How I Met Your Mother is a show I came to late, catching up right before the fourth season. I’m not sure why I started watching it, but I know why I avoided it: it was a multi-camera, laugh-tracked sitcom, on CBS, where humor goes to die. Thankfully, I was wrong, because HIMYM is the best multi-camera, laugh-tracked sitcom since Newsradio, and it balances silly gags and tear-jerking moments as well as personal-favorite Scrubs. It also has accidentally become the definitive show about the important moments of your late twenties and early thirties, the romanticism of New York City, and (especially considering the show’s flashback conceit) the elasticity of memory.
The show will reach its long overdue conclusion tonight. While the show has struggled at times to stretch the story to fit the demands of a successful show (if the numbers justified it, CBS could care less if Ted struggles for 20 years to find his soulmate), it has kept a surprisingly level of quality over its 200+ episode run. Obviously, it has one of the strongest, tightest ensembles in years, and some of the most clever writing on network TV, but it also has Pamela Fryman as its rock. The unsung hero of HIMYM’s success, Fryman has directed more than 150 (!) episodes, making the most out of two apartments, one bar, and an obviously sound-staged street.
Without further ado, here are the most important moments of How I Met Your Mother, with an emphasis on the dramatic highs and lows that the characters have taken on this long journey. Because over eight years, audiences have had these moments, too.
Season 1: Ted and Robin
In the ‘Pilot’, Marshall and Lily’s engagement sends Ted on his journey for love. He meets Robin, and the foolhardy idiot says “I love you” on the first date and undertakes his first of many grand romantic gestures. Learning that Robin is The Aunt rather than The Mother is the first in a series of reveals and reversals that have fueled the show’s plot development. Even if he doesn’t end up with her, Ted’s relationship with Robin is the engine of the show.
- ‘The Limo’: A bit of truth-telling: “the thing about New Year’s Eve is that it sucks.” This episode marks the first return of driver Ranjit, and has some great gags (Not Moby, Barney’s Get Psyched mix), but Marshall emerging from the smoke to the sounds of ‘You Give Love A Bad Name’ makes this a classic (plus, Ted and Robin kiss).
- ‘The Wedding’ / ‘Drumroll, Please’: In a show defined by a series of weddings, this is the first. We meet Victoria, Ted’s most important love after Robin (and The Mother, presumably). Ted running into the bakery as Victoria lets out a sigh of relief — what a moment.
- ‘Zip Zip Zip’: a rare episode where even the C-story proves important. Ted and Victoria’s “firsts” contrasted with the (supposed) end of Lily and Marshall’s “firsts” is a nice bit of juxtaposition, but this episode also plants the first seeds of Robin and Barney’s relationship, complete with cigars, scotch, and laser tag.
- ‘Nothing Good Happens After 2 A.M.’: The title says it all: a lesson we’ve all had to learn, hopefully before our 30th birthday. In the first of many stupid moves, Ted breaks up with Veronica and blows it with Robin in the same night.
- ‘Come On’: Ted’s grand gestures, #2: a rain dance to keep Robin close. Of course it works — that’s what kind of show this is — but Marshall holding the ring to the soundtrack of Bloc Party’s ‘This Modern Love’ is still devastating.
Season 2: Marshall and Lily
Marshall and Lily remained broken up for about six episodes, which was plenty. The show’s romantic ideal for a couple got accidentally married for 12 seconds in ‘Atlantic City’ — the last time they would take a shortcut instead of doing things the right way.
- ‘Slap Bet’ : The episode that introduces Robin Sparkles and the titular Slap Bet. ‘Nuff said.
- ‘Bachelor Party’: The reveal that Barney tried to save Marshall and Lily’s relationship gives him a heart, for the first time.
- ‘Showdown’: Barney goes on Price is Right to meet his “father,” a plotline that would loom large in season 6.
- ‘Something Borrowed’ / ‘Something Blue’: Marshall and Lily’s wedding gives hope to everyone who must plan a wedding: even as everything goes wrong, the couple still manage to have their perfect ceremony. Ted and Robin’s fake out (they’re broken up, not pregnant) deserves the season-ending “Legen – wait for it…”
Season 3: Meet Stella
In retrospect, this season is mostly forgettable. ‘How I Met Everyone Else’ is an interesting look at the mutability of memory, between Ted’s “eating a sandwich” euphemism and confusion over a hook-up that might have happened with Lily. ‘Slapsgiving’ has the wonderful sight gag, but it’s more important for Ted and Robin allowing themselves to be friends again. ‘Ten Sessions’ is essentially the only romance we see in the Ted-Stella relationship before he proposes in ‘Miracles’, an episode more significant for Barney acknowledging his feelings about Robin.
Season 4: Beat Ted
This season is tough for Ted — he’s left at the altar, beat up by bartenders and goats, and fired from his job — but it’s not all bad news. ‘The Best Burger in New York’ is both a testament to the power of nostalgia and a statement about the ever-changing nature of New York. Ted’s relationship with Robin (which will doom future relationships) is a red herring in his engagement to Stella, but his attempt at being friends-with-benefits mostly hurts Barney. The season closes with some very literal “leaps” — Robin and Barney finally hook-up, and Ted takes a new job.
Season 5: Some closure
By season 5, the show must finally address some lingering issues. In ‘Rough Patch’, Barney and Robin can’t survive their rough patch, but choose not think of it as a break-up, but as two friends getting back together. ‘Girls Versus Suits’ finally establishes some facts about The Mother, while musical number ‘Nothing Suits Me Like A Suit’ is one of the show’s finest moments.
