes, they live realistic lives.
There are dozens upon dozens other sitcoms that have developed female characters, but these two shows have come up repeatedly in conversation because of their strong characters. I have friends who will ask me what episode I am watching of “HIMYM” and tell me one of the jokes in the episode because it was so memorable. Sitcoms, while playing for jokes against reality sometimes, do portray life in somewhat of an accurate way because their characters are all developed so thoroughly.