It’s been one week since the series finale of CBS’ How I Met Your Mother aired, and it’s still been on my mind a lot since then. So now seems as good a time as any to talk about my ten favorite episodes of the show. Making this list wasn’t really that difficult, and rewatching all of these episodes brought a smile to face. Mostly (I was disappointed in Slap Bet to see that Ted’s “oh” moment with Robin is revealed to be Robin confessing that she “used to be a dude”).
The show didn’t become lessened by the finale in any way, which was I big concern that I had; I didn’t really see any of these episodes in a new, negative light. And I think I’m now finally ready to put How I Met Your Mother to bed for awhile. But not until this list is done.
HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER – My Top 10
10) “BLITZGIVING” (S06E10)
I know, I know – it’s a Zoey episode. How could I put a Zoey episode in my top ten, you may ask? *Why* would I put a Zoey episode in my top ten?
Umm, because it’s fucking great – that’s why.
Blitzgiving has not one, but two “let’s-fill-in-the-blanks” stories going on at once – and these are the best kinds of stories that How I Met Your Mother can tell. But what’s great about this episode in particular is that the first one is happening right out in the open, but the second one…the second one you don’t see coming until it’s all but resolved – and when it does resolve, it’s got that kind of perfect, sincere sweetness to it that How I Met Your Mother is capable of pulling off without being saccharine or precious.
TO BEGIN: Ted leaves the bar early on in what looks like a fairly nondescript evening, only to discover he’s missed out on an absolutely epic night the next morning. And one by one, the gang fills him on what he missed, but it’s a moot point. There’s just the aftermath now. Robin’s facepaint, the stolen hotdog cart, skateboarding dogs, “The Gentleman” – you had to be there. And Ted wasn’t. Also, there’s the little fact that now everyone is friends with Zoey (Ted’s proclaimed mortal enemy) after this one insane, inconceivable night. He can’t even avoid her. She passed out in his bathtub. Speaking purely as someone who’s missed out on his fair share of late night adventures, there’s a strange realism to all of this, and Ted’s frustration with being stuck with a secondhand vantage point rings true. You can’t go back and relive moments that are gone. They’re just gone.
And then there’s Steve Henry, a.k.a., The Blitz (played, in one of the series’ absolute best cameos, by Jorge Garcia of Lost). It’s little grace notes like this that elevate the series’ mythology, its canon, into something truly special. Steve Henry is , at first glance, a completely inconsequential part of the story about how Ted met Tracy – and yet the beauty of the show is that nothing is really inconsequential, and Steve’s history with the curse of The Blitz (that one guy who always leaves just before everything really cool starts to happen), gives powerful credence to the show’s beating heart: that Ted would happily skip a thousand “Gentlemans” if it meant it’d get him to Tracy.
All of this would make the episode great – but to see the antagonism between Ted and Zoey evaporate as Ted realizes what Zoey had been saying between the lines the whole time (“I’d be by myself anyway”, “you’re not exactly who I thought I’d be spending Thanksgiving with either”, etc.) is what puts it over the top. Ted and Zoey may be “enemies”, but Ted’s not a monster. His empathy for Zoey is genuine.
Let me say that again: his empathy is genuine. How often can you say that about a sitcom?
Oh, and Ted’s quest to cook a “turturkeykey” (a turkey stuffed inside a bigger turkey) makes me laugh every time, as does Future Ted’s ominous dismissal of it after the fact (“kids…it tasted wrong). Maybe stick to just one turkey next time, Ted.
9) “ARRIVEDERCI, FIERO” (S02E17)
In 2007, we finally got rid of my father’s 1991 Buick LeSabre. My brother and I are four years apart, and it got each of us through high school. By the time it was the car’s last ride, all of the motorized windows were broken, the windshield was cracked, the upholstery was permastained and sagging, the rear view mirrors were held on with duct tape, none of the tires matched, and the body of the car was riddled with dense patches of rust.
But the engine started. Even up to that last ride, the engine started without so much as a sputter. That Buick had, to paraphrase Jack McCarthy, an engine that wouldn’t quit short of a nuclear detonation.
I don’t remember how many miles the Buick had on it when we did get rid of it, but I know all too well what Marshall’s going through with his beloved, dying Fiero in this episode. Cars that get *that* old, that remain such an integral part of your life for so long, become less a machine and more a person. By donating them for scrap, you kind of feel like you’re turning your back on them in a way they would never have turned your back on you.
