How I Met Your Mother is often compared to Friends. They’re both multi-camera sitcoms with a laughter track. They’re both set in New York City. They’re both about a group of friends that includes two college roommates, a married couple, an on/off couple, and a chauvinistic womanizer.
Along with those similarities come a lot of different ways the two shows can be compared. It’s not a black-and-white case of one show being clearly better than the other. Both shows have their own strengths and weaknesses. So, here are 5 Things Friends Did Better Than How I Met Your Mother (And 5 HIMYM Did Better).
10 Friends did better: The on/off romance
Both Friends and HIMYM have an on/off romance between two of its lead characters. Friends has Ross and Rachel, while HIMYM has Ted and Robin. Arguably, the TV viewing public was way more invested in Ross and Rachel than they were in Ted and Robin. Every Ross and Rachel development was a shocker: the Xerox girl, “Take thee Rachel,” the pregnancy.
Fans were hooked by their relationship right up to the end of the series. Meanwhile, Ted and Robin just kept breaking up and then kissing and getting back together and then breaking up again. It got to the point where fans would just roll their eyes.
9 HIMYM did better: Narrative structure
With its nonlinear narrative structures, jumping all over the place, and dovetailing story threads, HIMYM was always far better at telling stories than Friends. This can mostly be attributed to the fact that Friends was written for a live audience and filmed in front of a live audience, so it couldn’t really jump around and cut in and out of scenes in the way HIMYM does.
HIMYM was filmed without a live audience and then edited together and shown to audiences whose laughter was then recorded and played over the episodes. So, HIMYM was allowed more freedom. Still, this is undeniably one way it’s better.
8 Friends did better: Series finale
The series finale of How I Met Your Mother is infamously terrible, as the (SPOILER ALERT!) death of the titular mother is brushed over in a single line of voiceover narration after we’ve just spent the entire ninth season of the show getting to know her. Robin and Barney’s divorce is brushed over in a single scene as well, after we’ve just spent the entire ninth season waiting for their wedding.
Friends’ finale, on the other hand, is one of the best ever made. It might be a tad schmaltzy for some, but we get closure on all the characters’ journeys and we leave them in a happy place. That’s all fans ask for in a finale.
7 HIMYM did better: Character development
Sometimes in sitcoms, the characters don’t evolve between the first episode and the last episode. They stay exactly the same and never learn from their mistakes, because that’s the joke. But that only applies to sitcoms entirely bereft of drama with characters who are terrible people, like Seinfeld.
The problem with Friends is that it’s a show with drama and it wants you to think its characters are great people, but none of them change or mature throughout ten seasons. Joey’s the same lovable idiot, Phoebe’s the same hippie skeptic, and Rachel’s the same ditzy airhead (even though she did manage to land her dream job). Chandler got married and had kids, but he’s still Chandler. Even Ross, who is arguably a sociopath, does nothing to mature by the series finale. But in HIMYM, the characters do change. They’re constantly reassessing what they want in their lives and trying to be better people. Even Barney matures by the end when he has a baby.
6 Friends did better: Long-running storylines
Okay, the whole of How I Met Your Mother is technically a long-running storyline, beginning with older Ted telling his kids he’s going to tell them the story of how he met their mother and ending with (SPOILER ALERT!) her demise. But what Friends did better were multi-episode story arcs that spanned maybe ten or twenty episodes. How I Met Your Mother had a lot of those that didn’t land.
Fans who rewatch the series find themselves groaning at certain points in the show’s timeline – 'oh, great, it’s the Stella storyline' etc. There are only a few of those in Friends (the Emily storyline being one of them). Most of them – Phoebe’s pregnancy, Ross dating one of his students, the trip to Barbados etc. – work really well.
5 HIMYM did better: Supporting characters
The main six characters of Friends are among the most lovable in the history of television, but unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the supporting characters that populate the world around them. Gunther, Janice, Mr. Heckles, Estelle, Tag – Friends fans can pretend these characters are all hilarious, but really, they’re just annoying.
HIMYM, on the other hand, had an eclectic cast of supporting characters that could rival that of Seinfeld: Ranjit, Carl, Wendy the waitress, Bilson, Scooter, Patrice, the Captain. The list goes on. And Marshall’s parents were great and Lily’s dad played by Chris Elliott was a funny character.
4 Friends did better: Originality
One of the main things to consider in a debate of Friends v. HIMYM is that HIMYM ripped off Friends. Friends came out of the gate in the ‘90s as a fiercely original series about a bunch of twentysomethings in New York. While the premise was similar to Seinfeld, the characters and their relationships were all original.
HIMYM, meanwhile, did shamelessly steal a lot from Friends. It was like a Family Guy/Simpsons thing. The originality is a huge point in The Simpsons’ favor, and the same goes for Friends. Obviously, Friends gets points for being the one that’s not a rip-off.
3 HIMYM did better: Dramatic moments
Both Friends and HIMYM had dramatic moments to undercut their comedy, but HIMYM’s were much more effective. Remember the episode with a whole visual countdown leading up to Marshall finding out his dad had died? No one can watch that without crying, no matter how many times they’ve seen it before.
But a lot of the dramatic moments in Friends fall flat, either coming off as awkward or cheesy. HIMYM can really hit you in the feels when it wants to, like Lily finding out she was pregnant at the end of the worst day of Marshall’s life. The Barney’s father storyline with John Lithgow wasn’t that good, granted, but other than that, HIMYM’s drama is stronger.
2 Friends did better: Ensemble cast
Friends was always praised by critics for being the first true ensemble show, with no one character getting precedence over the others. Even when Jennifer Aniston became an A-list movie star, Rachel didn’t get any more screen time or storylines than characters played by actors who weren’t made as famous by the show, like Joey or Phoebe.
HIMYM, meanwhile, does definitely prefer certain characters over others. Ted is the lead, but the show doesn’t work as well as Friends that way. And there were stretches where characters would be absent entirely, like when Lily disappeared to San Francisco for a few episodes.
1 HIMYM did better: Unpredictability
Each week when a new episode of Friends aired, you pretty much knew what you were getting. Sometimes you’d be surprised by one of the characters proposing to their future spouse or Ross and Rachel getting back together for the umpteenth time, but that applies to maybe ten of the more than 200 episodes of the show.
Every episode more or less followed the same rigid format of an A-plot mixed in with a B-plot. But HIMYM was much more flexible in its format. One episode would have a sci-fi twist as Ted talks to future versions of himself and Barney. One would have Robin doing the narration, talking to the imaginary kids she just found out she’ll never be able to have. It was much less predictable than Friends.