“Kids, this is the story of how I met your mother…”
When Ted Mosby uttered those lines in the pilot nine seasons ago, I had no idea that I was about to embark on one of the greatest love affairs with a television show of my life. I have a hard time fully putting into words what How I Met Your Mother has meant to me. As a now 30-something New Yorker, I have grown up with these characters, aging right along with them, as I was the same age as Ted when it premiered. I have experienced many of the things they have (there have been some episodes where I’ve looked around my apartment for hidden camera, as it hewed that closely to my life). I have laughed at them and with them. I have cried with them. I have yelled at them through my television. And this coming Monday, I will say goodbye to them. I’m not ready.
But rather than sit around and mourn the loss of a show that has meant so much to me, I choose to celebrate it. So I went about choosing my favorite episodes of the series. After narrowing down 200+ episodes to 35, I spent the weekend watching them and narrowed the list down to 20, because *I*, unlike Entertainment Weekly, which picked their top FIFTY episodes, believe in the integrity of BEST. I consulted a few HIMYM uber-fans just to assure that my episode instincts were right (duh doy, they were) and then set about ranking them. So here we go…episodes 20 to 11. Suit up and read on!
20) “The Slutty Pumpkin” (1 x 06)
When I think of iconic images from How I Met Your Mother, the image of Ted in his Hanging Chad costume wearing a befuddled expression, with The Devil (erm…Barney) on one shoulder and An Angel (congrats random party dude!) on the other, always comes to mind. And thus “The Slutty Pumpkin” makes this list. But even without that image, the episode still merits inclusion. Let’s talk about HIMYM‘s first season, y’all. It’s pretty flawless. When I started listing episodes that I thought deserved consideration for this post, I had 8 from Season One (I ultimately, in the name of parity, cut it down to 4). That’s how good the first season was. The show was firing on all creative cylinders from the very beginning. The ensemble had terrific chemistry and the characters were sharply drawn and defined right from the get go and “Slutty Pumpkin” continues to fill in every shade of our characters (SIX EPISODES INTO THE SERIES) and manages to deliver one hell of a Halloween episode (and a delightful tribute to It’s The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown) at the same time.
While its sequel “The Slutty Pumpkin Returns” is vastly inferior (as Sage says, the mystery was SO MUCH BETTER than the reveal), “The Slutty Pumpkin” holds up 200 episodes later. From Barney’s completely accurate description of how girls slut it up for Halloween (“She’s not just a nurse, she’s a slutty nurse”) to Marshall and Lily’s Couples Costume escapades to Robin’s emotional issues about being a girlfriend to Ted’s unflinching hope that he will find the Slutty Pumpkin again, it’s a perfect little time capsule of the series and it’s an episode that never fails to make me smile.
Robin: How do you do this Ted? How do sit out here all night, in the cold, and still have faith that your pumpkin’s going to show up?
Ted: Well, I’m pretty drunk. Look I know the odds are, the love of my life isn’t going to magically walk through that door in a pumpkin costume at 2:43 in the morning. But it just seems as nice a spot as any to just … you know, sit and wait.
19) “Ducky Tie” (7 x 03)
Before we met the Mother, Victoria was always my favorite girlfriend of Ted’s. I may have MANY qualms about how she was used in season 8 (because she was RUINED), I thought her appearance in “Ducky Tie” was damn near perfect. We were able to fill in the blanks on her story (she was on the verge of cheating on Ted when he cheated on her with Robin, proving that LONG DISTANCE NEVER WORKS) and get closure (or so we thought) on their relationship. It’s a very bittersweet story for Ted to explore “what if” with a girl who could have been perfect for him if not for some really crappy timing. What I love about Victoria in this episode is that she serves Teddy Westside up some tough love by calling him out on his feelings for Robin. It’s painful and it’s awkward and it’s a truth that Ted is not at all ready to hear…and that’s what makes it awesome. It’s a ballsy thing for Victoria to say, especially considering that at that particular time, she has no stakes in what happens to Ted and his love life. She’s just being real and truthful with him. Because as Future Ted says, even though he couldn’t see it at the time, she was right. And I like to think that no matter what kind of feelings Future Ted ends up having about his time with Victoria, that he is eternally grateful for her candor.
