Redeeming Ted Mosby
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Redeeming Ted Mosby

By Steven Lloyd Wilson | How I Met Your Mother | March 12, 2014 | Comments ()

Thumbnail image for Ted-Mosby-josh-radnor-2719367-1024-768-650x487.jpg

It’s been pointed out repeatedly that Ted Mosby, nominal protagonist of How I Met Your Mother is the least likable person on the entire show, since at least the third or fourth season. He consistently makes terrible decisions, ones we simply groan at, and ones we simply can’t forgive him for (like the fifteenth time he tries to win Robin back). He is an infuriating character.

But we also need to remember that he is a demonstrably unreliable narrator. On occasion he mixes stories up entirely, shifting them forward or backward entire seasons, having to correct himself as he’s telling the story. And add to this one more element: this is not a story that he is telling to the fourth wall, not just some bit of first person perspective forced onto the show. The decision was made from the very beginning to have him explicitly be telling this story to his teenaged kids. This frame isn’t just a conceit, it’s to set up the motivation for these tales in the first place. Because we change our stories based on who our audience is, even unconsciously.

This is put right in our faces from the very beginning with the substitution of “sandwiches” every time someone is smoking pot. On one level this is just a joke, a funny hang-up he has with what he wants to talk to his kids about. But on a second level, it’s a nudge at us to remember that the story changes with the storyteller. And Ted over and over again engages in dramatic over-exaggeration of the adventures of he and his friends.

We can surmise by reading between the lines that Ted is a genuinely sweet and good guy. But in his own stories about his past, to his children, he consistently displays himself as making terrible decisions and sort of being a douchebag for long swathes of the story. You know what assholes do when they tell stories? They make themselves the center and exaggerate everything they did (exhibit A: everything Barney ever says). What do good guys do? They put themselves to the side. Ted is not the main character or even most sympathetic character in his own stories exactly because he’s a good guy who is worth listening to. And what do good guys with a side helping of humility do? They exaggerate everything they ever did wrong. Especially if they are trying to share their past with someone who they care about.

Ted might be insufferable for big parts of the story, but it’s never done with a celebratory note, he is actually intentionally describing himself as insufferable to his children. That’s what people, good people at least, do in their moments of confession. Teddy Westside might be insufferable, but the Ted telling this story? He is warning his children off of all his mistakes, of all the ways he screwed up his life, so that maybe they can avoid those same missteps.

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Comments Are Welcome, Bigots and Trolls Are Not

  • Bob Genghis Khan

    Know what? Never seen an episode, never read a synopsis...NO clue what this show is about, what the story is, who does what or who loves who. But I'll confidently say, based on the Internet, friends who watch, and that pic above, I hate this asshole. Strangely, this feels informed.

    Redeem Denied!

  • Katylalala

    I like this, and it's something I hadn't considered before. Of course we tell our stories differently depending on the audience, so it makes sense for a goofy dad-joke telling kind of guy to exaggerate his douchiness. I've always liked Ted and giggled at his pretentious shit, but I like this reasoning.

  • Cree83

    Whatever. I know I'm in the minority being a Ted apologist, but calling Ted the least likable person in a group that includes a sociopath whose behavior towards women probably crosses the line into rape by fraud in some jurisdictions?

  • The Kitastrophe

    Nope. He's a creepy asshole.

  • Mrs. Julien

    Who had the question about the slap bet?

    The Eight Slaps are a series of slaps that Marshall Eriksen can give out to Barney Stinson from the episode Slap Bet to eternity. Originally, only five slaps were able to be issued, but in exchange for not wearing the Ducky Tie, Marshall got three extra slaps in Disaster Averted. So far, seven slaps have been issued.


    After the slap earlier this season, Marshall said "one more". If you follow the link, they have a gif sequence of all the slaps. I always hoped the final slap would be the last moment of the series.

  • My hopes are that either a. the final slap is Marshall's wedding gift to Robin or b. when Barney dies, Marshall slaps him back to life.

  • LwoodPDowd

    We agree, Barney dies.

  • Callan

    I have this feeling that Barney will panic before going down the aisle and Marshall will unselfishly use his last slap to bring Barney back to his senses. Considering how they built up the second to last slap, I have this feeling that the last one will be more low-key and will be done in the spirit of friendship.

  • Mrs. Julien

    You are a scholar, literally, as I recall, and a gentleman.

  • Commenter1

    The worst character on the show is Lily, hands down. What a fucking sociopath.

