How I Met Your Mother and The Big Bang Theory are both titans of the pre-streaming sitcom era, but which is actually the better comedy?
The Big Bang Theory and How I Met Your Mother are among the most popular sitcoms of the 21st century, representatives of a dying breed of hit network sitcoms that find new life in second-run syndication. In an era of direct-to-streaming shows, they are already throwbacks to another time. But their slightly dated nature is also testament to their monumental success. After all, what streaming comedy has gone nine — or, in the case of Big Bang Theory — 12 seasons? These older shows are simply built different, truly leaning into the episodic nature of sitcoms to build a massive library of content.
However, that backlog can be intimidating when trying to choose which series to devote hours (and hours) to watching. Diving into either The Big Bang Theory or How I Met Your Mother is a daunting commitment, and it can often be disheartening to hear that it only really gets good several seasons into its run. Each brings its own strengths and weaknesses to the table, and even with the highly subjective nature of comedy, it’s possible to pick out trends and patterns. Let’s break down each show, and figure out which one is more likely to be appealing to prospective fans.
Why How I Met Your Mother Is Better Than The Big Bang Theory
How I Met Your Mother is good for the same reason The Princess Bride is good. That sounds like an odd thing to say, but both stories share a remarkable amount of DNA. The Princess Bride is about a man telling a story to his grandson; How I Met Your Mother is about the main character, Ted, telling his kids the story of how he met his wife. This framing structure allows both to play around with how the events within are depicted. When watching How I Met Your Mother, fans aren’t seeing events play out as they actually occurred; they’re being filtered through Ted’s story, which can jump around in time or else is told by an unreliable narrator.
That permits the writers to flex their storytelling chops in a way that’s not present in most comedies. Ted’s stories are easily comparable to other sitcoms, depicting the episodic adventures of a tightly knit group of friends. But episodes will more often than not bear a unique structure. The Season 9 episode “How Your Mother Met Me” depicts events from the perspective of the titular mother, while “Game Night” features stories within the story as each friend recounts the most embarrassing moment of his or her life. How I Met Your Mother is unabashedly ambitious, and its biggest successes are spectacular to behold.
Why The Big Bang Theory Is Better Than How I Met Your Mother
In contrast, The Big Bang Theory is a much more grounded. It’s initially the story of two Caltech physicists who move across the hall from a classic “girl next door.” Shenanigans ensue. The show also heavily trades on the escalating popularity of “nerd culture,” with its characters acting as conduits to explore comic books, video games and science fiction. While it often only uses the surface trappings of such properties, its initial seasons are a refreshing change from toxic depictions of non-vulnerable masculinity.
The Big Bang Theory also benefits heavily from its staying power: The show stretched on for three more seasons than How I Met Your Mother, and for good reason. The latter show withered on the vine in its final season, bombing especially hard with its almost universally reviled finale. Diehard fans might be willing to look past that, and episodic shows are less reliant on an overall arc, but the ending is still a part of the story. The Big Bang Theory stayed more or less constant throughout its run, adding new characters and only growing more steady.
BBT Vs. HIMYM: Which Modern Sitcom Really Is Better?
Which show is “better” will always be a matter of individual preference, but How I Met Your Mother‘s willingness to take big swings and miss is more deserving of praise than The Big Bang Theory‘s bland popularity. It doesn’t help that the latter show often took potshots at the very “nerd culture” it was claiming to champion. While no group is sacrosanct and immune to a well-crafted joke, The Big Bang Theory often felt like it was laughing at nerds instead of laughing with them. In contrast, How I Met Your Mother always feels like it’s inviting the audience into Ted’s life. His heartwarming narration elevates what would otherwise be a fairly typical show into a beautiful journey through a single life of love and heartbreak.
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