What makes “Ducky Tie” wonderful is that this highly emotional story for Ted is told within the framework of the gang going out to a Hibachi dinner and Barney making a bet with Lily and Marshall so he can touch her (rocking) pregnancy boobs. Of course it is all a long con by Barney (who is the master of them, TBH) but Lily and Marshall outwit him, which results in one of the great visual gags of the season: Barney being forced to wear Marshall’s Ducky Tie. The episode is a perfect mix of the absurd and the grounded which is the trademark of all the best How I Met Your Mother episodes.
Victoria: There is a reason that it didn’t work out between you and me, but it’s not Germany. And I’m willing to bet it’s the same reason none of your other relationships in the last six years have lasted either. It’s Robin.
Victoria: Yes. She is so much bigger in your world than you realize. And this thing that you’re all doing, you and Barney and Robin, where the three of you hang out at the bar night in, night out, like you’re all just buddies? That doesn’t work. Trust me.
Ted: You-You’ve got it all wrong.
Victoria: I’m right about this. Good-bye, Ted.
18) “Girls vs. Suits” (5 x 12)
“Girls vs. Suits” was the 100th episode of How I Met Your Mother and it delivers in both driving the mythology of the show and in all around laughs. Ted got the closest he had ever gotten to the woman he was going to marry, as he dated her roommate. Rachel Bilson was adorably insecure as Cindy, and now that we’ve met Cristin Milioti’s Mother, I can see why. I would have had the same reaction had I brought my boyfriend to my place and the only things he found cool belonged to my roommate. To be honest, this is why I live alone, people.
The near misses Ted has with his future wife exemplify everything I love about HIMYM. You never know how close you are to the person that will change your life. Every person you meet is an important part of your story because they shape you in the person you are today. So you’ve GOT to stay open to the possibilities, which is one of the things I love so much about Ted Mosby. He goes through dark times and times where he’s lost or times that he’s bogged down by his inability to let go of the ideal of Robin. But at the root of it all, Ted is a person who BELIEVES in possibility. It’s a very hopeful life philosophy, and like I’ve said before, I feel like How I Met Your Mother is ultimately a show about hope and about optimism, even in the darkest times.
Of course, I feel all of this story runs secondary to the fantastic storyline for Barney where he is forced to choose between a hot girl and his beloved suits. We meet Barney’s personal tailor, Tim Gunn, because really…who else would it be? We see Barney dressing in jeans and t-shirts (how disconcerting is it to see him in NOT a suit?) to try to score with the hot bartender at McClaren’s (a pre-Clooney Stacy Kiebler) who HATES guys wearing suits. And it all culminates in the GLORIOUS musical number “Nothing Suits Me Like A Suit”. When the cast visited Inside The Actor’s Studio, NPH chose this moment as his favorite Barney moment of the entire series. To this day, I will never understand how this song did NOT win the Emmy for original music and lyrics (it lost to a song from MONK, you guys. What EVEN.). It’s definitely one of the seminal moments of the series.
Barney: (sings) To score a ten would be just fine,
But I’d rather be dressed to the nines!
It’s a truth you can’t refute–
Nothing suits me like a suit!
17) “The Final Page” (8 x 11, 8 x 12)
Let’s talk about the character evolution of Barney Stinson. Honestly, I think of all the characters, he has had the most growth as a person, and it’s all due to falling in love with Robin Scherbatsky. I saw sparks between these two characters way back in Season One when they bro’d out in “Zip Zip Zip”. I thought it was completely organic for them to hook up at the end of “Sandcastles in the Sand”. I DO think their relationship was a little mishandled in Season Five, but I mainly think it was because while Robin and Barney were drawn to each other, neither one of them were ready for the full-on committed relationship. They both had to genuinely fall in love with other people to realize that they REALLY wanted to be with each other. The difference between Barney and Ted when it comes to Robin, is that Barney has just the right amount of edge and cynicism that Robin needs to challenge her. Barney doesn’t paint the picture of the white picket fence and 2.5 kids that Ted does. Barney accepts Robin for exactly who she is, not what he wants her to be, and that’s why they work on a fundamental level. It doesn’t mean that it wasn’t a long and often painful journey for them. They both hurt each other a great deal. But they came out stronger in the end, which brings us to “The Final Page”.