  • chanohack

    Lilly is not a sociopath for the same reason that I'm not: because she doesn't want to be and tries not to be a person who hurts other people, because she doesn't want her loved ones to suffer.

    (As far as I can tell, sociopathy [or at least narcissism] runs in my family. It scares the absolute shit out of me. I have to remind myself that wanting and trying to be a good person is a really good sign.)

  • Long_Pig_Tailor

    If you're worried you might be a sociopath, I think that's proof you're not a sociopath. It doesn't do a lot to assuage fears of narcissism, but the wanting to be a good person part is, I think, a great sign.

  • Mrs. Julien

    As opposed to the guy who spent umpteen seasons seeking out and preying on women in ever more complex schemes and desperation in an effort to get laid.


  • ZbornakSyndrome

    That's one of the biggest reasons I don't think I could be friends with the group.

    "Sure, Barney's kind of a date rapist, but what are you gonna do?" is a pretty gross attitude for all of them to have.

    Seriously, how can Lily stand to be near him? And how can Robin marry someone like that?

  • He also once confessed that he had maybe sold a woman. Even if he's somehow managed to navigate a life where he constantly preys on drunk women without ever crossing the line into becoming a rapist, there's no way that woman's story ends well.

  • Mrs. Julien

    Which, for me, brings this all back to the fact that this is a sitcom that has gone on for a very long time and that in that process the characters always, inevitably, become parodies of themselves (e.g. Cheers, Will and Grace) and that it is ridiculous to be attempting a serious character discussion about these people.

  • The 'sold a woman' confession was clear back in the third season, though. This was before they had really deeply descended into self-parody. Really, lots of things we learned about Barney in that episode makes him pretty hard to redeem.

    I find Barney entertaining as hell, but I'm right with anyone who's a little disturbed when Lily gets called the most reprehensible character or whatever. She's done some awful shit, but she also tends to get caught and called on her shit.

    It's not so much that I have a problem with her or any of the rest of them being called out. I guess I was just agreeing that it's weird that the guy who tricked a woman into sleeping with him by convincing her she had his dead wife's kidney (maybe from the same episode, but also season 3) gets a pass because he's funny.

  • Sara_Tonin00

    Yeah.....Barney has pretty much set himself up as just shy of a date rapist.

  • Commenter1

    I can't remember enough of the plot points, but I've seen most of the episodes and have always despised her. Lily does not get enough flak. Yeah, Barney is a stupid shell of a character, but at least he owns it and at least it's for comic relief.

  • Commenter1

    Has anyone seen a neutral evil/good/evil thing for HIMYM? I'm not sure how I would fill it out. Bernice true neutral? : )

  • Mrs. Julien

    I have never understood the Lily derision. I think it's a double-standard. Barney is awful, but it's amusing, so who cares?

  • Cree83

    Barney is an objectively awful person, but I still get why people don't like Lily. She's nowhere near as bad as Barney is, but she's still a very irritating, controlling, know-it-all. It's weird that I love this show, even though Marshall and Ted (yes, I love Ted), are the only characters I would want to spend any time with. Robin comes off as a bit of a narcissist with anger problems. Poor Patrice!

  • Mrs. Julien


  • Long_Pig_Tailor

    Never stops being funny.

  • Berry

    I don't hate Lily, but I did want to shake her pretty hard during the whole credit card debt debacle. I just couldn't take her whining over the fact that she had to sell some of her clothes. It was just so immature and selfish that it got on my nervous. Other than that, can't remember hating her. And yes, Barney has done things that are equally reprehensible, if not more.

  • On the other hand, at least she took some action by selling her clothes (cough, cough, SATC and Carrie's apartment loan from Charlotte).

  • duckandcover

    Carrie had to get rid of her clothes or sell them in order to make room for Aidan's stuff, since they were buying the apartment next door and the renter wasn't moving out for 30 days.

    The apartment loan was so terrible, though. It was meant to look like Charlotte was finally setting herself free from her horrible marriage to Trey (her engagement ring was the loan), but it just looked like she was pressured into it by Carrie. I was disappointed by both in that episode, tbh.

  • Long_Pig_Tailor

    I think a part of the issues may be that Lily's awfulness, or the most extreme instances of her awfulness, have tended not to be played for amusement, but for the hell they wreak on her and Marshall's lives. Which is very arguably a double standard, but more one the writers themselves have created and less one the viewers have constructed.

