Top Ten ‘How I Met Your Mother’ Episodes

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Written by Jessica Hanlon.

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From weddings to deaths, slaps to songs, backstories to bets, babies to blond hair, How I Met Your Mother has done it all. In its 9-year run, HIMYM has left an indelible mark on the world of sitcoms and undoubtedly become one of the great ensemble shows of contemporary television. With its series finale airing in just a few days, we at The Reel Word thought we’d look back at some of our favourite episodes to celebrate the show’s ending in Legen–wait-for-it–dary style. So, let’s crowd into the trusty red booth one last time and raise a glass to this sometimes sad, sometimes romantic and always funny TV classic.

10. Murtaugh: S4, Ep19

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Throughout its run, HIMYM is renowned for its many nods to pop-culture, but none are quite as inspired as in ‘Murtaugh’. A clearly dedicated and devoted homage to the genius of Lethal Weapon, Murtaugh is a reference to Danny Glover’s Lethal Weapon character Roger Murtaugh. His famous catchphrase, “I’m too old for this sh…stuff,” has inspired Ted to create the Murtaugh List; the things you can’t do once you’re thirty. Of course, such a list inspires Barney to go out and cross off everything in one weekend, whilst simultaneously challenging Ted to complete all the tasks on his Grumpy Old Man list; the things that someone their age should be too young to do. More lists and amusing asides ensue. As early on as the pilot, we have been continuously shown that Ted is a man well behind his 30 tender years. It was kind of nice here however, to see Barney teach him a valuable lesson: if you are too busy rushing to the next stage of your life, you miss out on having all the fun in your current one. Murtaugh’ served as a great reminder to its characters and its audience, that sometimes, life is just about living in the moment; even if the moment is so painful you can hear your own ear, and in doing so, makes a great start to this list.

9. The Playbook: S5, Ep8

The_PlaybookAlthough perhaps not universally enjoyed by all fans, ‘The Playbook’ makes the cut for two important reasons: the titular Playbook and the amazing performance of Neil Patrick Harris. Following his recent breakup with Robin, this episode follows Harris’ Barney as he races past the pain of his breakup and back into unbridled debauchery. The plan to do so: break out The Playbook and run every play from its pages on any unattached female crazy enough to walk into MacLaren’s. The result: a smartly crafted and hilarious episode involving an innumerable amount of cons, scams and bamboozles that exist perfectly as creations from the wonderfully weird mind of Barney Stinson. Ranging in complexity from The Don’t Drink That to the more elaborate The Lorenzo Von Matterhorn (Google it – I dare you!), the plays and in turn the episode builds to the most complex of them all; the Scuba Diver, where the gang become unwitting accomplices by playing right into his clever little hands. Embracing and celebrating all the quirky little eccentricities that make HIMYM different from other sitcoms, The Playbook’ stands as a great example of the stellar writing and creativity that exists behind the camera.

8. Intervention: S4, Ep4

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Although at first glance it might not seem like it, Intervention’ is an episode that had a lot going on for it. It may not be one necessarily accessible for casual viewers, but it showcased all of the effortless timing and invention that makes the show as funny and clever as it is ““ that is if you were paying attention. ‘Intervention ‘ opens right in the middle of change; everyone is moving away and getting on with their lives; well, almost every one. Although fairly ridiculous, this week’s B-plot, involving Barney trying to bag a chick by using old-man makeup to pretend to be from the future, served an extremely important purpose to the A-plot: it reminded everyone of how ridiculous they actually were. The packing up of Ted’s apartment was a useful tool to allow the gang to reflect on the time when they were holding regular interventions to, amongst others, get Marshall to take off his Dr. Seuss hat, stop Lily from speaking in a terrible fake lower-class British accent and wean Robin off spray-tanning. When Ted finds a new Intervention banner rolled up with a sheaf of letters, he realises he shouldn’t be moving at all. And so, along with the rest of the gang, they abandon their plans and proceed to stay in the same old place, doing the same old thing, until of course they see Barney doing just that ““ literally as on old man. ‘Intervention ‘ is a classic example of why HIMYM has such a strong, loyal audience. The episode encapsulates the feelings, emotions and lives of the average 30-something in New York, and in doing so creates a funny and relatable tale that keeps us coming back.

