Welcome to Fix It, our weekly series examining projects we love — save for one tiny change we wish we could make.
How I Met Your Mother has aged horribly. The CBS sitcom, though well-liked by many at the time, has a dumptruck full of issues, from that , to the , to that time . The entire show needs a massive overhaul, some inclusivity training, and a small nuke from orbit.
However, there is one aspect of the show that many viewers still remember fondly: I’m referring, of course, to the Robin Sparkles plot.
For those of you who didn’t waste your prime years watching terrible human Ted Mosby give his teenage kids his sexual history, here’s a quick rundown. In the season 2 episode “Slap Bet,” Ted, Barney, Marshall, and Lily discover that token Canadian Robin has a strange aversion to malls. Determined to find out why, Barney and Marshall make it the subject of a bet, enduring various sitcom shenanigans in their self-imposed quest to solve the mystery.
This all comes to a head when Barney contacts a man in Malaysia who uploads a video to MySpace revealing Robin’s dark secret. She hadn’t gotten married in a mall as she led Ted to believe, nor had she been involved in porn. Rather, Robin had been a teen pop star in Canada, performing her fabulously ’80s minor hit under the name Robin Sparkles.
“Slap Bet” was one of the show’s most well-received episodes, and set up two successful long-running gags: Robin’s past as a Canadian pop star and . Aside from its , the Robin Sparkles story established in “Slap Bet” is How I Met Your Mother’s most enduring legacy.
However, as delightfully fun as this plotline is, it suffers from a narrative implausibility. The entire episode’s 22-minute running time is consumed by the hunt for Robin’s secret. Yet as someone with some passing knowledge of the world wide web, I do not believe for one second that an internet search would not have quickly revealed Robin’s permed Canadian past.
Let’s pretend for a moment that Canada doesn’t already have relatively close pop culture ties to the U.S. Even considering the less comprehensive state of the internet in 2006, there would have definitely been a searchable record of Robin’s Canadian pop career.
Marshall easily discovered there was no evidence of her being married anywhere in Canada. I used to read entire fan-translated recaps of Sailor Moon episodes that hadn’t been dubbed yet. The suggestion that television presenter Robin Scherbatsky’s kitsch Canadian bop would not have a lovingly crafted fan site complete with foot pic gallery is a blatant disregard of the internet’s weirdly obsessive nature.
Fortunately, I have an excellent plug for this plot hole. How I Met Your Mother should simply have had Robin sing in a language other than English.
Robin secretly being a minor celebrity would make infinitely more sense if her career had been in a language her snooping friends didn’t understand, or at least weren’t as adept with. A language barrier would provide a significant obstacle to the group both finding dirt and understanding what they’ve found, especially as Google Translate had only seven months before “Slap Bet” aired. It would be even better if the language Robin’s pop hit was in didn’t use the Latin alphabet, making simply searching her name a difficult task.
A similar situation occurred in real life with actor Chloe Bennet. While Bennet is most commonly known now as Quake from , she began her career in entertainment as Chinese pop singer Chloe Wang. Yet despite releasing Mandarin single in 2011, her brief foray into music went largely unnoticed after she returned to the U.S. and changed her surname.
A television personality being able to hide a non-English pop singer past isn’t just credible, it’s actually kind of happened.
How I Met Your Mother’s most logical choice would be to make Robin a former K-pop trainee, or have been through a similar system in another Asian country.
In the Asian idol music industry, aspiring singers enter entertainment companies at a young age and for years. While some do debut as K-pop idols like and , many do not, and go on to pursue other, more mundane careers.
Robin’s story fits this structure perfectly with hardly any tweaking, making the tale of a former pop singer who wants to put her past behind her not only plausible, but realistic.
Of course, this fix brings up the issue of lack of diversity in How I Met Your Mother, which requires a whole fix of its own. People working on the show even . Using Asians as the backdrop for a gag centering a non-Asian woman would probably have ended up being problematic, especially when you consider how the show .
Yet even without rehauling the casting, How I Met Your Mother could simply have made Robin a teen pop star in France. Her established backstory wouldn’t even need to change since French-speaking Canadians are definitely a thing. Both Ted and Barney may have some oral knowledge of French, but Ted was focused on prying the secret out of Robin rather than searching online, and Barney wouldn’t know to even search in the language at first — assuming he can read it at all.
French pop star Robin neatly fits the narrative, particularly as the majority of Americans have no clue what’s happening in French pop culture. Do you know what France’s number one best selling single was in , the year Robin Sparkles released her ode to malls? , a song few Americans will remember exists. In 1984, singer Serge Gainsbourg and his 13-year-old daughter reached with a disturbing duet entitled It didn’t even make a blip in the U.S.
Robin could have painted herself red and blue, bedazzled herself up to her eyeballs, and ridden a giant brown bear through the Arc de Triomphe scattering croissants and charcuterie in her wake. Her friends in the U.S. would still have a hell of a time finding out about it.
In some ways it’s a blessing that How I Met Your Mother decided Canada was foreign enough for it. “Let’s Go To The Mall” is gleefully entertaining enough to let us to gloss over narrative nitpicks, and I wouldn’t trust the sitcom to deal with a French or Asian Robin with any sensitivity or respect anyway. But if it had done it, and done it well, it could have made the Robin Sparkles story even better than it already is.
How I Met Your Mother is available to stream on Hulu.