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In eight mere weeks, How I Met Your Mother’s ninth and final season will begin airing on CBS. After the show’s first appearance at the San Diego Comic-Con this year, the anticipation among fans is at a fever pitch. Creators Carter Bays and Craig Thomas have teased a disaster of a wedding weekend that will play out over the entire 24-episode season. And after finally seeing the face under the yellow umbrella at the end of last season, fans know that the titular meeting is finally right around the corner. So before we view what will surely be some fresh and funny final episodes, I figure this would be an opportune time to go back through what’s been and rank the best.
I’ve been watching HIMYM religiously since the beginning of season three in 2007. Since then, the times I have seen each episode have been innumerable. To say it has a hold on me is a vast understatement. At 29 years old, I relate to these characters and their stories more than any other series at any other time—even more than Doug in my youth, and believe me, that’s saying something. The show is certainly not perfect, but its misfires are few and far in between, and the great quality of the rest allows for an easy forgiveness of those few.
This makes the idea of ranking episodes quite a daunting task. How does one determine what are the best? Go for the funniest? Maybe, but it’s a comedy; it’s supposed to be funny. So besides the humor, there are many aspects that make HIMYM great. In the end, I realized that the show is so multifaceted, everyone who watches probably tunes in for a different reason. And because of that, there is no way a list like this will ever satisfy every fan. There are some no-brainers, of course: “classics” that, if left off, would create anarchy and start a movement to shut my blog down. Still, I think there will be a few surprises as to what is and isn’t on the list. What I attempted to do was look at the episodes from the perspective of a non-viewer, and I gathered what I saw to be the best representation of all of the things the show does exceptionally: the unique storytelling structure and framing; the emotional core, aka the “heart” of the show; the strictly adhered continuity; the character development rarely seen in television sitcoms; and, of course, the humor, because it can never really be ignored.
Before I start the actual list, an Honorable Mention goes to “Rabbit or Duck” (Season 5 Episode 15). This just may be the episode responsible for the loudest and most frequent laughs. The pace is quite frantic and just narrowly misses the top 15, but deserves to be mentioned purely for the Great Bar Debate on the likability of rabbits and ducks.
And now, the top 15…
15) “Trilogy Time”
S7 E20 – April 9, 2012
Ted and Marshall have a tradition dating back to their college days: Every three years, they “trill” it up and marathon the Star Wars trilogy. These sessions cause them to assess their lives and think of what the future will be like for them in three years’ time when they watch the movies again. What follows is a series of hilarious fantasy flash-fowards that completely ring true for guys in their early 20s. Of course the college-aged bros will still have huge “sandwiches” lying around in three years, and the 25-year-olds imagine having luxurious lifestyles and riches in that short of a time. (I was certainly guilty of that at that age.) The best parts come from the presidential newspaper headlines (From 2006: “President Dean calmly addresses nation”) and Lily always being pregnant—sometimes simultaneously with two separate kids! And despite the occasional douchey trucker hat freakout, by 2012, everyone’s lives have pretty much settled into where they wanted to be…except for Ted.
A good deal of Season 7 addressed the fact that Ted is nowhere near where he wanted to be at the start of the series, and we got to see him coming to terms with that fact, with a reasonable amount of despair. He tries to go back to Robin to no avail, and even the Slutty Pumpkin he pined over for years turned out to be a mismatch. For the first time, Ted envisioned a solitary spinster future, complete with empty cat food cans, towers of newspapers, and microwave dinners. Fortunately, the show gave us a glimpse of his actual future, a life that Future Ted called “amazing”: Married, with an infant baby daughter. The writers reminded us that despite how gloomy the forecast seemed, Ted does have his happy ending coming very soon.
Marshall: “If you’re not trilling it at least once every three years, the dark side wins.”
Barney: “Guys, you’re gonna be seeing a lot more of Quinn.”
Marshall: “Dude, we’ve been to the Lusty Leopard. We’ve seen plenty.”
Barney: “I kinda walked into that one.
14) “Arrivederci, Fiero”
S2 E17 – February 26, 2007
Before hitting 200,000 on the odometer of Marshall’s Fiero, the car breaks down. As the gang sits in the auto shop waiting for a diagnosis, they reminisce about the memories had in the car and what it means to all of them. This episode primarily serves as the origin story for Ted and Marshall’s friendship, and it’s the first time we get an extensive look at their college versions, complete with “decorative spectacles.” Their road trip of playing Zitch Dog and singing along to The Proclaimers’ “I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles)” over and over and over still ranks among the best of material for the two. The other characters’ brief stories—Robin and Lily’s takeout food disaster and Barney’s absolutely hysterical driving lesson (below)—deservedly add to the legend of the Fiero.
What’s great about this episode is that the writers still manage to put meaning behind the story. As Marshall works his corporate job, he finds himself slipping more and more away from who he believes he’s supposed to be, an environmental lawyer saving the world. So he holds tight to an important but ultimately superficial piece of his past, the Fiero he’s had since he was a teen, as part of his identity. But just like that tape deck stuck playing a song on repeat, he eventually had to learn to let go and grow a little.
Marshall: “You live in Ohio, right? I could swing through and pick you up.”
Ted: “Alright, first of all, my parents live in Ohio. I live in the moment.”