    Still, none of them are actually sociopaths. Barney's pretty narcissistic, but actually still a decent person (and to the extent it mitigates his behavior, the actual nights women spend with him appear to be pleasurable at least in the moment so he's presumably not genuinely using/viewing them as objects). Lily's almost certainly sort of unhinged in a few ways, but still kind of awesome at the end of the day. And we all know Ted would totally eat dinner at Hannibal Lecter's house even knowing the dude's a cannibal, but we still basically like him. Marshall, of course, is kind of basically perfect which is actually pretty irritating.

  • Callan

    I think Marshall's likeability is due to A) Jason Segel's performance, and B) Marshall being written as a loveable manchild, whereas Lily is written as a meddlesome wet blanket. Marshall has done some pretty messed up things, but he doesn't catch any flak for them:

    1. Never once defended Lily to his mother, even though Mrs. Eriksen has been downright hostile and rude towards Lily.

    2. Although Marshall is aware that Mickey is a terrible father and Lily is estranged from him, he still invites Mickey to Thanksgiving dinner, against Lily's wishes.

    3. Lies to Lily about everything at work being fine. We later find out that Marshall has been going to work every day and basically doing nothing because the firm is on the verge of getting shut down.

    4. Purposely avoids telling his own mother that he and Lily are moving to Italy, even though they were days away from going and all their stuff had been packed.

    5. Accepts the judgeship without consulting Lily. Keep in mind that he was the one who pushed Lily to take the job in Italy in the first place. Marshall claims he had no time to call her. Are we really expected to believe that any reasonable employer wouldn't give Marshall an hour to talk it over with his wife, especially when you consider that he was in Minnesota and she was in NY at the time? Marshall asks the guy on the phone if he can be a judge via Skype, but not if he can have a few minutes to consult with his wife.

    6. Goes to great lengths to hide that he accepted the judgeship from Lily. His mom and brother know before Lily does, which is pretty messed up.

    7. When confronted about taking the judgeship, Marshall brings up a whole bunch of unresolved feelings about Lily breaking off their engagement and going to San Francisco. Lily did leave herself open to that insult when she called him selfish, but if Marshall was really that insecure about their relationship, shouldn't he have discussed this with her before they got married and had a kid? Also, accusing your wife of considering your marriage and child to be consolation prizes? That's downright evil.

    8. In the most recent episode, immediately assuming Lily was cheating on him and punching her employer in the face.

    9. Purposely omitting that Jenkins was female, and then flirting with Jenkins to make Lily jealous.

    10. In the same episode, Marshall berates Lily into telling him whether she considers herself the reacher or the settler in the relationship. When he finally badgers her into answering "settler," he gets pissed off at her and then tries to make her jealous of Jenkins.

    Lily has done some messed up shit (specifically sabotaging Ted's relationships and hiding her credit card debt), but I find it hilarious that people act like Marshall is some innocent victim of Lily's schemes.

  • Sara_Tonin00

    It's totally a double-standard. The other day when DR wrote about Hannah from girls as a "depsicable monster" or some such I essentially asked what the terms were reserved for the actual serial killers on the shows Pajibites watch. But they are *charming* serial killers, so it's all good.

  • Commenter1

    There are plenty of other outlets to discuss Girls and how 'brave' all of those involved are for portraying atrocious characterse. Downvote

  • Sara_Tonin00

    I'm not looking to get into a discussion of Girls or its braveness here. I was just pointing out a similar instance where the comments rolled out the same way. Girls was a specific; Lily is a specific; the general is the tendency towards intense dislike for a female character because she isn't nice or perfect all the time.

  • Commenter1

    Part of it is that, her character is not funny at all, especially with the forced 'raunchiness' they have her throw around when her subplots get too stale (hers are always the woooorst catchphrases). The other factor is that Marshall is incredibly loveable, so it's difficult to give her any slack when she's busy ruining the poor guy's life. That's a big one for me. She's the girl you hope your best friend never marries cause you know she will destroy him. Fair or not, that's who she embodies for a lot of us I think.

  • mzbitca

    Marshall, the man who has quit several jobs without consulting his wife, the man who has allowed his intrusive parents into their marriage. the man who took a job without telling her, then attempted to get her drunk and bang her so that she wouldn't get mad at him. Lily's not perfect, but Marshall has done some shitty stuff in the past.

  • Mrs. Julien

    I like Ted and have never understood the vitriol. Every character on the show is an exaggeration balanced against a sweetness-granting sincerity and that's the fun of it.

  • ZbornakSyndrome

    Honestly, I enjoy the show, but I doubt I could be friends with any of them. Well, maybe the mother.

  • AsdffAnon

    I think you give the writers too much credit.