Seeing Ted and Marshall’s friendship coalesce in that car as college roomates, forever to the soundtrack of The Proclaimers’ I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles) (sidenote: has a song ever melded with such thematic perfection to another piece of media as it has here?) is both poignant and entertaining as hell. And while not as poignant, Robin and Lily’s bonding over a Pulp Fiction-esque Thai food clean up, and Barney’s not-so-close call with a dog whilst learning to drive in a parking lot put a nice spin on to two very well-worn TV tropes (Fix A Messy Situation Before Main Character Finds Out and Main Character’s Embarrassing Secret Revealed).
This episode is from season two, and at this point, the show was still figuring out how much it could trust its audience, so while I can’t deny that it does hammer its main point home a little too far (everyone has that one thing that they hold onto to preserve their identity), this doesn’t make it any less true. Take it from a man who still wears a pair of Converses that are currently more hole than shoe.
8) “THE BEST BURGER IN NY” (S04E02)
My my. What a difference a few years make. This is another Marshall-centric episode, and much like Arrivederci, Fiero, it’s about Marshall trying to hold onto who he is while what he’s about to become looms just off in the distance. There’s a lighter touch going on here, and the episode is better because of it. But it’s not just Marshall’s time in the spotlight. The Best Burger In New York is, as the title suggests, primarily about New York.
I should preface this by saying that I’ve never been to New York. I have no idea what it’s like there – but the way the show puts its spin on “progress” (as it’s defined by gentrification and corporate homogenization) is something that’s as true of the little suburb I grew up in as it presumably is of New York (it’s worth mentioning that the locations mentioned during the opening were all real).
20 years ago, the main road by my old house used to be just a road. There was a gas station, a carpet store, and not much else. Now, it’s a swath of chains in monochromatic strip malls: Chili’s, Dunkin Donuts, Buffalo Wild Wings, Hair Cuttery, Target, Kohl’s, Pizza Hut, Jimmy John’s, and Staples are now all basically within walking distance of one another. But the eerie part is, you travel north up this road, and every 5 miles or so, all the same stores crop up again, and again, like weeds. And while (to my knowledge) no old guard establishments got forced out during this consumerist emergence, that road just isn’t the same anymore; despite having more around it now than it ever has, it’s become empty. Another road just like any other.
So when Marshall finally finds the location of his long-forgotten restaurant, and it’s been replaced by a Goliath National Bank ATM (which he and Barney knows he’ll soon be working for, but which no one else does), that defeat is twofold: he’s not only lost a crucial tether to his past, but he’s lost it in part to the future he’ll soon be walking into. His confession to Lily is earnest and touching, and the crux of hangs on the notion that okay, yes: he might be settling for now. But he’s got a reason to put pants on in the morning. That’s progress. You can never really abandon yourself if you know exactly who you are and where you want to be.
Setting all of that aside, the episode’s assuredly funny. Marshall’s poetic ode to the burger in question (ending with “This is no mere sandwich of grilled meat and toasted bread, Robin – this is God”) is countered by Lily with perhaps one of the shows best-landed jabs, and Robin’s adorable yet pathetic “But…food!” is succinct and perfect. And Marshall’s sarcastic anger when dismissing his fellow bar patron for suggesting the burger in question just *had* to be from the Corner Bistro (“I never thought to check the number one rated burger in the Zagat guide!!!”) is wonderful because we never really see Marshall *get* angry like that. He’s a gentle giant. Just don’t get in the way of his burger.
7) “THE PINEAPPLE INCIDENT” (S01E10)
If you were to compare people’s lists of top 10 How I Met Your Mother episodes, I don’t think you’d find too many with the above three episodes on them. Those episodes speak to me, and I don’t know how much they will speak to others. But a lot of those lists will probably have this episode on it. Of the 208 episodes that aired of How I Met Your Mother, The Pineapple Incident was only the tenth, but it was the first episode to really display what the show was capable of when it was firing on all cylinders.
Again, the plot is tried-and-true: what on Earth did I *do* last night? Hell, Blitzgiving had dabbled in this, but that wasn’t ultimately its destination. Here, it is – but what it reveals by the time it arrives is far more relevatory than you’d first expect.
