And so, here we are.
It’s hard to believe, but tonight, the final episode of HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER will air. After nine years, it will really be over. I don’t know about you, but I’m fully prepared to bawl my eyes out tonight.
Andy will have more about the legacy and impact of the show tomorrow. Today, my job is to bring you a countdown of one man’s Top 10 episodes from the show’s run. The funny thing is, when first agreeing to the idea, I thought this wouldn’t be too difficult. I had several locks in my mind off the top of my head, and figured it’d be a simple enough thing to fill in the final few spots. Not so much.
Over the weekend, I started looking through episodes and writing down nominees, being careful to only list those that I thought had a truly good chance of making the Top 10. When I finished, I had 22 episodes. My first thought was just to expand the list, but for once in my life, I decided against a cop-out, and instead made the brutal choices necessary to narrow this to 10. Without further ado:
10. Drumroll, Please
Usually when I do rankings, I act jokingly arrogant and proclaim my opinion the only correct one. But I can’t do that here; these rankings were too difficult and subjective. And “Drumroll, Please” is the best example of that; I haven’t seen another HIMYM list that had this episode anywhere remotely near this high. But for me, it was huge. I enjoyed HIMYM from the first episode, but I didn’t truly love it until Victoria.
The show thrived in large part due to its big romantic moments, which were every bit as important as the actual comedy, often more important. They were frequently — hell, almost always — over the top, but that was part of their endearing quality. Would real people act as melodramatic at the wedding as Ted and Victoria do while falling for each other? No, but that’s kind of the point. This isn’t real love; it’s an ideal of love. And watching those two together made me love the show itself.
9. Three Days of Snow
This one had a little of everything. There was classic Barney/Ted bro-ing out, with Barney interrupting a pick-up attempt to coach Ted on his game, followed by the duo running a bar and realizing maybe they shouldn’t buy their own (though “Puzzles” was a great name for a bar). There was a too-rare Marshall and Robin subplot. (“So Robin really came on to you?” “Dude, it was weird.”) But, as has so been often the case, the highlight is Lily and Marshall.
The show gave us a multitude of romantic moments from one of TV’s all-time great couples, but this was one of the best. It wasn’t a wedding or a baby or a breakup; it was two soulmates struggling with the reality of losing the steam of romance, and going to great lengths to show each other how much they still care. That airport scene gives me chills every time.
8. Sandcastles in the Sand
I can’t believe I can’t put this any higher; the competition is so brutal. But this was such a great one. James Van Der Beek put in one of the best guest spots of the series as Robin’s Canadian ex-boyfriend who dumped her as a teenager, comes back into her life as a loser (which Robin can’t see), only to date and dump her again in the exact same way. Most importantly, we got the song above — and as it played, the beginning of Robin and Barney. Sequels are never easy, but I actually think “Sandcastles in the Sand” was the best Robin Sparkles moment. It lacked the perfect buildup and surprise of the debut “Let’s Go to the Mall,” but I actually find it both funnier and a better song when the songs are isolated; future Robin Sparkles segments could never reach the same level.
Jeez did HIMYM have some outstanding original musical moments. I love Jason Segel’s music video above, but it still pales in comparison to the actual episode. This is one of my favorite Thanksgiving episodes by any series; only a couple from Friends can even rival it in my mind. Ted and Robin learning to be friends was impressively done, with the debut of the salute running gag (Major Bummer!). But of course, it doesn’t get better than Marshall’s climactic slap and song.
6. Come On
The Season 1 finale still gets me, despite all my subsequent feelings about Ted and Robin being way overplayed. It has great guest stars Alexis Denisof and the always adorable Amy Acker. It has Ted at his ridiculous best, trying to make it rain to win Robin. And it has that amazing ending, with one relationship beginning as another ends.
