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Rosa Diaz of Brooklyn Nine-Nine is amazing bi representation. Her character shows an honest and relatable experience that was written in part due to actor Stephanie Beatriz’s experience of being bisexual. But I’m not here to talk about how wonderful Rosa and Brooklyn Nine-Nine are (yet). I’m here to say that, as much as Rosa is a triumph of representation for the bi community, Lily Aldrin of How I Met Your Mother was a travesty.
How I Met Your Mother
I have big love for How I Met Your Mother (HIMYM). It did very cool things with plot structure and storytelling and has and a perfect, fabulously set up and foreshadowed ending. However, I will be the first to admit that it is not aging particularly well. While I can look past some cringe-inducing moments, the bi erasure of Lily is both blatantly unfunny, and it contributed to a larger issue.
Before I go further into ripping apart a show that’s been over for four years, let’s look at the term bi erasure.
“Bisexual erasure or bisexual invisibility is a pervasive problem in which the existence or legitimacy of bisexuality (either in general or in regard to an individual) is questioned or denied outright” (glaad.org/bisexual/bierasure).
It’s a big problem because far too often in movies and TV, bi characters are either:
- a: not freaking there or
- b: reduced to punchlines.
Lily’s charmingly goofy wit and bold personality were put on hold whenever the subject of kissing Robin (played by Colbie Smolders) came up. And it came up frequently. Throughout the show, the gang would be in some situation in which Lily would offer as a solution “well maybe if Robin and I kissed… It would be so stupid, so stupid”. This repeats until one of the last episodes of the series (9.19) in which Robin suggests to Lily that in order to rouse Barney from a bad hangover, they make out. They do, and barney “hilariously” wakes up. After they kiss, Lily is healed from her proclivities and suddenly Robin is the one trying to get Lily to kiss her again. Robin steals Lily’s mantra of “it’s stupid, I’m stupid” and the joke gets its punchline.
Before the final punchline in the earlier seasons, Lily’s bold and daring character melts into a simpering fool as she repeatedly tries to get Robin to kiss her. Happening once would’ve still not been great, but the fact that this was a recurring bit saddens me.
Why I’m Sad
I’m sad that we never got an episode in which Lily comes out to Marshal (in my mind she realizes this when they’re already married) and he assures her he loves her just the same. It would have been a great moment. I’m sad that what probably started as an homage to a past roll (Hannigan previously playing a lesbian character, Willow, on Buffy the Vampire Slayer) became a hokey bit. And, I’m sad that I, and many others, were robbed of a strong bi character.
Similarly to the sanitizing of Lily, Ted is a sloppy portrayal of a minority group.
Ted mentions that he is “half-Jewish” (6.8). While that seemed likely given his overall mannerisms and look (actor Josh Radnor himself is Jewish), I find there to be a disconnect between naming a character as Jewish but otherwise never bringing it up. No dreidles, no bubbies, no flashbacks to a young Ted Mosby’s bar mitzvah. Just a quick nod that is forever ignored afterward.
If the writers had committed to writing the character as non-Jewish, that would have been different. Jason Segal’s portrayal of Marshal, the sweet Minnesotan, Christian, Bigfoot enthusiast, is one of my favorite things about the show. While Segal is Jewish, Marshal got to have a solid religious identity that was repeatedly referenced and not reduced to a single joke.
My issue is that, while Ted (like many sitcom characters before him) seems to exist in part to fill the “Token Jew” role, no work is done to make his Jewishness a part of the character. Instead, it’s just played for one mediocre mid-season laugh.
While there are wonderful resources for LGBT+ folks, for kids stuck in the middle of nowhere or adults unsure of how to get involved in the community, characters can be a gentle gateway into a moment of of realization and connection. For those people, and for all people. representation matters.