Barney, master of the long con, once he realizes that he wants to be with Robin for the rest of his life, sets out to make the final play from his playbook. It’s an arc that traverses the entire first half of season eight and it’s a wonder to see how it all came together in the final minutes of the episode. It’s sweet with just a hint of mischief and ridiculousness…also know as exactly what the Barney and Robin relationship is.
When I first made this list, I had “The Wedding Bride” in the place of “The Final Page”, but upon rewatching all my contenders, the scene in the limo between Ted and Robin is what made me say “No, this episode HAS to be on my list.” What a LOVELY and bittersweet scene it is! The writers have gone back to the Ted and Robin well FAR too often (especially given that Ted says in the PILOT that she is not the mother) and it became quite frustrating for us as an audience. But that’s how life is. We’ve all had that one person that we just can’t seem to let go of, no matter how hard we try. Robin is that person for Ted. Robin and Ted are ALMOST perfect for each other and you can’t deny that there is a deep love between them. I think even in his heart of hearts Ted knows that Robin is not the one for him, no matter how much he wants her to be, and letting go of that ideal is a journey he had to make in his own time. The scene in the limo is the beginning of that. I can’t even IMAGINE sending the person I loved off to get engaged to someone else. But Ted recognizes Robin’s struggle and BECAUSE he is a good friend and only wants her to be happy, he tells her about Barney’s plan to “propose to Patrice”. He KNOWS that Robin will always wonder “what if” and so, despite Marshall’s reservations, he puts Robin’s needs ahead of his. It’s truly a beautiful thing for him to do. It’s a heart breaking sacrifice and anyone who DOESN’T recognize that is watching the show wrong.
Ted: Eight years ago I made an ass of myself chasing after you and I made an ass of myself chasing after you a bunch of times since then. I have no regrets because it led me to something I wouldn’t trade for the world, it led to you being my friend. So as your friend and a leading expert in the field of making an ass of yourself, I say to you, from the heart, get the hell out of this car.
16) “Something Borrowed” (2 x 21)
I’m attending three weddings this year. My sister is getting married in May, and then I have 2 sets of close friends getting married in August and October. Planning a wedding is hard. You have very specific visions of how you want your day to be, but when you start to involve families, your vision often has to change, as you have to take what they want into consideration. This is the dilemma that Marshall and Lily face in “Something Borrowed”. Their ideal intimate outdoor ceremony becomes a big overblown celebration and they find themselves struggling to find THEM in the scenario. Everything that could go wrong does. Lily’s ex-boyfriend Scooter shows up. Their harpist goes into labor. The florist is late. Lily’s veil gets trampled and her “property of Marshall” panties go missing. Brad (a pre-True Blood and Magic Mike Joe Manganiello) tackles their photographer, but don’t worry, he has a sweet camera phone. Marshall gets “Cool Guy Tips” and in a moment of panic takes a set of clippers to his head. It’s enough to drive anyone insane, because despite protestations that she is fine with everything, all Lily wants is for her day to be perfect.
And then it DOES become perfect. Lily (who was given an emergency cigarette by the best maid of honor ever, Robin) and Marshall run into each other outside. They despair over how lost they are as a couple in this big old mess of a ceremony. All they wanted was a nice outdoor ceremony with close friends. And in that magic moment…they have it, Ted says. They have their friends and Barney is ordained so he can marry them (I could write an entire essay about how much of a Marshall and Lily shipper Barney TRULY is and how their relationship inspires him to believe that true love DOES exist. Another time). So that’s exactly what he does in one of the most heartfelt and sweet moments of the series. Much like Jim and Pam do in “Niagara” two years later, Marshall and Lily get married in their own way. That way…they don’t care about what happens during the ceremony and it really just becomes for their families, because they already HAD the wedding they wanted…shaved head, missing panties and all.
Marshall: Okay, I’ll go first. Lily. There are a million reasons why I love you. You make me laugh, and… you take care of me when I’m sick, and… you’re sweet and caring and you even created an egg dish and named it after me (she puts a little Italian dressing on the scrambled eggs before she cooks them. It’s called Eggs Marshall. And it’s awesome.) But the main reason that I love you is that you’re my best friend, Lily. You’re uh, the best friend that I’ve ever had. (I’m sorry buddy.)
