• Gina Denny

2.21 - Predictable

Updated: Jun 17

Lily and Marshall’s wedding is finally here, and since this is a sitcom, you know absolutely everything is going to go wrong. Even before the wedding day, the show flashes back and tells us how many compromises Lily and Marshall had to make:

  • They wanted a small, intimate wedding, but instead they have hundreds of guests

  • Many of these guests are people they don’t even like

  • They wanted an outdoor ceremony, but instead they’re getting married indoors

  • They wanted an acoustic guitar, but instead they have a harp player who is doing the gig because of a shady gambling debt

Then the day of the wedding arrives, but Lily insists she’s going to be cool and collected no matter what. Things, of course, continue to go wrong:

  • The harp player is 41 weeks pregnant and can’t play her entire instrument

  • There is no photographer

  • There will be no flowers

  • Lily’s veil is missing

  • Marshall ends up with bleached tips in his hair

  • He then shaves the center portion of his head

  • Lily’s ex-boyfriend shows up, planning to object to the wedding and win Lily back

  • He gets tackled by a groomsman

  • The groomsman also spills sauce on his shirt and decides to go shirtless for the ceremony

  • The harp player? She goes into labor, of course

This trope serves a function, aside from being funny: If absolutely everything goes wrong, and the couple decides to just run out and have a tiny wedding by themselves, the sitcom doesn't need to explain why their high-profile, busy, expensive guest stars (who were previously cast to play the couple's family and old friends) are not in attendance. Paying for one expensive guest star is one thing; paying for fifteen of them is another.

The resulting intimate ceremonies are usually very touching and sweet, and I think this one is one of the very sweetest (though Schmidt & Cece and Jim & Pam are close).

By 2007 this trope was already getting pretty stale. In no particular order here are other shows that did this:

  • New Girl did it twice

  • Fraser

  • Scrubs

  • Parks & Rec

  • Brooklyn 99

  • Friends did it at least once, possibly twice depending on how you define the trope

  • The Office

  • Mad About You

  • Big Bang Theory

  • Modern Family

  • Hart of Dixie

  • Schitt’s Creek

  • Gilmore Girls played with the trope by just having the payoff without any of the shenanigans leading up to it

  • 30 Rock subverted the trope; Liz wanted her wedding to be small and terrible, and her fiance kept ruining her terribleness to convince her to have a real wedding

  • Charmed played with the trope by making the groom the one sabotaging the wedding for evil magic purposes

I’m sure there are more. 2007 is kind of early for this trope? But certainly shows in the 90s and 00s had done it already, so by the time we watch Lily and Marshall go through it, we know what is going to happen. The instant the harp player showed up pregnant, you knew she was going to go into labor. The instant you saw the ditzy hairdresser on screen, you knew Marshall’s hair was going to be a disaster. On and on.

But they play with the trope in a couple of ways, ways you can incorporate into your story:

  1. Gender-swapping: Lily - the bride - stays cool and calm and collected while Marshall - the groom - freaks the eff out.

  2. Hang a Lantern: Right from the start, Future Ted tells us that your wedding is never what you expect it to be. They don’t pretend to be doing anything new, and they let us know that they know it’s predictable.

  3. Don’t Betray Your Character Development: Lily and Marshall’s friends are not the ones who ruin their wedding (like The Office). The reasons for their problems are all things they were trying to avoid in the first place.

  4. Keep Your Unique Voice: Our guest host this week, Megan Whitmer, sold and published a portal fantasy in the mid-2010s, when most of publishing said portal fantasies were dead. She succeeded where others failed with a tropey story because her voice was fresh and authentic and full of her unique brand of humor. HIMYM succeeds where others failed because they stuck to what they were good at: non-linear storytelling with consistent characters who really care for each other.

Writing Prompt: It’s actually a watching prompt. I want you to watch as many of these episodes as you can. We’ll list them in detail on the website, so you can find them easily. Make notes of which ones work for you and why, and which ones don’t work for you and why. Really pay attention to what makes a trope a “genre expectation” and what turns it into a cliche

Listen to the episode here

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