When How I Met Your Mother came to a final close in 2014, it’s fair to say opinion was divided on the ultimate resolution to Ted Mosby’s nine year, epic romance. Some viewers felt a tad cheated that creators Carter Bays and Craig Thomas pulled what was seen as a “cop out” ending. Personally, I didn’t hate the final episode but that doesn’t mean it’s going to be on this list either.
How I Met Your Mother amassed a total of 208 episodes and this list is devoted to its 10 finest installments. Like any show that runs for so long, there were the expected dips in quality over How I Met Your Mother‘s life span. When whittling down choices, not a single episode of the rather redundant eighth season came into contention, and only a sole outing from season seven (“Trilogy Time”) almost made the cut. Other also-rans included “Nothing Good Happens After 2 a.m.,” “Third Wheel,” “Murtaugh,” and “Oh Honey.”
Without further ado, here are the top ten episodes of How I Met Your Mother – the episodes that could be described as the great- wait for it…
Season 4 Episode 4 (Original Airdate: Oct. 13, 2008)
This is an episode about the scariness of moving on. Ted, Lily, and Marshall are packing up their apartment as Ted prepares to move to New Jersey with Stella (boo! hiss!) and Robin is on the verge of moving to Japan. Amidst the packing Ted finds a giant banner with the word Intervention emblazoned across it, leading the gang to recall the times they’ve stepped in to stop each other doing stuff that was, basically, just annoying everyone else.
The interventions provide some good laughs here, the best one being Lily’s weird, fake British accent which Alyson Hannigan nails perfectly. Barney’s intervention to stop him using magic that involves fire is unnecessary because, well, fire magic is awesome. Elsewhere Neil Patrick Harris’ Barney steals this episode with a brilliantly OTT side plot that sees him accepting a challenge to pick up a 22 year old whilst wearing his 80 year old man make up.
HIMYM often worked best when it was easily identifiable and the theme of reluctance to move out of somewhere, on to something new was done really well with the two opposites of Ted, who wants to keep everything, and Robin, who chucks most stuff out. Most viewers could see themselves in one of those two categories.
Oh, and the gang’s robot cookie jar is called R2-SweetTooth. I don’t have to explain why that’s ace.
9. Zip, Zip, Zip
Season 1 Episode 14 (Original Airdate: Feb. 6, 2006)
What’s great about this particular episode is how the show contrasts the behavior of a brand new couple with that of one who’ve been together for years. On their ninth anniversary Marshall and Lily bail on a weekend away to stay home and watch Quantum Leap but end up accidentally stuck in the bathroom when Ted arrives home with his new girlfriend Victoria. The difference between the couples is very well written and produces some great comedy as Lily and Marshall despair at Ted’s super slow seduction technique. The shot where Jason Segel’s head appears unnoticed by Ted and Victoria in the background is one of the show’s best visual gags. It also delves nicely into Marshall and Lily’s relationship and how couples can become after so many years together.
This all leaves Barney and Robin on a “bros” night out. This was really the beginning of the Barney and Robin relationship and whatever you may feel about where that eventually led, at this stage it seemed like a quite natural bond, heralding the introduction of “freeze-frame-high-five” and the lesson that being invited to play Battleships isn’t a universally recognised term for sex.
8. The Platinum Rule
Season 3 Episode 11 (Original Airdate: Dec. 10, 2007)
A cleverly scripted episode where the show felt the influence of Quentin Tarantino as Barney lays out for Ted the eight steps of the titular dating rule broke down into screen carded sections.
Ted is going on a date with his tattoo removal surgeon Stella (boo! hiss!) and his friends try to dissuade him from doing so with their respective stories of getting involved with the wrong person, or persons in Lily and Marshall’s case, as they recount their disastrous friendship with their charade-loving neighbours Michael and Laura, the latter played by the brilliant Kristen Schaal whose greeting of “Hey neighbor!” is chilling.
I’m pretty sure we’ve all been in relationships which seemed like a great idea to begin with, but quickly turned into a head-desk situation, possibly on either side. I won’t say which side I’ve found myself on more frequently, though I will say the character I most identified with here was probably Curt ‘Ironman’ Irons, whose sports report post dumping by Robin rings truer than it should.