Lily: My turn. Marshall. I love you because you’re – you’re funny, and you make me feel loved, and you make me feel safe. And for our anniversary you gave me a sweatshirt that says “Lily and Marshall: Rockin’ It Since ‘96”. I kinda wish I was I was wearing it right now because… it – it smells like you. But, the main reason I love you, Marshall Eriksen, is… you make me happy. You make me happy all the time.
15) “The Time Travelers” (8 x 20)
I wrote EXTENSIVELY about “The Time Travelers” in my Ted Mosby Appreciation Post that I published after the episode initially aired. So read that post for an intensive analysis. For the purposes of this post, I will say that something HIMYM excelled at in its later seasons is the episodes that would pack a real emotional wallop at the end. “The Time Travelers” FEELS like one of the fun and fluffy episodes of the early seasons and then all of a sudden Barney says “You’re all alone, Ted.” and you’re sobbing. Or at least I was. The “45 Days” speech remains one of Josh Radnor’s finest acting moments of the entire series. The guy can deliver earnest monologues like nobody’s business, and he hasn’t gotten nearly enough credit for the work he has done on the show.
“The Time Travelers” also dumped a can of kerosene and then lit a match in regards to the theory that Ted is telling his kids this story because their mother is dead (He wants those 45 days back because he wanted the extra time with her in his life and I CAN’T). I refuse to believe that theory and I will very much arrange a bonfire of my DVDs Monday night if this theory comes true. How I Met Your Mother is a romantic comedy and ROMANTIC COMEDIES DO NOT END THIS WAY PEOPLE. THEY DOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOON’T. DO YOU HEAR ME CARTER BAYS AND CRAIG THOMAS??
I also refuse to believe that theory because if the mother being dead the whole time had been the plan ALL ALONG (which Bays and Thomas HAVE said they’ve had the end planned from the start) we would have had more hints of it earlier than the final two seasons. ESPECIALLY considering HIMYM was perpetually a bubble series up until season 4 or so. SO THERE.
Future Ted: Kids, it’s been almost 20 years since that cold April night in 2013, and I can safely tell you, if I could go back in time and relive that night, there’s no way in hell I’d go to Robots vs. Wrestlers. No, I’d go home. I’d go to my old apartment, see all my old furniture, my old stuff. I’d see my old drafting table, where I sketched out my first building. I’d sit on that old couch and smell the Indian food cooking three stories below. I’d go to Lily and Marshall’s place, be back in that old living room where so many things happened. I’d see the baby. I don’t know if you can picture me holding your six-foot-seven cousin Marvin over my head, but back then I could. I’d go have a drink with Barney and Robin, watch them fight about their caterer or whatever it was they were fighting about that night. But none of those things is the thing I’d do first. You know the thing I’d do first?
(Ted runs to the Mother’s apartment)
Ted: Hi. I’m Ted Mosby. And exactly 45 days from now, you and I are gonna meet, and we’re gonna fall in love, and we’re gonna get married, and we’re gonna have two kids. And we’re gonna love them and each other so much. All that is 45 days away. But I’m here now, I guess, because I want those extra 45 days with you. I want each one of them. Look, and if I can’t have them, I’ll take the 45 seconds before your boyfriend shows up and punches me in the face, because I love you. I’m always gonna love you, till the end of my days and beyond. You’ll see.
14) “Swarley” (2 x 07)
I love “Swarley” for many reasons. First of all, it’s the episode where Marshall and Lily get back together for good. I have GOT to give kudos to the writers for breaking them up in an organic way and also not resolving it quickly. It was a bold choice to break-up the couple that was meant to be the rock of the series and it proved that even in its early seasons HIMYM was not afraid to go in unexpected directions.
“Swarley” also introduced the concept of “The Crazy Eyes” to our lexicon. What are the Crazy Eyes, you ask? Let’s let Barney and Ted explain…
Barney: She’s got the… ‘Crazy Eyes’.
Ted: Dude… the eyes… they’re CRAZY.
Marshall: What are you guys talking about; the ‘Crazy Eyes’?
