How I Met Your Father and the Insufferable History of the Lovelorn Sitcom Dude

Nobody watched How I Met Your Mother Ted Radnor, the protagonist. They tuned in for Neil Patrick Harris’ Barney, the quippy playboy, or for the way that Jason Segel’s Marshall and Alyson Hannigan’s Lily doted on one another. Ted was a drip. He was miserable. He was frustrated at not finding love. He seemed entitled to a partner, which was worse.

Thankfully, the central character in Hulu’s long-awaited How I Met Your Mother spinoff, How I Met Your Father, is not only a woman (Hilary Duff’s Sophie), but a woman who remains unflaggingly optimistic about her prospect of finding love in the big city, even in the face of repeated rejection. Yet, this ensemble still has a Ted-like whiny Ted character. Christopher Lowell plays Jesse, Sophie’s new friend—and, based on the puppy-dog looks the two often exchange, inevitable love interest. Jesse revealed in episode one that he had proposed to his girlfriend in front of hundreds. But she declined. He has become bitter after the viral video of his incident went viral. His defining character trait in the first few episodes is “man dumped by woman.”
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Jesse isn’t the first self-confessed “good guy” to lose his virginity in a pilot episode of a sitcom. In fact, he’s the inheritor of a dated and sexist trope. He’s the latest in a long legacy of lovelorn men who are a tiresome stapleThese are the ensemble casts. The majority of comedy shows from the late 1990s to early 2010s can be categorized into two groups: hangout comedy and comedies. Riffs Friends Happy Endings (How I Met Your Mother) The New Girl) and workplace comedies (The Office, 30 Rock, Parks and Recreation). Many workplace comedians were full of zany people, but they weren’t romantic heroes, just supporting players. If the show falls into this category, there was probably a Ted.

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The formula was always the same: In the first episode of the show, a woman humiliates this guy in some public and devastating way, thus engendering the audience’s sympathy. This guy will then go on for the next few seasons, moping and dating. This guy tends to become so obsessed with his own pain, that he is oblivious of the feelings and thoughts of the women he meets. The audience is supposed to excuse his behavior because of the hurt he suffered, which established him as one of the “good guys” who actually wants to settle down (often in contrast to his lothario friend—think Joey on FriendsThis is in contrast with Ross and Barney. How I Met Your MotherTed juxtaposed with?

Yet despite his good guy status, he usually winds up cheating, lying or dumping the more serious of these girlfriends in pursuit of the “one true love,” a female friend in his 20-something friend group (see: Rachel Green and Robin Scherbatsky). They eventually end up together, and the dude’s faith in love is restored.

In the years since Ted and Ross made their marks on television, comedy writers have—to their credit—riffed on the character type and created more self-aware and evolved versions of this rather irksome romantic lead. But every version of hangout comedy seems to have clung onto the old sad joke. A 2022 comedy show that features a Ross-like character is something I was able to see. How I Met Your Father28 years ago, the launch of FriendsThis is very disheartening. The cultural obsession for reboots and remakes has held comedy writers to some very problematic formulas. Jesse’s mere existence warrants a look back at this toxic trope, as well as a plea to hold our sitcom dudes to higher standards.

Ross Friends: The text of the ur

Friends Serie TV 1997 1998 Saison 4 Jennifer Aniston David Schwimmer. Collection Christophel © Warner
Alamy—Credit: Collection Christophel / Alamy Stock PhotoFREINDS. Jennifer Aniston & David Schwimmer.

Ross was once an genuinely kind man. We never see Ross as that kind of person. The very first episode Friends, Ross’ wife Carol leaves him for a woman, and it seems to break him. Intriguingly, Ross seems more disturbed by the question of his masculinity that the divorce itself. Many people rewatched the footage. Friends in recent years have observed, Ross is not only homophobic, fretting over what Carol’s sexuality means for the sexuality of the son they share together, he’s outright bitter: He often makes disparaging remarks about Carol and, particularly, her partner Susan.

Ross is even prone to rage after his second wife Emily rejects him. (It’s worth noting that Emily leaves Ross after he says “I take thee Rachel,” instead of “I take thee Emily” at their wedding. It is understandable that she decided to end her short-lived marriage. If anyone should be angry about the incident, it’s Emily.)