The guts: Ted wakes up hungover, with a woman in his bed and a pineapple on his nightstand; he has no idea how either got there (real quick, can I just say that drunk Ted is the best – “How easy do you think it is to sneak into the zoo? I need to see some penguins like, right now”). His memory is gone from the night before. There’s only some fragments, and they’re not very helpful. The rest of the gang helps Ted fill in the blanks, but they provide more questions than answers (who’s number is written on my arm? how did my coat catch fire? why does my ankle hurt?). This is all fairly standard stuff, and it’s all funny – but in the episodes final minutes, it circles back on itself and taps into something greater. Everyone initially thinks that it’s Robin in bed with Ted, but it isn’t; it’s a woman named Trudy (played by Danica McKellar from The Wonder Years). And when Robin announce she’s coming over, Ted makes Trudy hide. Again, this is fairly standard TV stuff here, and it doesn’t seem out of the ordinary. But when Robin arrives, and Ted tries to shrug off his incessant drunk calls to her as innocent palling around, and he goes to offer up Trudy as proof of their platonic state, Trudy’s gone – and Robin astutely calls Ted out, saying that if Ted sleeping with Trudy wasn’t a big deal, why on Earth did he feel the need to hide her?
This was when I first realized how special this show was going to be, that it was capable of traversing tropes and time while still being humorous, while at the same time not shortchanging the characters doing all of this back and forth. When Ted goes to hide Trudy, we don’t question it, because we’ve seen variants of that a million times over. But instead of whacky antics ensuing, the show, having just disarmed us, cuts down to the nerve in a way that shows don’t typically do once they’re in that deep into such a universal template.
Ted never did find out about the pineapple, and a lot of fans were clamoring for its origin to be included in the series finale, but such a thing never came to pass, and rightfully so – some mysteries are best left unsolved.
One final thing before moving on, this episode has a nice tie to Seinfeld: in season five, episode nine of Seinfeld (The Masseuse), Jerry mentions that he hasn’t vomited since 1980, and this episode aired in November of 1993. And in The Pineapple Incident, Ted proudly proclaims that he’s been vomit free since ’93.
Well, I thought it was neat.
6) “THREE DAYS OF SNOW” (S04E13)
Oh man, so many great things happen in this episode. Let’s run through the list:
-The multi-story snowstorm
-“Those sound like agreeable terms, although I may need to adjust my briefs…I love you.”
-“We should buy a bar!”
-PUZZLES (“that’s the puzzle!”)
-reconnections (and another sappy yet well-earned nod to Love Actually with the expanding marching band playing Auld Lang Syne at the airport)
-No last call!
Balancing two stories of differing tones like this, as fully as this, would be a tall order for any show; vaulting back and forth between Ted and Barney’s bar ownership folly and Marshall and Lily’s rekindling of their relationship quirks is a lot to process, and I don’t know if the show could’ve managed something like this in season two. But midway through season 4, when the show was at its peak? Most definitely. I think there’s a loneliness over both of these stories that allow them to fuse together so well, with Marshall and Lily rationalizing their maturity separately before reuniting, and Ted and Barney not being able to handle being alone in MacLaren’s, or otherwise. Both of these stories travel to very different places, but the show being what it is, an element from one arc ultimately surfaces to close out the other.
Three Days of Snow is at once sweet and goofy, a story of love and bros and snow. It shouldn’t work, but it does. It’s absolutely delightful. GO HENS!
5) “RIGHT PLACE, RIGHT TIME” (S04E22)
I had previously written about how this episode, more clearly than any other one, taps into the central idea of the show. After rewatching it, it’s still true, but the episode slyly closes out with a misdirect – but you don’t *know* it’s a misdirect until the next episode. You’re not quite sure what to make of it. The ending of Right Place, Right Time is small, wordless, but packs a whallop.
You see, this whole time, Ted is telling his kids about why he took the particular route to the bagel place that he did that day, and we’re meant to take from this that this mundane sustenance errand is anything but, just like every other mundane or noteworthy thing that Ted is done. It’s all putting him where he needs to be. And at the episode’s conclusion, we see Stella. WHAT COULD THIS MEAN.
And that’s just it. The show’s counting on us drawing some pretty heavy conclusions from this, but if you step back, it’s pretty abstract. It isn’t until the end of the season that we see the this encounter start to bear fruit, and the significance of it isn’t completely realized until the beginning of season 5. See, Ted going on the path that he did led him to Stella, which leads to Tony offering Ted a teaching position at Columbia, which eventually leads Ted to start lecturing Econ 305 accidentally when he shows up in the wrong classroom…a classroom in which Tracy was present. So not only does the episode itself play a spirited and beautiful long game, it sets into motion an integral component of the series’ long game. In essence, it’s the show in microcosm. That’s marvelous.
