07
Oct
13

Opinion: Futurama, How I Met Your Mother and the Early Modern Sonnet-Sequence

I’m prefacing this post with a disclaimer that it is primarily an ‘opinion’ post. I’ve categorised it as such, and I’ll also preface this by stating that some spoilers for said TV shows mentioned in the title of this post might be present.

 

But what, you might think, is the connection between these disparate entities? Two television series and the early modern sonnet sequence?

 

Let’s begin, shall we?

 

Let’s start with some background. Futurama is/was a sci-fi animated TV series which ran from 1999 to 2013. It was cancelled after five seasons, but the series continued on in a set of movies. In 2011 the series was picked up for several more seasons due to popular demand, and the last episode of the series finally ended a month ago, in September.

 

 

A meme from Futurama

 

 

Futurama is about a young man called Fry who, in the year 1999, is frozen in cryostasis for a thousand years. He wakes up in the year 3000 (3013, if we are to adhere to continuity) and the series details his exploits in an imagined future. Through the course of the series, we witness the protagonist Fry adapt to life in the future. Throughout the many seasons, Fry lives, and eventually learns to love. A running gag in the earlier seasons is the unrequited love he suffers at the hands of his co-worker Leela who constantly brushes off his advances. His feelings are eventually reciprocated, and their relationship develops, culminating in his proposal to her during the final episode of the series.

 

As can be gleaned from its title, How I Met You Mother (HIMYM) is quite literally, a comedy-drama series about a man telling his children how he met their mother.

 

The 00’s: HIMYM. The 90’s: Friends.

 

Of course, there are plenty of sub-plots and side characters thrown in to extend the narrative. After it’s debut in 2005, the series is moving into its final season. The retroactive narrative structure of the series speaks for itself – we know that the protagonist will ultimately have his ‘happily ever after’ at the end of the series. Therefore, the emphasis of the series is not so much the destination, but Ted’s journey through life.

 

The appeal of these two TV series stems from their protagonists’ ordinariness. Fry is an ordinary human being living in a world where space aliens and sentient robots exist. Evan Almieda describes this perfectly:

 

Fry only wants to find love, and cherish it. He wants to love a significant other, his family and his friends. The true brilliance of Futurama was the show’s ability to take the broken man that had neither: love, family or friends in the year 1999 and turned him into a fully fledged Maslow Pyramid.

 

HIMYM’s Ted, like Fry, is the ‘ordinary one’ in his group of friends. Ted’s best friends from high school, Marshall and Lily, are high school sweethearts in a long term relationship. Occupying the other end of the spectrum is Ted’s womanizing, amoral yet charming friend Barney. Sandwiched between Barney and Marshall/Lily, Ted becomes, for many of us, the everyman in the same way that Fry is. Take the first two sentences of the quote from Almeida, replace Fry with Ted, and you have the exact same thing. Their stories are so compelling because we can see something of ourselves in them. Be it New York City in the year 2007, or the year 3007, at the heart of these TV shows is a narrative about an ordinary person who just wants to find love.

 

What, then, do these stories about an everyman have to do with early modern sonnet-sequences?

 

The poet/speaker of the early modern sonnet-sequence, like Fry and Ted, is an everyman. Despite being written hundreds of years ago, these poems speak of emotions that lie at the heart of the human condition.  The vernacular might sound strange, but the emotions contained within are real. Sometimes in love, we feel jealous:

 

O how the pleasant ayres of true loue be
Infected by those vapours which arise
From out that noysome gulfe, which gaping lies
Betweene the iawes of hellish Ielousie!

(Sidney, Astrophil and Stella 78 : 1-4)

 

Other times, a brief ‘crush’ on someone we’ve met torments us:

 

Since the first look that led me to this error
To this thoughts’ maze to my confusion tending,

(Daniel, Delia 18: 1-2)

 

On occasion, circumstances turn love into hate:

 

When none of these, my sorrows would allege;
I sought the means, how I might hate thee! 

(Barnes, Parthenophil and Parthenophe 13: 1-2)

 

At times, relationships become long-distance ones:

 

SInce I did leaue the presence of my loue,
Many long weary dayes I haue outworne

(Spenser: Amoretti 87: 1-2)

 

Each one of these sequences paint the picture of an individual who has but one wish – to find love and to hold on to it. In reading these sequences, we experience, with these sonneteers, the pain of unrequited love. While the contents of each sequence often lapses into exaggeration and hyperbole, the underlying message is simply for one’s affections to be reciprocated. How different is this from the experience of countless rejections felt by Ted and Fry? Of these poets, the only poet who ever obtained the object of his affections was Edmund Spenser. The only happily ever after that occurs in a sonnet-sequence is detailed in the wedding-song Epithalamion, a lyrical poem appended to his sequence Amoretti. Sidney’s sequence, for example, ends on an ominous note as he ruminates on the subject of death:

 

Then farewell world; thy vttermost I see:
Eternall Loue, maintaine thy life in me.

(Astrophil and Stella 110: 13-14)

 

And for Daniel, he is resigned to the fact that his beloved Delia will remain unattainable:

 

This is my state, and Delia’s heart is such;
I say no more, I fear I said too much.

(Delia 57: 13-14)

 

How different, then are the experiences detailed by these poets from their 21st century (or 31st) counterparts? Ted and Fry are fictional characters -so are Astrophil, Stella and Delia. Despite being centuries apart, these characters speak of that which makes us human. Are Astrophil’s laments any different from Ted’s incessant whining that he will never find ‘the one’? This, I believe, is what connects these texts. These texts tap into the heart of who we are as human beings, living in a world where love is always elusive, always one step ahead of us. Like Spenser, Marshall or Lily,when you find it, you celebrate it. As is evident from their efforts, these early modern poets knew, just as surely as we do now, that finding love is never easy.

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'horror': Middle English: via Old French from Latin horror, from horrere ‘tremble, shudder’.

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