13) “The Best Man”
S7 E1 – September 19, 2011
As Ted attempts to calm Barney’s pre-wedding jitters, they recount another time Ted served as Best Man, at the wedding of his high school friend Punchy. This is as close as we get to an actual checklist for everything that makes a HIMYM episode great. Self-referential jokes that acknowledge the audience? Future Ted tells his kids that the story is “totally, almost, not really all that close to the end.” Mention of an Internet website or video that turns out to really exist? Check out the full version of the autotune remix. Physical comedy? Watching Drunk Marshall stumble around is always a joy. (See also “The Magician’s Code”.) Bonus to the flash of Barney slamming pills during his “Patient Zero” play, and the baby spitting up on Ted’s magazine article. Heartfelt dialogue? As Ted talked about his feeling like giving up on love, I love how Josh Radnor played the moment not as sappy but as a little jaded. Wonderful musical number? The elaborate dance between Barney and Robin is nothing but a pure delight. Tearjerker moment? Only this series has the bravado to immediately follow up a scene of pure joy like that dance with one designed to tug at your heart strings. Watching Robin confess her love for Barney while simultaneously helping him land someone else was a stroke of creative genius. Add in a lovely group celebration for the announcement of Marshall and Lily’s future child, and you’ve got yourself a masterpiece of an episode.
Barney: “Get ready, Cleveland. The last man to screw you this hard, then disappear, was LeBron James.”
Ted: “All my friends from high school, they’re here with their wives, their kids. Me? My date for the night is a sticky magazine.”
Robin: “Sounds like high school all over again.
12) “Disaster Averted”
S7 E9 – November 7, 2011
If you haven’t noticed, a great number of episodes in HIMYM involve what I call the “story in a story.” It’s Future Ted telling the story of when the characters sat around a room and told the story of something that once happened to them. Given that the show makes heavy use of flashbacks—hell, the entire show IS a flashback—it’s not surprising that this format is used so often. “Disaster Averted” is an episode featuring one of the strongest uses of that framing technique. Robin’s boyfriend, Kevin, wonders aloud why MacLaren’s Pub has an “Absolutely No Boogie Boarding” sign outside its door, and then actually asks Ted to make his explanation as long as possible. Very funny, HIMYM writers. Long-time watchers of the show know just how good Ted is at doing that.
The story involved their attempt, and then lack of an attempt, to escape the incoming Hurricane Irene. Ted had been prepared for it for a week, but the others simply did not care about the threat, wanting instead to drink beer at Barney’s place. Hilarious are Robin’s explanations that growing up in the extreme weather of Canada causes her to see this hurricane as nothing more than lawn-mowing, house-painting, golfing, bikini weather. What also remains consistently funny are Kevin’s interruptions of the episode’s side arc in order to get back to the story: “So, boogie-boarding?”
And that gleeful side arc, by the way, had Barney trying at great lengths to get Marshall and Lily to let him take off the ducky tie, which he was able to do by allowing Marshall to add three more slaps to their existing slap bet. Ah, that slap bet is one of the best things about this show, and it’s what puts this episode over the top. The staff knew the gem they hand in their hand. I still flinch watching Marshall give Slap #6, or what I call “the jump slap.” As Barney put it so aptly:
And still, even after all of this calamitous comedy gold, they manage to put some sweetness in it. What Barney says to Robin in the rain outside of MacLaren’s sounds a bit like a young boy learning to talk but still hits the soft spot. Then, after having teased us for what felt like eternity, Barney and Robin finally kiss again. Disaster averted.
There is one more reason I regard this episode so highly. Someone else took the words out of my mouth:
11) “The Time Travelers”
S8 E20 – March 25, 2013
Admittedly, Season 8 was, at best, a grab bag, with episodes varying in quality from week to week. This is largely attributed to the fact that the staff did not know for sure whether or not the network would renew the series for an additional and final season. After the renewal was confirmed, the show started to pick up a bit with developing storylines, but “The Time Travelers” became the sole anchor for the season, and in some ways the series as well.
Ted finds himself at MacLaren’s being greeting by rest of the gang, and while Marshall and Robin battle over the naming rights to a drink Marshall created, Ted enters a debate with Barney over whether or not to go to Robots vs. Wrestlers that evening. Soon, Ted and Barney are joined by various future iterations of themselves, each arguing for and against attending the sport. This kind of visual craziness is nothing new for the show, and it most certainly doesn’t stop it from being funny. (20-Years-From-Now Ted teasing Present Ted about possibly still not being married is a high point.) By this time in the series, the viewer thinks, I wonder what the real story is here. But the answer is certainly not anticipated.
Later, Ted sees a girl he was interested in years before, but after realizing that the potential he once saw in dating has waned, he resigns to go home. And that’s when he awakes from his fantasy: He’s imagined the entire evening with his friends. In actuality, he’s sitting alone in an empty bar with a single ticket to Robots vs. Wrestlers because his friends are too busy raising a child and planning a wedding to hang out with him. It’s an incredibly somber moment that makes you feel sad for Ted. But that’s when the amazing narration from Future Ted kicks in to remind us that there’s really nothing to be sad about, because the love of Ted’s life is so close in time and space. And if Future Ted could go back in time to that moment with the knowledge he now has, he’d run to a nearby apartment complex and deliver a speech the entire HIMYM fandom had been needing to hear:
Until this point, we had only heard bits and pieces about the type of woman that the future Mrs. Mosby is, but eight years into the show, Ted’s speech marks the first time that we discover exactly what this relationship means to him emotionally. We get to feel the love that he has for her, and all at once, his future is validated. It’s a tough trick to get us to care about someone we had yet to even see, but the writers and Josh Radnor pull it off.
Mega bonus points go to this gem of a closer:
Thanks for reading! Click here for the next five installments in the list! What episodes do you think will make the top 10?