Barney: It’s a well-documented condition of the pupils, or pupi.
Ted: Nope, just pupils.
Barney: It’s an indicator of future mental instability
Marshall: She does not have the crazy eyes.
Ted: You just can’t see it because you’re afflicted with “haven’t been laid in a while” blindness.
This is what HIMYM does best, in my opinion. It takes conceits we all recognize in the world and puts a name to them. Crazy eyes. The Lemon Law. Suit up. Legendary. The Bro Code. The Sexless Innkeeper. Lawyered. On the hook. The Mermaid Theory. Woo girls. Nothing good happens after 2 AM. Eating a Sandwich. The front porch test. The Three Days Rule. These are all phrases that have entered my vocabulary thanks to this show.
But the best part of the episode is how the gang mercilessly teases Barney after Chloe the coffee girl (not at all related to Chloe the COPY girl…or is she?) mistakenly writes “Swarley” on Barney’s cup. I love it because it’s how real friends would ACTUALLY tease each other when they know something drives their friend crazy. They do it to lovingly get a rise out of Barney. I compare the antics in “Swarley” to the moment that my friend Andre PURPOSEFULLY outbid me on a piece of Nine/Rose artwork at Gallifrey One this year and he took GREAT pleasure in lording the fact that he had MY print over me and that I would scream in agony over it until he gave in. It’s what friends do. They milk the situation for as long as possible without it getting ugly. Andre eventually gave me the print and the gang eventually stopped calling Barney Swarley. But not before ordering him TV Guide in Espanol addressed to Swarlos and having everyone at McClaren’s scream “Swarley” when he walked in and Carl cued up the Cheers theme song. Because why miss that opportunity?
Robin: What’s up, Swarles?
Barney: No, okay? No! No more! I will not let this become a thing! It’s OVER! No more “Swarley!” No “Swarles!” No more “Swar-LAY!” No more “Swar – wait for it – LEE!” No more “Bob Swarleyman!” No more! No! It’s over! Do you understand?
13) “The Naked Man” (4 x 09)
“The Naked Man” is How I Met Your Mother at its silliest. The premise is thus: Ted comes home one night to find a naked man sitting on his couch. It turns out he’s Robin’s date and since he knows there won’t be a second one, he pulls out his “Hail Mary” move, “The Naked Man”:
“You’re on a first date. You’ve had a few drinks. You make an excuse to go up to the girl’s apartment. Then, once she leaves the room, you strip down naked and wait. When she comes back, she laughs. She’s so charmed by your confidence and bravado, she sleeps with you. Boom!”
Mitch says it is scientifically proven to work 2 out of 3 times. Robin does go for it, which spurs a great debate among the gang when Marshall (sweet-sweet-only-ever-slept-with-Lily Marshall) cries foul. This leads Lily to make a list of 50 reasons people have sex (Marshall: “Thanks for ruining the memory of our six month anniversary!”) and it inspires Ted and Barney to attempt “The Naked Man” that night. The montage of Ted and Barney trying out different naked man poses on the phone together is pure comic gold.
As Lily also tries “The Naked Man” that night to prove a point with Marshall (which really, with girls, I would imagine it has a 100% success rate. Just guessing.), we have three of our characters attempting The Naked Man, which means one of them fails. Hilariously, it’s Barney who is denied, who is forced onto the streets of New York naked, and would rather run around in his birthday suit than steal a cheap polyester one.
Two out of three times. It’s a proven fact.
Ted: A toast to Mitch. By the sum of his parts, he is just a man. But by what he does with those parts, he becomes so much more. He may not fit society’s definition of a hero, but he is the hero I needed. The hero who helped me recover from the disaster of my failed almost-marriage and get back into the game. He lives in the shadows. Is he a dream? Truth? Fiction? Damnation? Salvation? He is all these things and none of them. For he is “The Naked Man”.
12) “Symphony of Illumination” (7 x 12)
As I said in my entry about “The Time Travelers”, How I Met Your Mother became pretty fearless (and SOMETIMES emotionally manipulative, but let’s not get too nitpicky) when it came to exploring darker issues as its characters moved from their late 20’s into their 30’s. Career changes. Becoming a parent and the struggles you face in finding balance. The loss of a parent. And in “Symphony of Illumination” it dealt with Robin’s discovery that she could never have children. SITCOM MATERIAL, PEOPLE.
