There’s one TV sitcom staple that consistently provides character development for protagonists and their endgame relationships. Sitcoms like Brooklyn Nine-Nine and How I Met Your Mother have used in-universe competitions to bring out the best and worst in their characters. These rivalries allow for unique episodes that keep audiences guessing. The competitions can be an annual celebration like Brooklyn Nine-Nine’s Halloween Heist or series-long arcs like How I Met Your Mother’s Slap Bet. What starts as a fun and simple game develops into the catalyst for an important storyline, often involving the show’s central couple. Along with Brooklyn Nine-Nine and How I Met Your Mother, New Girl exemplified this concept.
Brooklyn Nine-Nine’s Halloween Heists Brought Out Characters’ Ugly Sides
One of the reasons Brooklyn Nine-Nine was a favorite of streaming and broadcast viewers alike was the Halloween Heists. They brought out the worst in Jake Peralta and Captain Holt, who faced off against each other for eight seasons while the rest of the 99th Precinct joined in on the action. It all started in Season 1, Episode 6, “Halloween” after Jake claimed he would make a good criminal and Holt disagreed. The Halloween Heists subsequently pitted friends, colleagues and even lovers against each other. Flashbacks often reveal how the winner meticulously planned their strategy all year leading up Halloween.
The Halloween Heists were never just fun seasonal episodes; they were vehicles for major character development. Season 5, Episode 4, “HalloVeen” revealed that Jake planned that year’s Halloween Heist as an elaborate proposal for his longtime love interest Amy Santiago. Jake went as far as to change the inscription on the winner’s cummerbund to “Amy Santiago, will you marry me?” The proposal was a milestone in the couple’s relationship that fans were waiting for. It was touching that Jake made the Halloween Heist — a tradition that meant so much to him — his way of finally popping the question.
New Girl’s Drinking Game Paved the Way For Jess and Nick’s Romance
New Girl also used its competition to further develop an important plotline. The fictional drinking game “True American” was created by the male members of Apartment 4D before Jessica “Jess” Day moved into the loft. The rules of the game were very elaborate, unclear and never fully explained during the course of six seasons. However, “True American” was an annual tradition that became the catalyst for Jess and Nick Miller’s romantic relationship.
Jess and Nick were in a “will-they-wont-they” relationship for two seasons until Season 2, Episode 15, “Cooler,” when a heated game of “True American” forced them to go into a room together to make out. They spent most of the episode firmly against the idea of kissing each other. However, a heartfelt conversation made clear that there were major unresolved feelings between them. The impromptu game of “True American” is a huge turning point in Jess and Nick’s relationship arc because Nick, annoyed at the incessant peer pressure, said that he wouldn’t kiss Jess, at least “not like this” — confirming his feelings for her. The episode ended with Nick kissing Jess in private, leaving Jess completely stunned. While New Girl’s ending disappointed viewers, this episode didn’t.
How I Met Your Mother’s Slap Bet Bookended Barney’s Relationship With Robin
How I Met Your Mother’s Slap Bet was the ultimate TV sitcom competition. It began in Season 2, Episode 9, “Slap Bet” when Barney Stinson and Marshall Erickson bet on why Robin Scherbatsky hated malls. Marshall was convinced that Robin got married in a mall and Barney suggested that Robin was making adult films. Robin lied and said that Marshall was right. However, Barney did more digging and tracked down an old video that revealed Robin’s secret: she was briefly a Canadian pop star under the alias Robin Sparkles.
Marshall won the bet, giving Barney the option of taking 10 consecutive slaps right away or five doled out at any point in the future. Barney chose the latter so for the remainder of the series, Marshall slapped Barney whenever he did something that deserved it. Sometimes the slaps were random, but the slap bet also played a small yet important role in Barney’s character development. The last slap was poetically given by Marshall to calm Barney down when he began to freak out over his wedding to Robin in Season 9. The competition was another HIMYM running gag that began early on in Barney’s friendship with Robin and ended right before he married her. It’s also the best example of how sitcoms have developed the concept of a competition to move their characters forward in interesting ways.