5. Last Words
There was a two week gap between CBS airing the death of Marshall’s dad and his funeral. During that time, I was a little pissed, or at least annoyed. Marvin Erickson had been around since early in the show, but only as a very minor character. The Season 6 premiere had started making him far more important, and after his heart attack, I felt like they had built up the character just for a cheap reaction when they killed him off a couple months later.
But then the funeral itself happened, and my complaints melted away. It was clear that this wasn’t a cheap emotional gambit, but that the show really had something to say about loss and grief and surviving both. Jason Segel gives the most powerful performance of the entire series, but every member of the cast was displaying the kind of hurt that made you feel the same pain while watching. Few comedies have ever done tragedy this well.
4. Something Borrowed
I wish I could find you a clip of the actual wedding for Lily and Marshall, but you’ll have to make due with a tribute video to their relationship (and Netflix the real thing later). When everything goes wrong on the couple’s wedding day, this episode goes so right. Marshall shaving his head is a favorite moment, as is the search to cover up the resulting problem. (“Hat. We thought of authentic Native American headdress … before we thought of hat.”) But best of all was the private outdoor vows, which even Barney couldn’t keep from crying during.
3. Slap Bet
This seems to be the most common #1 on lists, and I can’t really argue. It would win for me for funniest episode of the series. The buildup is so wonderfully executed, with Robin’s mystery unfolding bit by bit until we get the most unexpected possible answer: she was a minor Canadian teen popstar in the 90s. “Let’s Go To the Mall” is a catchy song, and the video was amazing. But most important of all was the slap bet that resulted, giving us a great new way to wager and the show’s single best running gag.
2. Something Blue
Yet another one where you’ll have to just find the highlights for yourself, I’m afraid. But I find this episode incredibly endearing. The show repeats its formula from the Season 1 finale in the end to Season 2: one relationship thriving while we watch another end. But it’s more powerful this time around. As great as the end to “Come On” was, I never doubted that Marshall and Lily would be back together, and we knew Ted and Robin couldn’t last. “Something Blue,” on the other hand, gave us something that really felt like a resolution. Lily and Marshall are in wedded bliss; the loving look he gives his bride as she’s throwing up in a fast food restaurant is such a great example of their offbeat yet pitch-perfect love. And Ted and Robin break up in an emotional sequence that keeps you guessing until it finally breaks your heart. Part of the reason I disliked the show’s need to constantly revisit Ted and Robin in recent seasons is because they never could top the ending we got here: “I would have stolen you a whole orchestra.”
And that moment is part of how How I Met Your Mother separated itself from the sitcom pack. It wasn’t just the humor, or else “Slap Bet” would be my #1 too. It’s been the relationships, the way we love the characters and care about their loves and their losses, the way we feel their joys and hurts. “Something Blue” captured that dynamic better than any other.
1. How Your Mother Met Me
Which brings us to my #1. This is by far the most recent episode, but I don’t feel like I’m suffering from any recency bias. The show’s 200th episode hit every note so beautifully. And most of all, it showed we were right to care so much.
With nearly a decade of buildup, I felt it was genuinely impossible for the show to create the Mother in such a way that would live up to all the hype and expectation. But Cristin Milioti surpassed my wildest dreams for how good Ted’s future wife could be. I liked her right away: she was cute and funny and charming as hell; my biggest complaint about the first half of this final season was that she didn’t appear enough.
That changed with “How Your Mother Met Me,” the episode that condensed so much of the Mother’s backstory into just 22 minutes, yet made it work. There was tragedy in her past, which made her own struggle to find love feel all the more real. We saw enough of her to realize just how perfect she was for Ted. The show managed to create that sense of wistful longing that Ted and the Mother unknowingly felt for each other, and that we the viewer felt for their eventual happy ending.
And the episode ends with the clip above, the beyond gorgeous rendition of “La Vie en Rose” by Milioti. An always beautiful song, it sounded positively transcendent in that moment. For nine wonderful years, this show gave its heart and soul to us, and for a while there, life really was la vie en rose.