The multi-year narrative in this episode as each tale of woe is unfolded means it all slots together in a unique way, and thankfully Ted’s relationship with the drippy Stella did not survive.
7. How I Met Everyone Else
Season 3 Episode 5 (Original Airdate: Oct. 27, 2007)
There’s a lot packed into these very funny twenty minutes. Blahblah, a girl whom Ted has met online and one of his more memorable exes, makes up a too-good-to-be-true story about their meeting in a cooking class which prompts the friends to reminisce about how they first met each other. We already knew that Ted, Marshall, and Lily met in college and the flashbacks are a lot of fun, especially the one in which Ted finds Marshall “eating a sandwich” (a series long euphemism for smoking weed) and the scene which threatens the nauseating sanctimony of Marshall and Lily’s first meeting.
The background filling in is really nice but there’s more laughs had in the present, particularly at the expense of the increasingly unhinged Blahblah as she comes under the scrutiny of Barney’s hot/crazy scale where a girl must be equally as hot as she is crazy and drifts towards the Shelly Gillespie zone, a girl who tried to kill him with a brick. Robin’s denial of a relationship with Barney is also a great moment – “Sixteen ‘no’s’, really?”
6. How Your Mother Met Me
Season 9 Episode 16 (Original Airdate: Jan. 27, 2014)
Easily the crowning achievement of the show’s later seasons, this episode devoted entirely to the journey Tracy, the eventual mother, took to ending up with Ted Mosby might not have been the funniest How I Met Your Mother had ever been, but it showcased some of its best writing. Tracey’s route was markedly different to Ted’s, the reason for her time alone being born out of tragedy rather than a desperate search for perfection.
Carter Bays and Craig Thomas crafted a perfect script here but a lot of what made this episode work was down to Cristin Milioti’s exceptional performance as Tracy. She’d been drip-fed into the series up until now, and there was always a risk that fans might have rebelled against the character, but Milioti’s turn was strikingly vulnerable and charmingly funny. We fell in love with her before Ted Mosby did. It was obvious that she and Ted were made for each other.
The episode isn’t without its laughs. Tracy’s robot art, the idea of a band called Radiohedge Fund and there was the return of Mitch – the naked man, but we’ll get to him soon. If there was any episode which restored some waning fan faith in the show’s creators at the time, it was this one.
5. Mary the Paralegal
Season 1 Episode 19 (Original Airdate: April 26, 2006)
How I Met Your Mother attracted some pretty big guest stars over its run, but perhaps its best was Alexis Denisof as Robin’s colleague and narcissitic news anchor Sandy Rivers. With a complete lack of self awareness and sarcasm, Rivers is a riot and the man Robin inadvisably brings along to an awards night she’s been nominated at, right after Ted has blown things big time with both her and Victoria. Ted, under the bad advice of Barney and in a bid to make Robin jealous, turns up with a woman called Mary, who may be a lady of the night, or maybe just a paralegal.
Aside from Rivers and the pot-boiling tension between Ted and Robin, this episode has Barney on fine, thoroughly evil form (“Oh come on, if you don’t laugh it just seems mean”). There’s the advent of Marshall and Ted’s telepathic conversations, which feature some fine facial acting from Jason Segel and Josh Radnor, and the scene in which Ted discovers Mary’s true profession is some great, misunderstanding-led comedy. Attention to detail in the script is very noticeable here too, particularly when the other nominations for Robin’s award are read out – ‘Pregnant, thirteen, and addicted’ anyone?
4. Game Night
Season 1 Episode 15 (Original Airdate: Feb. 27, 2006)
There are a couple of big reasons why “Game Night” was the best instalment of How I Met Your Mother’s maiden season.
The first is that it was another Victoria episode. During the ninth season, an online poll found that Victoria was the viewers’ favourite of all Ted’s liaisons throughout the show, beating even Robin. She was mine too. Ashley Williams, at least during the character’s first run, made Victoria funny and loveable. Plus she makes cakes for a living. All her appearances in season one were worthwhile, though the less said the better about her return during season eight, when the character seemed to lose all its charm.
The episode’s trump card though is Barney Stinson. Or more specifically, the origin of Barney Stinson. During an evening playing the Marshall invented Marshgammon, a board game seemingly designed to interrogate poor Victoria, Lily reveals she has a videotape given to her by a girl Barney used to know. The contents of said tape turn out to be something of a revelation, featuring a very different Barney. As the gang all recount their own embarrassing stories, Barney fills them in on just how he “suited up.”
