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How I Met Middle Age

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Last night on How I Met Your Mother, the five main characters reminisced about how they each lost their virginity. The capper was a fake reminiscence by Barney (Neal Patrick Harris) that lifted the details from the movie Dirty Dancing, which the show cleverly depicted by replaying the "Love Is Strange" scene from the movie, with Harris’ face digitally superimposed on Patrick Swayze’s body. It was a characteristic move from this deceptively conventional sitcom, which lulls you into familiarity with its five-friends-hangin’-in-a-bar setting, then throws curveballs that break with three-camera sitcom form out of nowhere.

But it was typical in another way too. In a later scene, Barney comes up with more fake deflowering stories (he’s covering up the real, embarrassing story) based on plots from ’80s movies: War Games, Risky Business and so on. Again, funny. But kind of weird, considering that the characters are ostensibly in their late 20s–yet they seem to have the common cultural referents of people about a decade older.

And not just in this episode. One earlier this season contained a gut-busting set piece in which Robin is discovered to have been a Canadian pop star as a teen, as revealed in a pitch-perfect parody of an ’80s Tiffany/Debbie Gibson single and video. Only thing is, she would have been a teen in the ’90s. The episode explained it by saying that Canada was about 10 years behind the times, but I wonder if something else isn’t at work.

The natural guess would be that the writers and producers are geezers filtering their own experiences through younger characters. But the co-creators of the show are, in fact, roughly the same age as their ensemble (a shade older–just past 30). The audience, though, that’s a different story. How I Met Your Mother is among a few shows that has appealed to a younger audience than the typical CBS crowd, but "younger" here is a relative term. On CBS, most likely, a sitcom like this is reaching not 20something singles, but 30something couples with kids, who vicariously relive their single days through it and appreciate a good Tiffany joke. (As VH1 proves again and again–those aging Gen-Xers, they loves them some snarky nostalgia.) It’s the perfect way to make a show about young people for CBS and yet make sure it stays on the air, by appealing to over-the-hill 38-year-olds, desperately wanting to cling to their youth like… er, me.

Yes, I have become the CBS audience. You’ll have to excuse me. I think I need to go take my pills now.

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