What the episode does so beautifully is it truly explores Robin’s psyche and the episode has a tour-de-force performance by Cobie Smulders. She truly captures every aspect of what Robin is going through in the smallest of expressions…her fear of potentially being pregnant…the elation and relief when she learns she’s not…and the shock and grief when she finds out she never WILL be pregnant. Robin Scherbatsky has never been a woman to want kids. But it’s one thing to not want something than it is to be told you CAN’T have something. Robin, being Robin and hating feelings, completely shuts down. She begins to question everything she’s known…would she have liked the option of having kids? How do you know you don’t want something until it’s not an option anymore? These are the questions Robin faces as she sits alone on a park bench on Christmas Eve, dead eyed and drinking egg nog straight from the carton, pretending to talk to her future children. That’s right. The entire episode is framed around future Robin talking to her kids with Barney (the only time the show has switched narrators by the way) until she says “I’m glad you guys aren’t real.” and the kids fade away. It’s a punch to the stomach, probably one of the biggest gut punches of the series, second only to the end of “Bad News”.
And then we have one of the greatest Ted Mosby moments ever. Robin comes home to her dark apartment, only to find that Ted has decked out the apartment in an incredible Christmas Lights display in order to cheer her up. It is only then that Robin breaks down and lets Ted comfort her. It’s one of my favorite Ted moments because he did this for Robin with no agenda other than to make her smile. It wasn’t a profession of love or unrequited feelings. He didn’t pressure her into telling him what was wrong. He was just there to offer her a shoulder to cry on when she needed and THAT is why, despite all his issues, Ted is an AMAZING human being. Haters to the left.
Future Ted: Kids, your aunt Robin never did become a pole-vaulter. But she did become a famous journalist, a successful businesswoman, a world traveler, she was even briefly a bullfighter (that’s a funny story, I’ll get to that one later). But there was one thing your aunt Robin never was; she was never alone.
11) “Game Night” (1 x 15)
There is nothing more intimidating that trying to integrate your new significant other into your group of friends. That’s exactly what Ted is trying to do with Victoria in “Game Night”. I always compare my friend Mark to Marshall, as he is always the one I am most afraid of having my boyfriends meet, because I KNOW he will subtly or not so subtly give them the third degree. That’s exactly what Marshall does when he invents Marshgammon, which is the greatest drinking/trivia game this side of True American. Except what Marshall does is make all the trivia about Victoria so he can learn about her past…how many boyfriends she’s had, her relationship habits, etc. Victoria, because she is awesome, gamely takes it in stride and openly answers the questions. She’s no fool. Victoria fits right in with the gang, even letting Robin’s snide (jealous) comments slide because she cares about Ted and WANTS to fit in with his friends. AND she even trumps ALL of the gang’s embarrassing stories with a story that Ted, the king of telling inappropriate stories, won’t even tell his kids the resolution of. He just says it was awesome.
Ah, yes. The embarrassing stories. The gang is trading embarrassing stories in order to get the dirt on Barney’s most embarrassing story…the story behind a weeping confessional on a video tape (A VIDEO TAPE GUYS!) . We learn in this episode that Barney was not always the suit-wearing, catchphrase-spouting, woman magnet we have always known him to be. He was once a ponytailed, goatee-sporting, Peace Corps joining hippie. It was only when he lost his girlfriend Shannon to a suit that he changed into the man he is now. The transformation is told through an AMAZING Darth Vader like montage, as Barney IS essentially the great villain.
We also learned through Ted’s Story of the re-return that “Vomit Free Since ’93” was a LIE…so really we can’t trust ANYTHING Ted says any more, right?
Barney: Ladies, gentlemen, Ted. This has been a wonderful evening. I got great dirt on all you guys. I got Ted to tell the Re-return. I finally nailed Shannon. Told her I’d call her tomorrow…a-yeah, right! And I rediscovered how awesomely awesome my life is. Peace out, hombres!
Marshall: (after a beat) I think Barney just won game night.
And that’s episodes 20 thru 11! Come back Monday for my top 10 and discuss these episodes in the comments!