A final thought: How I Met Your Mother has had its fair share of great montages, but I don’t think any could ever top Ted running through the streets and hugging everyone he sees out of sheer joy, all to the tune of Glad Girls by Guided By Voices.
4) “THE TIME TRAVELERS” (S08E20)
There’s not another episode of How I Met Your Mother quite like The Time Travelers – playful, melancholy, elusive. And while it’d be easy to say it’s tragic, especially now that the finale has aired, it really isn’t. It’s despairing, but it’s buoyed by hope, which is something the show’s always excelled at executing in its darkest moments.
For a while, you’re not quite sure what the show’s getting at, what’s real, what’s imagined, what’s perhaps in between. Ted wants to opt out of going to Robots Versus Wrestlers: Legends, but Barney wants him to come. To give weight to his argument, Barney conjures up 20 Years From Now Barney to help prove his point. This of course means that 20 Years From Now Ted must also make an appearance, as does 20 Hours From Now Ted (a hungover wreck who does *not* want Present Ted to go), and finally, 20 Minutes From Now Barney, who’s got a bad case of heartburn from bar spaghetti. The show treats all of this as though it’s really happening, though we know it’s impossible – and it’s to the show’s credit that this convergence of future lives is lively enough in its own right to keep us engaged so that our minds don’t easily wander off to the implications of this scenario. That plus a solid B-plot involving Marshall and Robin butting heads over the bar’s name of a cocktail they both lay claim to inventing keeps everything moving forward until…
…until Barney hits Ted with the truth. Marshall and Robin’s cocktail feud was months ago, and no one is going to Robots Versus Wrestlers with Ted. There’s just Ted with one ticket. He’s alone.
It’s telling that Ted’s reverie is comprised solely of things how they were, with intergroup escapades, and Barney trying to convince Ted to commit to something legendary (which, in this case, even happens to have the word “legend” in its title). But things aren’t this way any longer. Barney and Robin are checking out wedding caterers, and Lily and Marshall are upstairs with their child. Ted’s feeling boxed out of his own life. Everyone’s moving on, and he isn’t. It must have been in this mindset when he initially decided to move to Chicago after Barney and Robin’s wedding – there’s nothing in New York for him anymore, so why fight it?
And then, something happens: Future Ted tells us that if he could live that night over again, he’d know exactly what he’d do. And we see him run to where Tracy is currently living, and he confesses to her that he knows there’s still 45 days before they meet, but he’ll take anything, any amount of extra time with her that he can. It’s a fanciful, powerful scene, the kind that How I Met Your Mother didn’t dabble too much in, and it leaves you feeling overwhelmed. But because the show’s as great and surefooted as it is, that’s not the feeling it leaves you with. Because *this* is how the episode closes out:
A masterstroke if ever there was one.
3) “LAST WORDS” (S06E14)
There comes a time when every great comedy must inevitably touch upon loss, a decidedly unfunny topic. Whether it’s JD’s Dad in Scrubs or Susan Ross in Seinfeld, it’s a base that just has to be touched. You could argue that this is the result of creative bankruptcy, and that killing off a character is an easy way to stir up the pot of remaining characters to see what happens to them – but you know what that is by now. The C Word. And not the boat from Arrested Development. Cynicism.
Marshall’s father dies at the end of the previous episode, Bad News. It’s a sucker punch that despite an elaborate countdown you don’t see coming. Marvin Eriksen wasn’t a main character on the show, but his passing hits hard, not in the least because the timing is so awful. It’s cruel to lose someone so close on the cusp of something so joyous as deciding to bring a child into the world, but How I Met Your Mother, for all its flights of fancy and endless parades of positivism, has never shied away from addressing the curveballs that life can throw at you when you’re least ready for them (indeed, Marshall’s final words in Bad News are “I’m not ready for this”).
In Last Words, everyone is holed up in St. Cloud, Minnesota, preparing for the funeral. And despite the funeral hanging over everyone’s head, the initial part of the episode gets a surprising amount of comedic mileage out of a great truth: there’s really not anything you can do for someone at this stage of grief, but if you love them, you gotta try something. So Robin becomes “Vice Girl”, her magic handbag a seemingly unending well of iniquity (when an older gentlemen tells Robin that he needs vodka and dirty playing cards, she sizes him up, and stonefaced, tells him: “follow me”). Likewise, Lily provokes Judy, and takes her abuse so that Judy will eat and rest. The two of them have had a pretty acrimonious relationship, but curiously, they bond through this process. Love comes through in the end.
