[Warning: Avast, here there be spoilers.]
Ending a TV show is hard. Ending a TV show that’s gone on for 9 seasons is especially hard. And if that show has been so focused on its ending for the entirety of its run that even the show’s title refers to that pivotal moment, making an ending that satisfies everyone is nigh impossible. Even so, it’s kind of remarkable just how horribly How I Met Your Mother faltered in the end.
Season 9 took an episode’s worth of content and stretched it into a season, then the finale took a season’s worth of content and squeezed it into an episode; the show built up Barney and Robin’s marriage for years and then they got divorced after 10 minutes of screen time; and the absurd way that Ted’s ending tries to have its cake and eat it too is so completely ass-backwards that it almost seems to negate everything since season 1. If you were disappointed, you had the right to be.
But come on, you love How I Met Your Mother! If you’d followed the show all the way up to its finale, you know you would never have gotten so far if you didn’t really love the show, even though the last couple seasons waned in quality – hell, especially since the last couple seasons waned in quality. It was never one of the most brilliant or subversive shows on the air, but for a multi-cam sitcom it came out far ahead of the pack in terms of humor, heart, and a deep awareness of its own characters. Here are 10 episodes that demonstrate what the show did best.
S1E15: Game Night
HIMYM had a bit of a slow start, and in much of the first season the writers had yet to really establish the show’s tone and distinguish it from most other multi-camera sitcoms. “Game Night” is mostly noteworthy for being the episode where they finally get it right – Barney’s backstory justifies his seemingly ridiculous character quite well, Ted’s relationships with both Victoria and Robin get much more interesting, but most importantly, the jokes are consistently funny for the first time. This was the episode that established HIMYM as a show worth keeping around.
S1E22: Come On
And this is where it get real. It’s sad to say that it all goes downhill from here, but Ted and Robin’s dynamic really never gets better than in this episode. When Ted’s absurd romantic ideals and Robin’s fear of buying into this romance come into direct conflict, the strengths and weaknesses of both characters suddenly come to light and they transform into real people before our eyes. The same goes for Lily and Marshall, who break off their engagement in this episode so Lily can study art. But the incredible thing is the way the show puts the two side by side, and while each conflict is emotional and complicated on its own, this episode becomes greater than the sum of its parts. Most sitcoms break into melodrama when they try to go to these levels – this episode makes it clear that HIMYM is something different.
S2E9: Slap Bet
This is often cited as the best episode of HIMYM, and while I’m not sure I agree it gets quite there, it’s certainly in the running. It establishes two of the show’s most prominent running jokes, slap betting and Robin Sparkles, and frankly that’s all it needs to do. This episode didn’t change the fabric of the show so much as it changed the way the audience thought about the show. The writing is solid, the actors are all great, the song and video are both hilarious, but most importantly, it gave the show the one thing it was missing: iconography. The song has millions of views on YouTube, it appeared in a Just Dance video game, and you could finally cosplay for HIMYM. We have arrived.
S2E21: Something Borrowed
If you didn’t watch the show all the way through and you just tuned in to the occasional rerun of HIMYM, you’ve probably already seen “Something Borrowed” a few dozen times now. But what other episode is worth so many repeat viewings? The ridiculous stress that goes into the day of the wedding is performed in ways that surely any married person can recognize, and they embody the trauma in some truly wonderful ways (Marshall’s “cool guy tips” in particular). But it’s when the two finally get married, before the actual ceremony, that the show manages to reach one of the most beautiful and legitimately heartfelt scenes of its run.
S3E5: How I Met Everyone Else
Leave it to HIMYM to make an origin story flashback episode work so well. The “Hot/Crazy Scale” and the introduction of the “eating a sandwich” lingo give this episode some additional importance to the show’s run, but the episode makes the list mainly because of how it demonstrates that the writers and actors have finally grown to fully and completely understand the characters. Every flashback shows not just with the gang as we see them now, but with how they once were and how they crossed the bridge in between. This self-awareness would fade as the show went on, but it made all the best episodes of HIMYM possible, and here it is at its best.
S3E13: Ten Sessions
Ted usually has to play straight man to the antics of the rest of the gang, but this is one episode where he really gets to take center stage in every respect. He gets most of the screentime and most of the jokes, and in what turned out to be one of the best written episodes of the series. But the clear highlight is the two-minute date at the end. Sure, it’s overdone and Ted seems like he’s trying way too hard, but that’s what Ted does! It’s been a while since we got a big reminder why we’ve been rooting for this guy the whole time, but nothing could make it clearer than this episode. It also features a pretty good guest appearance from Brittany Spears, so that’s something.
S4E2: The Best Burger in New York
If HIMYM has one problem, it’s that every episode tends to feel like a bottle episode – the same two sets, the same five actors and whatever occasional date. It’s an issue that plagues a lot of similar shows, but it’s great seeing the show break that formula in its mad dash across the city. It also happens to be one of those wonderful episodes where everything just works – the repeated hyperbole about the burgers is consistently hilarious, Jason Segel is at his absolute best, and even Regis Philbin’s guest appearance is surprisingly brilliant.
S5E12: Girls Versus Suits
A lot of these entries make the list mainly because of a particular sequence, and this is probably the most true for the show’s 100th episode “Girls Versus Suits.” The episode has strong jokes, great performances, clever stories for every character, and some extremely heavy Mother foreshadowing that totally works in this case and manages to even help characterize the woman we wouldn’t see for another 4 seasons. But it really makes this list because of Barney’s big strong-and-dance routine at the end, which is one of the most memorable scenes in the entirety of the show. Boy, can NPH sing.
S7E3: Ducky Tie
Season 7 is probably the show’s last good one, and it’s still fairly spotty. But even seven years into its run, “Ducky Tie” proved that the show could still deliver a damn near perfect episode. While this list has been relatively short on what makes Barney such a great addition to the show, this episode demonstrates the absurd commitment to every element of his lifestyle, which has consistently been what makes his character work. Plus, most of the other high concept running jokes introduced this late in the show tended to fall flat (“No Questions Asked” in season 9 proved that even a show like HIMYM can jump the shark), but the ducky tie turned into one of the show’s most consistently funny gags. The episode even managed to escalate the romantic tension between Ted and Robin in a way that didn’t feel forced or artificial, and at this point in the game that’s an accomplishment.
S9E16: How Your Mother Met Me
In a way, “How Your Mother Met Me” demonstrates a lot of what’s wrong with the last couple seasons of the show – trapped with an ending where the mother would die and Robin would become the world’s biggest rebound, the writers had gone so deep that the mother had to be developed as a legitimate character without audiences getting too attached to her. In this case, thank god they failed so spectacularly. The regular gang barely appears, but Christina Milioti absolutely rules this backstory episode that explains where she’d been for the last nine years. It’s funny, it’s emotional, it’s heartwrenching, and it turns The Mother into more of a sympathetic human being than many shows manage to ever do with their protagonists. It’s the only great episode in Season 9, and almost the only one worth watching at all (save “Platonish”), but it’s one of the most important and best episodes of the show’s run.
You’re turn. Did we get all of your favorites, or did we miss a couple episodes? Sound off below!