‘Say Cheese’ confronts Ted’s parade of girlfriends; after about 100 episodes of wondering why Ted can’t make a relationship work, Ted is sympathetic when with the audience realizes that everyone has to hope that the relationship you’re in is The One. ‘The Wedding Bride’ gives closure to the Stella storyline, with a great visual metaphor for emotional baggage. In the season finale, Marshall and Lily finally decide to have a baby, Robin finally chooses love over career, and Ted (whose blonde hair hilariously prevents him from hooking up with Robin) distills one of the show’s (and reality’s) core truths: “Over time, we all become our own doppelgängers: these completely different people who just happen to look like us.”
Season 6: Fathers
‘Big Days’ introduces a wedding “a little ways down the road” that has now been stretched way beyond good taste. Since Ted meets The Mother at wedding (which will finally happen in Season 9), the last three seasons have often felt like the characters are running in place. Despite that, Season 6 is one of if not the strongest season yet.
- ‘Natural History’ : A perfect episode that balances the touching, the silly, and the romance. While Marshall and Lily confront the “extinction” of past selves, Ted and Zoey have their first tete-a-tete, and (as in ‘Zip Zip Zip’), Robin and Barney’s prank war is a date night in disguise.
- ‘Bad News’ / ‘Last Words’: While worried about fertility, Marshall is blindsided by his father’s death. Personally, ‘Last Words’ perfectly expresses the frustration and anger of losing a loved one (and it gets me every time, obviously).
- ‘A Change of Heart’: Barney realizes he has feelings for Nora, but the fake-out (that he couldn’t bring himself to see her) is just heartbreaking.
- ‘Legendaddy’ : After raising the issue several times, Barney finally meets Jerome, but his resentment is too great. He finally learns a lesson from his father, giving Ted the “stolen” basketball hoop: “a kid needs a hoop.”
- ‘Challenge Accepted’: Lily is finally pregnant, but the big story is another love triangle, as Barney pursues Nora and Robin pursues Barney. Bookending the wedding of ‘Big Days’, Barney is revealed to be the groom.
Season 7: Things get messy
If the eighth season had been the last (as planned), this season would seem much less frantic. Instead, relationships are built up and dashed (and Barney “almost” marries Quinn!): characters can’t move on when the end game boxes them in. Barney/Nora and Robin/Kevin are doomed relationships, but they have their moments, even if “you’re almost as messed up as I am” is not a good enough reason for Barney and Robin to start dating. Barney’s hilarious long con makes ‘Ducky Tie’ the season’s funniest episode, while Robin’s fantasy of children is a devastating reveal in ‘Symphony of Illumination’.
Season 8: Wheels Spinning
What a forgettable season! Barney and Robin get back together in the most convoluted way possible and Ted’s friendship with Robin continues to dominate his life. Only Marshall and Lily’s storyline is realistic: the show’s grown-ups continue to face the challenges of adulthood. Only ‘The Time Travelers’ has been important, and only in retrospect, as the foreshadowing to The Mother’s death makes Ted’s speech one of his Grandest Gestures.
Season 9: Wheels Down
An ambitious plan goes awry. Having the final season take place over the weekend of Barney and Robin’s wedding required a few more tricks than Bays and Thomas had up their sleeves, unfortunately. Marshall spent most of the season in subplot purgatory, while most episodes followed a predictable rehashing of the Ted-Robin-Barney love triangle. The Mother was a refreshing new character, but was criminally underused, except in season (and series) highlight ‘How Your Mother Met Me’.
With How I Met Your Mother set to end tonight, I can’t think of a finale (and certainly not one for a sitcom) that had stakes this high. How Ted and The Mother finally meet (my money is on a callback to Ted’s meeting with Robin via Barney’s “have you met Ted?”), how much more we see of their relationship, and — thanks to ‘Vesuvius’ and Ted’s speech in ‘The Time Travelers’ — how much time the two have together before something tragic happens. This post will be updated when I process the finale.
But whatever happens tonight, How I Met Your Mother will go down as one of the best sitcoms of all time. Those first few seasons, plus the highlights — both comical and emotional — between then and now are unimpeachable. Not bad for a multi-camera sitcom with a laugh track.
Well, it’s over. As predicted by many, The Mother (Tracy McConnell) dies before Ted’s long-winded chat with his kids, leaving him free to reunite with — who else? — Robin. The reviews I’ve read think this is a huge betrayal of the show, the characters, and the audience, like getting out of jail on a technicality, but I don’t see it that way.
This show has always been about five friends, growing up, falling in and out of love, and navigating young adulthood together. The Mother’s identity has always been a red herring: the plot device that gave the story gravitas and a sense of purpose. But even as the audience came to love The Mother, with each successive week of the flawed final season, it became clear that there would be no way for us to know her the way we know Ted, Robin, Marshall, Lily and Barney. And as the clues that The Mother would die young piled up, it was clear that we never would.
I have joked that the show should be called How I Fell In Love With Your Aunt Robin, because that has been its through-line since the pilot, misdirection and all. The finale recognizes that, while keeping The Mother pristine, unlike Ted’s previous loves (Victoria, Stella) that the show worked to make undesirable.
Is it tragic that Ted and The Mother spent only a decade together? That their kids’ are left motherless? Of course it is. But the show has always been about how lives change and, yes, even end before they should. Is Robin and Barney’s three-year marriage feel short and unfulfilling? Of course it does. But the show has always been about how relationships change, and, yes, even end before they should. This ending doesn’t change any of that retroactively.
When shows end, they’re often disparaged for not being completely true to what came before, to not being plotted out in such a way that every question is answered, every loose end tied. How I Met Your Mother stayed true to its original plan (even when its success brought additional seasons), and it’s not perfect (this season’s reach exceeded its grasp, clearly). But if a 50-year-old Ted bringing Robin a blue French horn doesn’t warm your heart, I’m not sure that we’ve been watching the same show.