  • barlowjk

    Yeah, because why would someone who has created a bunch of fictional characters and then spent nine years writing about them give any thought to those characters' motivations?

  • Long held theory: everyone hates Ted because he's the most realistic character. We all know a Ted and some have been the Ted.

  • ZbornakSyndrome

    I spend my life fighting my inner Ted. ESPECIALLY when someone uses a word incorrectly or fails to conjugate a verb properly.

    But that doesn't mean that I want to hear the worst parts of my personality narrating a story.

  • Wrestling Fan

    When people misuse AND mispronounce 'literally' at the same time*, it takes all my effort to keep my Inner Ted from coming out.

    *e.g., "I lit-rilly killed him at bowling last night"

  • Guest


  • Mrs. Julien

    [fist raised in solidarity]

  • Tinkerville

    Yes! I use this argument constantly and always get shut down. I have no problem admitting I can be a lot like Ted sometimes and that's why I like him. He's flawed, he's sometimes an asshole, and he's the most human.

  • kimk

    I think Ted is the most likable of the main characters. This doesn't say much, b/c he is being compared to a borderline sociopath (Lily), misogynist pig and likely date-rapist (Barney), passive aggressive tool (Marshall), and rage-oholic with daddy issues (Robin). In light of all that, Ted's whiney pretentiousness is somewhat endearing, and as you point out closer to irritating characteristics of people we may have encountered or ourselves. Once of my favorite episodes is where he is in his pretentious element at the party thrown by Michael York.

  • mairimba

    We are all Ted.

  • I'm Ted and so's my wife!

  • Donna SHerman

    Sorry guys, I love Ted. This actually helps me justify that a bit (thank you, SLW), but even without this, I still find him hilarious. I mean, in real life, I'd like to kill him, but he plays clueless pretentious twat SO WELL. Very little in this show has made me laugh more than, "My parents live in Ohio. I live in the moment." And one of the few reasons I'm tempted to allow that season 6 exists is entirely due to his "Good luck killing James Bond!/Does it cost half as much as glasses?" monacle obsession during the captain's party. Yes, the Robin thing was infuriating 7 years ago, but he's actually one of the few things left on the show I still find bearable. Even Marshall and Lily have become insufferable.

  • I love Ted most when he's pretentious and terrible.


  • Sara_Tonin00


    (I'm always curious if he pronounced "Caesar" as "Sayzar")

  • Callan


  • Sara_Tonin00

    My best h.s. history teacher pronounced it that way. But then again, his name was Herb, so he had a reason to be picky about pronunciation. ("because there's a fucking 'H' in it!")

  • Slim

    My husband 'Ted pronounced' encyclopedia last night when, while reading to my 3 yr old, I pronounced orangutan the way they do in Borneo. It will forever signify pretension... and I am Ted.

  • Long_Pig_Tailor

    I think he'd go hardcore and insist it would be pronounced "Kai-sar" (a "C" in Latin is like a K is my understanding). Then, there would be a whole subplot where Ted gets mocked for using the pronunciation from Fallout: New Vegas and he loses his shit with people thinking he'd take pronunciation advice from a game.

  • BAM

    Not everyone can be Rachel or Chandler or Joey, sometimes you need a Ross.

  • duckandcover


  • mairimba

    What's with the Ross hate? PIVOT!!

  • WE WERE ON A BREAK!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Cheers to the Rosses, Teds and Daves!

  • dizzylucy

    I'll cheer Ross, grit my teeth at Ted, and run screaming from Dave. Ugh, Dave.


  • It was that line delivery that kept me from truly hating Dave.

  • cruzzercruz

    But what if all of Friends was narrated by Ross and most of the stories were somehow tied to him? I'd never watch that version.

  • Bob Genghis Khan

    Keanu Meme!!

  • cruzzercruz

    Ted Mosby is a character people put up with because they like other aspects of the show. I am barely able to do so.

  • Stu Rat

    So he was exaggerating when, after dating a woman and breaking up with her, over the phone at her surprise birthday party, he convinced her to once again date him, decided to break up with her, found out it was again her birthday, and still went ahead and dumped her? How badly has he screwed up his kids that they need to learn not to do that?

  • Long_Pig_Tailor

    I believe the thesis is that such a story may not even be a little bit accurate to the facts. It's possibly some less severe variation on that, then exaggerated in the telling to, say, strongly send his son the message of don't be a douchebag to women like he was repeatedly. Ted the Narrator is a good guy because of how over the top terrible he makes Teddy Westside in his stories-- he knows he was bad and highlights it.

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