I’m a huge fan of comedies and television comedies are no exception. Throughout the years, I’ve fallen in love with my fair share of television shows – Community, New Girl, The Office, Ben and Kate, Go On, etc. – and each of these series, as you may know, is a comedy. But the beauty of each of these shows is that they are distinct in the way that they make us laugh or connect with us emotionally. New Girl and Community are both typified as “comedy” but both approach all that entails – the punch lines, the emotional heart, etc. – differently. Similarly, shows like The Big Bang Theory and Girls are classified as “comedies,” and yet both are entirely different TYPES of comedies. It would be difficult to compare them, to note which is “better” but alas, that is what the Emmys do year after year.
One comedy I always admired and loved throughout college was Scrubs. The show was witty and quirky, but also relatable. The characters were completely unique and distinct in personality and in humor (Elliot had a specific brand of ditzy, fast-talking humor while Dr. Cox was dry and sarcastic). It was a long-running series, too, where viewers felt emotionally invested in the journeys of each of these characters, where they grew alongside J.D. as he navigated his career as a doctor. But there was one element of Scrubs that consistently impressed me and still does to this day – its emotional steamroller.
What IS an emotional steamroller, you ask? This is something that is – strikingly – very rare in comedies today. It’s this secret power that writers and showrunners have, and because of that, choose to release infrequently so as to not diminish its prowess or drive the show into the drama category. And there’s nothing wrong when shows do not possess this emotional steamroller. I love Community and New Girl, but these series don’t pack the powerful punch that could classify them in “steamroller” territory. There are only two series that I (personally) believe possess these powerful weapons: Scrubs and How I Met Your Mother.
Now, I’ve contemplated the presence of the “emotional steamroller” in both of these series and realize why this weapon exists in the series’ arsenals: it launches the show into uncharted territory. Scrubs was always a very quirky show – the entire series was narrated by J.D. as he went about his daily life at Sacred Heart. A typical episode’s desire was to extract laughter from the audience (it was a single-camera show, so there were no laugh tracks or live audience) by utilizing dry humor, pratfalls, or flashes into the weird and insane reality of J.D.’s thoughts. Similarly, How I Met Your Mother’s goals from episode-to-episode are similar: extract laughter from the audience (which is deceptively not a multi-camera sitcom even though it looks and sounds like one with the utilization of a laugh track/live audience) by utilizing its quirky characters and placing them into weird or awkward situations that require them to do something insane and/or hilarious to get out of them.
Both of these series were and are good at what they strive to accomplish comedically. But what takes them to the next level – what makes them stand out above all of the other comedies I mentioned at the start of this article – is the utilization of the “emotional steamroller.” Because just when the audience feels like they’re wading through territory cultivated by The Big Bang Theory or Modern Family or Friends, the writers and creators release the emotional steamroller, throwing the audience from their feet and into a sobbing mess on the floor.
Scrubs and How I Met Your Mother are the only two series that I’ve found myself literally SOBBING during. And these moments are completely unsuspecting (hence the “steamroller” part of my analogy) because we, as the audience, anticipate comedy and slapstick and general absurdity from characters like Doctor Cox and Marshall Eriksen. But just as we become comfortable in these generalizations of these people, right at the moment we’ve decided that they are snarky or hilarious and nothing much more, we are hit with the emotional weight of what these people can and will suffer – what we, the audience, so often ignore or are not shown. So when Doctor Cox loses his organ transplant patients and walks out of the door, blaming himself for their deaths, we grab the nearest box of tissues and cry until our eyes are rimmed red because the fact of the matter is that we never think of Doctor Cox as a dimensional character until we are forcefully hit with that reality. And Scrubs was never more profound, more relatable, and more beautiful than when viewers were hit with these truths.
My relationship with How I Met Your Mother began in high school (yes, high school, because that is how long this show has been around in conjunction with how old I am) when my male friends began watching it and would obsessively quote the show to one another at lunch. Seizing the opportunity to join in on conversations (and what they informed me was a hilarious series), I began watching. Somewhere, years down the road, I fell off the HIMYM bandwagon, jumped back on, fell off again, and then began to ride the wagon with one foot dragging on the ground.
(Basically I started and stopped watching the show in spurts throughout the years, in case the metaphor isn’t sticking.)
I am never more in awe of this show than when it sends its emotional steamroller barreling toward its audience. And I am convinced that the actors always shine their brightest when placed into these emotional situations.
So in the spirit of making lists, I decided to compile the top five most emotional moments in How I Met Your Mother’s history thus far. You all tweeted some wonderful suggestions (and Audrey nearly matched my list exactly!), and really four out of these five were winners without any contest. If you’re ready, then, click below the cut and we will discuss some of the saddest, most heart-wrenching emotional steamrolling moments in this comedy’s history.
(You might want to find some tissues as well.)