7. Slap Bet: S2, Ep9

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Whilst not necessarily doing much to advance the overall mystery involving the Mother, or any of the other storylines at the time, ‘Slap Bet ‘ is a notable episode in the overall continuity of HIMYM. It introduced two of the longest running gags in the show’s history: Robin’s pop career as Canadian teen idol Robin Sparkles and the infamous Slap Bet. This episode was all about secrets; namely the secret of why Robin wouldn’t go the mall. As typical of the group, they simply couldn’t let it go until they figured it out. Numerous theories were postulated, a bet was made, and numerous slaps were given; much to the hilarity of everyone involved. As it turns out, Robin doesn’t like going to the mall because of the music video she made when she was a Canada teen sensation singing “Let’s Go to the Mall”. And yes, that song and video are as hideously 80’s as you would expect. Although fairly immature, this episode highlighted the old adage boys will be boys, whilst setting up a promising future for Barney; five slaps that could be delivered anytime in the future, one of which was administered at the end of the episode. ‘Slap Bet ‘ may not be technically special, but it is a worthy inclusion in this list for the payoff that it would provide in later episodes (see Slapsgiving, Slapsgiving 2: Revenge of the Slap and Sandcastles in the Sand). More importantly, Slap Bet showcases the continuity that has been so crucial to the show’s success.

6. How I Met Everyone Else: S3, Ep5

Although not always played as such, HIMYM is about more than Ted’s search for the Mother. Whilst there has and continues to be undeniable intrigue into the mystery of their meeting and events leading towards it, at its core, I truly believe that HIMYM is about this group of 30-somethings who are growing and figuring out life together in the company of good friends. Partly inspired by the lives of the writers, this show is definitely about its characters. Needless to say, when we are given information about how this group of unique characters came together, not only is it funny, but it makes for a great episode of television. As the title explains, ‘How I Met Everyone Else’ provides insight into how Ted met everyone else and how the gang became the gang. Complete with hand drawn charts from Barney, a “Hot/Crazy” scale, sandwiches standing in for joints and the name Blah Blah being used for Ted’s short term girl who nobody can  remember, ‘How I Met Everyone Else’ gives everyone a funny moment and a great origin tale. The theme here is a clear representation of everything HIMYM is about; the relationship between what should have happened and what really did happen, and the amazing stories you can tell from exploiting the two–and boy does that make for interesting TV!

5. Pilot: S1, Ep1

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Pilots are a rare inclusion in Top Ten lists, but it stands as a testament to the quality of the show’s writing and its ability to maintain long-term story arcs that it is included. As a standalone episode, the pilot is great. It is a funny and cleverly constructed half-hour of television, in no small part thanks to the performance of Neil Patrick Harris. Likewise, as pilots go, it does well to set up the premise of the show and to establish Josh Radnor’s Ted as a guy worthy of finding his life partner – with many people debating whether or not Robin gave him ‘the signal’. The true strength of the pilot however, becomes evident as the season and overall show progress. Many of the recurring jokes of the earlier seasons come from the pilot, with The Mosby becoming one of the many plays found in The Playbook (see above!) and the stolen Blue French Horn becoming a symbol of love and hope for both Ted and Robin, even though we know they are not endgame. Perhaps the most significant achievement of the episode is that it leaves us with a genuine interest in each of these characters, and most importantly, genuine intrigue into the fabled ‘Mother’.

4. Doppelgangers: S5, Ep24

Season 5 marked the beginning of a definite tonal change within the structure of HIMYM. Rather than becoming a show just about Ted looking for love, it became a show about Ted figuring out what he wants from life, and in turn, each of the characters taking stock of what they wanted in life. Whilst it might seem like the characters have gone back; Robin has moved back in with Ted, Barney, Ted and Robin are single ““ again, Doppelgangers shows us that all of these characters have matured and grown. Over time they have become doppelgangers of the characters they were five years ago. Although they can be construed as a little silly and contrived, all of the storylines in this episode combined to produce that great balance of heart, retrospect and reflection that the show shines with. Marshall and Lily’s decision to have a baby after sighting the Fifth Doppelganger (another joke that has been continued over the seasons) provided just as many laughs and brilliant one-liners as the Ted-going-blonde gag. The real strength of the episode however, came from Robin’s decision to choose love over her career. Season 5 was a huge season for Robin, and the ultimate payoff came in this episode. It would be easy to criticise this episode as a simple reset for our characters for Season 6, but in truth, the episode was a perfect way to end what would become the show’s halfway point; by showing us just how much we, and these characters, have changed.