Ted and Barney’s quest to make Marshall laugh at a series of videos of people being punched in the groin, though, doesn’t end up working, and the reason is because Ted and Barney are trying to “cheer up” Marshall – and the show is wise enough to know that cheering up doesn’t really work in these situations. The well-being concerns of a grieving person are more immediate, more base. Sleep. Nourishment. Vodka. A nudie deck.
As the episode progresses, Marshall becomes more and more distraught that each set of “last words” between him and his father that he remembers aren’t really that meaningful. And as the gang thinks back to their most recent conversations with their fathers (sans Barney), they realize the same thing. So when Marshall discovers the voicemail that his father had left him, the implications of it eat him up. He can live with “Rent Crocodile Dundee 3” as being his father’s last words to him. What if the voicemail’s more poignant? Or less? He ultimately listens to it at the eleventh hour, and discovers it’s worse: there’s silence on the other end. Denim white noise. A pocket dial. And just Marshall begins to give into anger and despair, he suddenly hears this:
Marshall? Looks like I’ve been calling you for over five minutes. How’s my pocket sound? Sorry about that buddy. Anyway, your Mom and I had such a great time seeing you. I love you.
Not everybody gets to say goodbye. But everybody should. And just to ensure we don’t start tearing up too much, we then hear this:
Oh and remember my foot cream – that rash has come back.
Marshall pauses, and the reiterates that his father’s last words to him were “I love you.” There’s the truth, and the “truth”, and sometimes, the latter is better.
2) “SLAP BET” (S02E09)
Of course Slap Bet is on here. Did you really think it wouldn’t be? It’s the show’s most iconic episode, a classic TV trust parable wrapped up in mall weddings, Canadian pop music, faceslaps, and “lawyering.” This is the first episode of How I Met Your Mother I ever saw, and even though I didn’t know the characters or the story of the show at all, it hooked me. It’s that good.
I honestly am at a loss as to what to write about this episode. Deconstructing it just doesn’t feel right, and touching on the diminishing returns of the ideas introduced here as the show went on (see: PS I Love You and Slapsgiving 3: Slappointment in Slapmarra) is, frankly, depressing. So I’m just going to leave you with two things: if you’re thinking about giving the show a chance, there really is no better place to start than here. Chronology be damned.
This is two:
1) “THE WINDOW” (S05E10)
Future Ted tells us that the story of Maggie Wilks and Adam is the second-greatest love story ever told. The Boy Next Door, and The Girl Next Door, together at long last, and for always. If it’s the second-greatest, you can take a guess which story is the first. And here’s the thing: even after the dust has settled from the finale of How I Met Your Mother, Future Ted’s still right: in the universe of the show, Ted and Tracy’s love story is still the greatest, regardless of what happened at the finish line.
The Window is my favorite episode of How I Met Your Mother because, like Right Place, Right Time, it speaks to the spirit of the show, to the idea of one day finding yourself exactly where you need to be, and being exactly who you need to be when you’re there. But it doesn’t do this via the marvels of our interconnectedness. It does this by holding up a mirror to Ted’s future in the form of Maggie and Adam, and showing us that Ted can’t will his future into being, and he can’t make someone who’s not “The One” suddenly become “The One”; he’s adamant when he says to Lily and Marshall that Maggie is the person he’s going to grow old with, but it’s just not meant to be. For someone who believes so much in destiny and fate and soulmates, Ted is really at his lowest point here, because he thinks he can control this idea that’s governed so much of his life, but he can’t. He struggles, and Maggie slips away, right to the person she’s meant to be with. Ted’s not proud of having knocked barstools down when dashing out the bar to chase after Maggie along with Barney and Jim, but doing so did two things: it ensured Maggie would be where she needed to be for Adam, and it kept him on the path to Tracy.
We like to think that he have control over things, over our lives, over even each other, to a certain degree. We like to thing that there’s an order to everything, a plan, a Meaning To It All. The Window, emphatically and without question, commits to this. It tells us this true. It’s a triumph of optimism over cynicism, and says that yes, there is a Plan – even if it sometimes approaches chaos. But it’s there. Ted’s ready to meet “The One”, or so he claims. But he’s not quite the right person for her yet. He’s got some growing to do still. But we know he gets there.
And so now, there’s really only one thing left to say:
Make Adjustments, Go Get It Energized