Ross chases Rachel through all of this turmoil. Rachel repeatedly rejects Ross, but finally gives in. She’s rewarded with a boyfriend who yells at her for prioritizing her career, becomes possessive when he learns of Rachel’s friendship with a male coworker, and then cheats on her. We as the audience should be shocked when Rachel leaves Ross for his affair. Both will end up together. Ross, however, will be more sour than Rachel when Rachel becomes pregnant and refuses to marry him.

A casual study of the FriendsRoss will be the character most loved by fans for all of the reasons mentioned above. Each FriendsSome elements of the original are knocked off FriendsThere would be many characters: A girl nextdoor like Rachel, Phoebe as a friend and quirky seducer and Joey as a couple. However, the characters would go beyond these limits and evolve into their own unique creations. Puzzlingly, though, Ross has received a simple copy-paste treatment in so many of these iterations…which brings us to Ted.

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Ted How I Met Your Mother: The heart of the story

HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER, l-r: Josh Radnor, Cobie Smulders in 'Sunrise' (Season 9, Episode 17, aired Fe
Everett Collection—Copyright © ©CBS/Courtesy Everett Collection / Everett CollectionHOW I KNEW YOUR MOTHER. Josh Radnor and Cobie Skulders.

Debut in 2005 How I Met Your MotherThis may be the best. Friends copy-cat—just sub out a coffee shop for a bar, and throw in a high-concept voiceover. It was also the longest-running and most popular series, running nine seasons without interruption.

Curiously, How I Met Your MotherThe story was centered on Ted, the Ross-like figure. And while it eventually became a true ensemble show, Ted’s quest to find a wife always drove the plot. True, the central character on a sitcom is often its least-interesting person: Someone had to play the straight man to Neil Patrick Harris’ antics. But with the lovelorn dude’s story taking up the majority of screen time, rather than just 1/6th of every episode as it did on Friends, Ted’s self-pitying became more than just an annoyance. It was encouraging toxic behaviour.

This is the premiere episode How I Met Your MotherTed dreams up a wedding to his imagined bride. Robin Smulders, whom he later meets up with, takes him on a date. Ted creates a beautiful, romantic gesture for his new girlfriend, steals a French flute for her, and tells her that he loves them. Robin, understandably, freaks out because “I love you” is an insane thing to say to a person you’ve known for a few hours. Ted continues to try his best to convince him that he is a good husband and father. It still doesn’t happen. He mopes for the next nine seasons. We are supposed to sympathize with him.

Ted used to complain about his singledom to friends. He wanted to marry, not Barney. These cold and heartless women would not accept him, who were they? Don’t women wantWould you marry someone who simply wanted to do the right thing for them? But upon my rewatch of the show, “nice guy” Ted didn’t strike me as so nice. He broke up with a woman on her birthday—twice—cheated on his long-distance girlfriend and continued to pursue Robin even when she repeatedly told him to stop. Robin and Ted finally got together. Ted behaved jealously.

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Since then, How I Met Your MotherAfter the show went off air, jokes didn’t age well, and viewers pointed out how Barney was problematic and retrograde, as his misogyny largely defined him. Barney’s misogyny was a major theme of the show. Barney did not treat women the right way, as the show’s writers clearly stated. Upon rewatch, Ted’s toxicity proves more insidious because the series fails to interrogate the fact that he feels entitled to a girlfriend and possessive of Robin in particular. The show even conjured up and then killed off a wife for Ted so he could have even more reason to mope and—conveniently—his happy ending with Robin, a move that irked fans even as it was happening. Women were disposable and interchangeable, all for the sake of Ted’s happiness.

Slow improvements on the trope

HAPPY ENDINGS, (from left): Elisha Cuthbert, Zachary Knighton, 'Cazsh Dummy Spillionaires', (Season
Everett Collection—Copyright © ©ABC/Courtesy Everett Collection / Everett CollectionHAPPY ENDINGS. Elisha Cuthbert, Zachary Knighton

Sitcom writers will be able to make a living writing sitcoms by 2011. Friends-The series’s origin story was mocked by the like-minded shows on air. There’s perhaps no more irreverent hangout sitcom than Have a happy endingA self-conscious series that was constantly redefining the conventions of comedy. At one point, the show’s characters even debate which of them is which Friends character. The Ross equivalent is obviously Dave (Zachary Knighton), the friend left at the altar by his fiancée Alex (Elisha Cuthbert) for a dude who scooted into the ceremony on roller skates. But unlike Friends Oder How I Met Your Mother It was before that. Have a happy ending doesn’t try to pretend that Dave’s heartbreak is a compelling plot point. It embraces that Dave and Alex are terrible, annoying friends. In Dave’s post-breakup period, he takes up guitar, grows a beard, and friends make fun of him.