3. Girls vs. Suits: S5, Ep12

100 episodes is an enormous achievement for any show, especially if your show is a sitcom, so it makes sense that you would want to celebrate such an achievement in style. HIMYM is no exception. In fact, it is almost the epitome of celebrating the big 100 in style. Penned by series co-creator Carter Bays, the episode packs in a huge musical number, great guest appearances from Rachel Bilson, Stacey Keibler and Tim Gunn whilst still rapidly progressing the storyline by answering some long term questions held by fans. Bays’ intimate knowledge of his source material is obvious in his deft handling of the overall storyline, which puts to rest any doubt that the team is unsure of how everything fits together. Whilst the episode seems focused on giving closure to fans about some aspects of the Mother, the B-plot involving Neil Patrick Harris trying to win over a girl by suiting down is laugh-out-loud hilarious, capped off only by his big musical numbers. Harris’ fans know that he is a hugely talented individual, whose comedic-charm and likeability is front and centre here. Harris shines in this episode, not only showing off his impeccable comedic timing and delivery, but also his singing and dancing talents as he ponders his dating dilemma in the musical number of the episode “Nothing Suits Me Like a Suit”. Backed by the rest of the cast, and some great supporting dancers, Harris’ performance and Bays’ flawless writing combine to create an unforgettable episode that not only adds to the show’s overall storyline, but invites its fans to help celebrate its success.

2. Bad News: S6, Ep13

It’s not often that HIMYM makes us cry; but when it does, it knows just how to tug at your heartstrings. Bad News ‘ was one such moving and heartfelt episode. Up until this point, much of Season 6 had been focused on the potential romance between Ted and nemesis Zoey (played in a great guest spot by Jennifer Morrison), with varying degrees of laugh and interest. ‘Bad News ‘ however, took a notably different reflective turn, with each of its characters experiencing and responding to adversity; be it in the form of fertility, awkward work situations or, most significantly, losing a loved one. Of all the parents that HIMYM has exposed us to, Marshall’s father, Marvin Snr. (played by Bill Fagerbakke), is by far one of the most loving and supporting, a fact which this episode firmly reinforced. More than just good storytelling, this episode was lifted by the inclusion of a blink-and-you’ll-miss it countdown to the titular bad news, which was not at all what you expected. Although it is potentially gimmicky, the countdown was done with just the right amount of subtlety and style that it becomes near genius in execution. In doing so, writer Jennifer Hendriks delivers a terrific episode which gracefully walks the line between funny and emotional, making the titular ‘Bad News’ all that more heartbreaking.

1. Something Borrowed: S2, Ep21

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Undoubtedly, one of the greatest relationships in contemporary television is that of Marshall and Lily’s. Throughout their 9 years together, these two have shared a bucketload of ups and downs; from their first season breakup, to getting pregnant, to Marshall’s Dad dying; this couple has been through the wringer. Through it all though, they have been the ever faithful Marshmallow and Lily Pad, always supporting and loving each other. Needless to say, when ‘Something Borrowed shared Marshall and Lily’s wedding story, it was a pretty special episode, providing absolutely everything you could want for your favourite couple. Even if everything that could have gone wrong did go wrong, the betrothed got their perfect wedding, which was a seamless way to end the episode, a fact which was firmly reinforced in the follow-up episode at the reception titled ‘Something Blue ‘. The outside ceremony was beautifully simple and unexpected, capped off by Barney’s officiating (because that’s what Bros do for Bros – become wedding officials) and the sweetness of Marshall and Lily’s vows, which had us all in tears. Segel, Hannigan and Harris all shined here; delivering some of the sweetest lines their characters have given to date ““ whilst trying not to cry. ‘Something Borrowed‘ is undeniably my favourite episode of HIMYM. It celebrated a love which inspires us all to wait for our own Marshmallow and Lily Pad, and reminds Ted, and us, exactly why the Mother is worth waiting for.

– J.H.

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