Thursday, June 17, 2010

My Character Did WHAT?! Notes on Character Consistency

You might remember, oh dearest blog readers, that I've been watching How I Met Your Mother recently. (You might need reminding that, since I don't have cable, I generally catch on to shows about five years after everyone else realizes that they're awesome.) And although I generally think the show is totally amazing (Jason Segel? NPH? Kissing?), I do think they have some characterization issues they need to sort out. Specifically, with the Ted character, and how his adult narration is totally inconsistent.

The other night, I watched the season 5 episode, "Robin 101." In it, Barney gives Ted the finger by pulling the classic, "Is this loud enough? Want me to turn it up for you?" gag. But adult Ted, who's narrating the story, doesn't tell his kids that Barney gave him the finger. He says Barney gave him a thumbs-up, presumably to protect his kids from the evilness that is The Middle Finger (but more likely because you can't give someone the finger on CBS).

In another season 5 episode, "Bagpipes," adult Ted tells his kids about how he can never concentrate because his upstairs neighbors are always playing the bagpipes very loudly. But really, "playing the bagpipes" is a euphemism for having sex very loudly. Again, the way adult Ted tells his kids the story, it's clear he's using the substitution in order to protect his kids, and he catches himself just in time.

Another example is in an episode (I think this one's from season 4) where Ted is discussing the Lethal Weapon movies. He mentions the classic Roger Murtaugh line, "I'm too old for this...stuff." Because the real line (which involves a different s-word that I'm not putting on this blog today because I know for a fact that I have underage readers) is, apparently, offensive to his kids.

And all of that is great. It shows that adult Ted cares about protecting his kids, and is a bit of a fussy old dad. Better yet, it totally jives with who young Ted is, because young Ted is definitely on track to be a bit of a fussy old dad.

Except for one, teeny, tiny detail.

The entire show is built on the premise that Ted is telling these stories to his kids. In fact, the first word in almost every episode is "Kids," reminding us that we're still in story mode, and that these are still flashbacks. But not every episode has a bagpipe euphemism to make it more kid-friendly. In fact, there was one episode that was almost entirely about Barney meeting his 200th conquest - Barney, who adult Ted calls "Uncle Barney," so it's obvious that the kids still know who he is. Another episode revolved around the various methods and tricks Barney uses to pick girls up at bars. Still other episodes mention how Ted and Co. get drunk, do beer bongs, drink shots, have promiscuous sex, and are frequently irresponsible.

Maybe the euphemisms are unspoken, and adult Ted is actually always using them. But maybe there's actually some inconsistency going on here. Would Ted (who is probably, let's face it, a fuddy old dad much like the character formerly played by the man who voices him) really expose his sweet little kids to all this sex, beer, and discussion of architectural porn?

No. It's just not consistent to his character. It's not consistent with his young character, and it's not consistent with the behaviors he sometimes exhibits when he randomly chooses to censor himself when it's convenient for the network.  

Of course, I totally understand that it just makes for better TV to have Ted censor himself sometimes and not others. And I still think the show is hilarious. But for character-development purposes, this makes no sense. When you're writing, you want your character to be as consistent as possible. Barring any growth your characters undergo, the decisions they make and the actions they take need to make sense to who they are as a person, and what they would do needs to be true to who they are. Don't have them say on one page that they're a devout Catholic, then in the next chapter say GD when they stub their toe. Don't say they're vegan, then put them in leather pumps for their college acceptance interviews. And don't have them claim to be protective one second if the next they're going to throw caution to the wind and talk about how Aunt Lilly has a stripper doppelganger.


  1. This post needs less Ted and more Jason Segel. ;-)

  2. Well, since Jason Segel does no wrong, obviously I would never write a post about how he's flawed as a character. But did you click on that kissing link?? It's the outtake of Barney and Marshall kissing. ;)

  3. I am highly addicted to this show (any news on the next season? Come on, just a hint. I'm just gonna taste, I swear. No, no, I'll be fine! I can control it if I want to!! Yes I can!!! Any news? Please?!?).

    That being said, I can understand your irritation with the inconsistency. I guess it matters less with a television show (that you usually watch over a longer period of time) than in a book (which is generally read in one go). I'm currently trying to write a character that changes a lot during the story - I'm aiming for character development, but I fear I'll end up with inconsistency and that she comes off as fairly unsympathetic (in the beginning). It's a difficult balance!


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