The New GirlThe same year’s premiere of a new series called, wisely turned the script. It’s a woman, Zooey Deschanel’s Jess, who discovers her partner cheating on her at the beginning of the series and is forced to start a new chapter of her life. But instead of spending season after season bemoaning her bad luck—the relationship grieving is condensed into one episode of watching Dirty Dancing on a loop—Jess largely remains hopeful that she will find love. Nick is her closest friend and she finds love. The New Girlmust be a Ted. Nick also gets dumped in episode one of this series. But his character is defined more through his ineptitude than by his sadness. The two go through the typical will-they-or-won’t-they plot points, accidentally sabotaging their relationships with other people because they’re in love with one another. The affection, jealousy, immaturity, and love they have for one another is, at least, mutual. They’re both a mess in their own ways, and eventually they’re a mess together, a refreshing change from the pathetic dude pursuing the seemingly perfect girl.

SCROTAL RECALL, (aka LOVESICK), (from left): Antonia Thomas, Johnny Flynn, Daniel Ings, (Season 1,
Everett Collection—©Netflix/Courtesy Everett CollectionLOVESICK. Antonia Tom, Johnny Flynn, and Daniel Ings.

British television series, The Brilliant British Series is the one that directly targets the toxicity of this trope. LovesickWhere is it? Emma. Johnny Flynn is the star who got his start. The series centers on Flynn’s Dylan, who learns he got an STI and must revisit all his past partners in order to report the news. In doing so, he reviews what went wrong in each relationship and why he’s been unable to find love. In the first episode, Dylan thinks back to the time he got dumped at a friend’s wedding. He was such a pathetic pushover, he even gave up the hotel room he’s splitting with his girlfriend so she can have sex with someone she picked up at the reception, which is such a Ross move.

Each episode recalls Dylan’s relationship with a different ex-lover. Dylan discovers through reminiscing on past love affairs that Ross was a man who held candles for Evie.Antonia Laura Thomas). Evie and Dylan are both guilty of destroying their personal relationships, admitting to having feelings for each other. Dylan isn’t like Ted and Ross, who suffer the consequences of their emotional indiscretions. In most shows, a betrayed ex would disappear, making way for the main couple’s happily ever after in the final episode. I won’t spoil the series, but Dylan and Evie’s path to one another is not simple or totally celebratory.

Jesse on How I Met Your Father: Let’s put the lovelorn guy to bed

How I Met Your Father
Patrick Wymore—HuluHilary Duff and Chris Lowell are in How I Met Your Father

How I Met Your Father feels retro for a show debuting in 2022—and not just because its breathless references to dating apps and ring lights read like the writers’ room was playing zeitgeist bingo. For fans of old episodes, the first few episodes contain Easter Eggs. The show even has a laugh track, a corny feature that’s fallen out of favor in the modern comedy landscape.

So I can’t help but approach Jesse, our latest iteration of the dumped dude, with skepticism. He certainly doesn’t seem as bitter or jealous as, say, Ted. Ross is also not as mad as Ross. But, like his predecessors, he’s by far the least interesting part of the ensemble of characters. I found myself longing to learn more about Sophie’s callous roommate, her wealthy British boyfriend or Jesse’s sister, out on the prowl after divorcing her wife. I had little patience for Jesse’s musings on how his ruined proposal proves love is doomed. After a few episodes, Jesse’s character has evolved very little beyond “the bummer.” It takes several episodes for sitcom writers to nail the chemistry in an ensemble cast, and I want more for Jesse than acting as the pessimist to Zoey’s optimist. But, according to decades of television history, opposites attract, so I’m not holding out hope.

It’s high time the writers behind these sitcoms rethink the long-held assumption that being dumped is an interesting or worthy personality trait on which to hang a character. Could a breakup be a relatable form of adversity to drive a storyline or character’s arc toward a more enlightened, fulfilled version of themself? Sure! However, it has been like this for almost a decade. The New Girl Lovesick We now have more sophisticated versions of characters who are looking for meaning relationships. The age of men comedy characters, such as Ron Swanson, Johnny Rose, and Ted Lasso (all of whom are hilarious) has brought us more sophisticated versions of single characters seeking meaningful relationships. Nearly all men are conscious of rejecting toxic masculinity, it’s time to retire the lovelorn sitcom dude. His love interests deserve it.


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