Although the motives behind Barney’s transformation from tree hugger to dark lord of the suit proved to be more redemptive in the end, this for many will always be the definitive story behind his Darth Vader-esque rising. It’s also a lot funnier – the tape, the old Barney, it’s a brilliant telling. Peace out, hombres.
3. The Naked Man
Season 5 Episode 9 (Original Airdate: Nov. 24, 2008)
Another episode in which Ted was in recovery mode after his latest break up, this time from Stella (boo! hiss!). The crux of “The Naked Man” is the act of the title in which, on a date, you strip down to your birthday suit whilst the other person leaves the room and on their return, they find it so shocking and awe inspiring – boomchickawahwah. This tactic is the special move of Mitch, a blind date of Robin’s, who theorizes that it works two out of three times.
The idea of the naked man is very funny. Adam Paul, who plays Mitch, is a piece of perfect casting and has a good chemistry with Cobie Smulder’s Robin. The Robin character had hit a much better comedy stride by this time. When Ted and Barney both decide to try out the technique there’s a fantastic montage sequence in which they discuss how they should pose their naked man. A favourite? The Burt Reynolds of course.
Meanwhile, Marshall is semi-disgusted by this pick-up charm and Lily tries to think of fifty reasons to have sex, which is pretty fun and includes some choices like “banging for roof” and one involving Cheetos. The episode also has a nice sequence where Ted meets a girl called Vicky in an elevator which is a nicely detailed touch and delves into the idea of wanting that first date after a break up to be great, when in reality it rarely is.
Have you ever tried the naked man? Why not tell us how you got on in the comments section? Actually, no, probably best we scratch that….
2. Slap Bet
Season 2 Episode 9 (Original Airdate: Nov. 20, 2006)
Narrowly missing out on the top slot is this episode which revolves around the theme of getting to know your other half’s secrets and the only episode in our ten which features Ted and Robin as a couple. Mosbatsky had developed into a very convincing couple by this time and there’s a lot of joy in watching Ted try to squeeze Robin’s big secret out of her.
This very funny instalment is so memorable though as it introduced not one, but two recurring elements to the show. First was the eponymous slap bet. Barney, convinced that Robin’s secret is that she used to be employed in the Canadian adult film business, makes a wager with Marshall whereby the loser gets slapped in face as hard as possible. The ten slaps for all eternity stipulation dealt out by slap bet commissioner Lily ran for the show’s remaining duration with Marshall continuously and hilariously teasing Barney as to when his next punishment would occur.
By some measure though, this episode is remembered so fondly for the reveal of Robin’s hidden past. Sitcoms aren’t known for pulling major twists, but the revelation that Robin used to be known as one-hit wonder, teenage pop star Robin Sparkles and the accompanying video for her song ‘Let’s Go to the Mall’ was totally unexpected. The build-up throughout the episode was played perfectly and the result could not have been funnier.
1. The Playbook
Season 5 Episode 8 (Original Airdate: Nov. 16, 2009)
It’s arguable that many people kept watching How I Met Your Mother not to see who Ted would end up with but to see just what scheme Barney might employ next to, as he puts it, “pick up chicks and give ‘em the business.”
Barney’s elaborate ploys were often the funniest part of the any episode and this one is jammed to the rafters with them and that’s why it sits in our top slot.
The Playbook is Barney’s catalogue of seductive maneuvers. Those featured here range from the simple “don’t drink that” to the more complex “Mrs Stinsfire,” an homage to the Robin Williams movie of a similar name. My favorite though is the “Lorenzo Von Matterhorn” that Stinson employs on a colleague of Lily’s she’s setting up with Ted. If you watch this episode again, pay close attention to the final line of each of the fake websites Barney has created to help him in his endeavor.
Neil Patrick Harris is utterly on form throughout but Alyson Hannigan’s Lily is no slouch here, furnishing the show with the “You sunovvabeach” catchphrase. Minute for minute there are more laughs in this episode than any other in How I Met Your Mother’s catalogue and it’s episodes like this one which makes me miss this show more than I actually miss some people.