HIMYM: The Necessity of Lily Aldrin
This article be in lieu of me writing about How I Met Your Mother on a weekly basis as I had originally intended.
Even on the shows you love, there are always those characters that you hate. Lost had Miles, who came along too late in the game to be interesting, had a snide remark for absolutely everything, and a snider remark for when you tried to tell him very nicely that we already had a character who could talk to dead people, thank you very much. For Homeland fans, it’s Dana Brody, who interrupts the very interesting pursuit of world-threatening terrorists to bring us the startling story of how she likes a boy. For Breaking Bad fans, this character was often Skylar White, who we didn’t like because she stood in the way of our protagonist, making life more difficult for a man who at one point was fighting off more than one Mexican hitman at once.
For How I Met Your Mother fans, the consensus seems to be that this dead weight is Lily Aldrin (Alyson Hannigan). Many find her annoying and she’s easily the least-liked character on the show. People find her troublesome, and she’s not funny enough for folks to forgive her transgressions. Barney can get away with being written as one of the most fundamentally unlikeable people in prime time because he gets to be really funny. He has all the catchphrases. People like catchphrases. They go on t-shirts. You can’t put Lily breaking off her engagement with Marshall on a t-shirt. Well, I suppose you could, if you’d like to make 22-year-old girls cry on the subway, which I suspect is an activity many people from the Internet absolutely adore.
Lily has always been the show’s problem character. Leaving your fiancé, who is also a main character, is not the best way to garner audience adoration. And her sheer lack of a catchphrase has always hurt her chances of making up that difference. But I would argue that Lily is disliked because of her position in the narrative of the show, and that that position is absolutely necessary on any program.
Much like Skylar, Miles, and Dana before her, Lily Aldrin is the Conflict Character. So much of what Lily says and does is made up of things that the writers need her to say in order for the show to even be a show, and not just a sad, experimental, cancelled program on CBS about two friends and a one night stand who watch their well-tailored friend slowly evolve into a sentient form of chlamydia. Only trouble is interesting, and Lily is a walking ball of trouble with a strange crush on Robin, a loaded gun ready to put Ted in an actionable position, a skydiving instructor ready to throw Barney out into the open sky of character development.
Without Lily, there isn’t even a show.
Think about everything that wouldn’t be possible without the intervening hands of Lily Aldrin. Barney wouldn’t have had anyone to talk to about Robin, and Lily’s nagging wouldn’t have driven him to do what he did. Marshall would never have had that wonderful arc at the beginning of Season 2 where he tries to get over Lily (and we the audience would have been deprived of a beautiful scene at brunch featuring the first appearance of Marshall’s sexy calves). And most criminally, we never would have had “How Lily Stole Christmas.” I still call people “Grinches” under my breath sometimes. . .
Lily is an engine that keeps the narrative of the show rolling along. She is the generator of conflict that HIMYM needs, and she’s disliked because of it. No one wants to see someone in conflict with Marshmallow, but that dynamic is exactly what’s missing from the show right now. As of Episode 8 of Season 9, Marshall is still on his way to Farhampton. As soon as he arrives, he and Lily are going to get into it about his accepting a judgeship when the two of them were supposed to move to Italy together. That conflict, that has been building up now for a third of a season, is exactly the kick in the ass we need on this show right now, and Lily is exactly who is going to give it to us. Without Lily’s delivery system, the show has suffering from a lack of quality conflict, mostly just Barney and Robin doing wacky stuff and Ted being more than an eensy bit sexist.
Lily Aldrin: Conflict Machine is the glue that holds How I Met Your Mother together.
Also, let’s not forget that Hannigan has been in top form in Season 9, easily the MVP of the year thus far. Her dynamic with Linus the Bartender is tremendous, and Hannigan is selling us every minute of it.
Thank you, Lily, for stirring shit up when it needs to be stirred. You’ll never get the credit you deserve, but you’ll always have “The Night Night Song.”
Chekhov’s Gunman is a film and television blog moderated by Kevin Lanigan, a future writer of moves and TV and current writer of a proper film role for everyone’s favorite American Pie alumn. Be sure to leave your comments below, and follow or subscribe above for more updates.
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