By Tanner Smith
I’m going to try something new here on Smith’s Verdict—not necessarily a “review” of a television show; just merely a list of my favorite episodes of said-show. So let’s see how it goes.
“How I Met Your Mother” was one of my favorite TV sitcoms. Even though it wasn’t entirely successful in its humor or structure, the eighth season is particularly a hit-or-miss with most people (me included), and the series finale is more-or-less a major letdown, I can’t deny when the episodes are good, they’re really good. They entertain me each time, and I never get tired of watching them. I enjoy the misadventures of neurotic narrator Ted (Josh Radnor), good-natured giant Marshall (Jason Segel), cute, excitable redhead Lily (Alyson Hannigan), Canadian tough-chick Robin (Cobie Smulders), and of course, the “legendary” suit-wearing playboy Barney Stinson (Neil Patrick Harris), told by Ted years in the future as stories to his kids, leading to the much awaited meeting of their mother.
“How I Met Your Mother” also one of the few shows I’ve seen all the way through, more than once. (Hey, I’m a movie guy, first and foremost.) So, having seen each and every episode of one of my favorite shows, I thought I’d make a list of my absolute favorites. Which episodes make me laugh, make me smile, and/or even make me tear up? (Oh yes, there’s an episode like that, and it’s on this list.)
These are My Top 15 Favorite “HIMYM” Episodes!
15) TEN SESSIONS (Season 3, Episode 13)
This was the introduction to Stella (Sarah Chalke), who would become Ted’s girlfriend and soon-fiancée…and the person to break his heart brutally after leaving him at the alter. But she started out as Ted’s dermatologist. Early in Season 3, Ted got a back tattoo while drunk (or, as his friends put it, a “tramp stamp”). To remove it, he has to undergo 10 sessions of laser tattoo removal surgery. But he’s fine with it, because it gives him time to convince Stella to go out with him after the final session.
Also in this episode is Britney Spears—she plays Stella’s shy receptionist who has an unrequited crush on Ted. Her sideshow appearance on the show was built up big-time, but even though she is funny here, she doesn’t hog the spotlight. (I’m going to be honest—the first time I saw this episode, I didn’t even know that was Britney!) That’s a good thing, because I did care for the Ted-and-Stella story. Stella is very likable, charming and funny. Of course, it’s odd saying that about her now that I know what she’ll do later in the next season, but it’s easy to see why Ted is attracted to her and why he would pull off one of the show’s highlights: a two-minute date. Those who have seen the show know exactly what I’m talking about.
14) STUFF (S2E16)
When you break up with someone, what do you do with the “stuff?” Ted and Robin’s relationship takes somewhat of a turn when Robin learns that many of Ted’s possessions are from his ex-girlfriends. He gets rid of them and they move past it…only for Ted to realize that all five of Robin’s dogs are from ex-boyfriends. The visual representations of how Ted and Robin view these possessions gets me laughing each time I watch this episode—Ted imagines the dogs as Robin’s exes; I have nothing else to say about that! This show is particularly successful when it takes relatable issues and puts its own funny spin on them (in this case, it’s figuring out what to do with “stuff” that belonged to exes.)
Is that all to this episode? Nope. It gets better. Not with Ted and Robin, but with Barney and Lily. Their subplot is simply hilarious. It begins as Lily invites (nay, begs) Barney to an “Off-Off-Broadway” play she’s participating in (and an awful one at that). Barney is very blunt about how much he didn’t enjoy it, and as payback, he puts on his own play just to torture her. (As a bonus Easter-egg, if you look in the background, an audience member reads a playbill with the title “SUCK IT LILY.”) Barney’s play is a definite highlight, but the payoff at the end…!
13) TED MOSBY: ARCHITECT (S2E4)
In this episode, Robin learns a thing or two about what it means to be in a relationship. She and Ted get into an argument when she seems disinterested in his work in architecture (and also when she admits she doesn’t like “Field of Dreams,” which Ted sees as a bigger deal than her lack of listening—that’s kind of funny). Barney assures Ted that his job isn’t boring and he just needs to have the right attitude about it in presenting it. Barney’s way of proving it makes Robin suspicious of Ted, leading to Robin and Lily going around town trying to find him. This gets Robin to learn that listening is key to relationships and she’s going to lose him if she isn’t interested in his career. Robin has already stated early in the show that she’s somewhat uncomfortable with relationships; so, to see her undergo a lesson in life and love is welcome. Her problem is she didn’t want to care about what she thinks Ted may be doing this night, but the revelation for her is that she clearly does. She’s pushed out of her comfort zone and it helps her grow as a person. The episode is funny (especially when we see how law majors party in one scene), but the dramatic aspects of this story make it one of the best in the series.
By the way, I like Field of Dreams too. Review here: https://smithsverdict.com/2013/04/06/field-of-dreams-1989/
12) THE PINEAPPLE INCIDENT (S1E10)
The Pineapple Incident is one of the most popular episodes of the entire series—it’s the highest viewed of Season 1 and the second highest overall. Ted is criticized by his friends for overthinking everything in his life, and he tries to prove them wrong by taking one shot too many. The next morning, he can’t remember anything—why he sprained his ankle, why his jacket is burned, and…who is this girl sleeping in his bed? Marshall, Lily, and Barney fill him in while they themselves can’t figure certain things out.
What can I say about it that no one has already? The non-chronological story structure is fun. It’s funny to watch Drunk Ted do his thing. Also, additional 10 points for adult Winnie Cooper. It’s great to watch…let’s move on!
By the way, did the pineapple belong to The Captain? I think it might have…
11) SLAP BET (S2E9)
Slap Bet shows another piece of progress for Robin…and man, is it a joyful one! But I’m getting ahead of myself. Ted knows there are some vague important details about Robin’s past, but Robin doesn’t want to talk about them. This makes Ted paranoid that he doesn’t know his girlfriend very well and even pressures her in an attempt to know her secrets. Meanwhile, Marshall and Barney have their own ideas about Robin’s past, which leads to a Slap Bet—whomever is right gets to slap the other person in the face really hard.
Barney finds the key to Robin’s big secret. By this point, Ted wants to respect Robin’s privacy while Robin knows there’s no point in hiding it anymore. So then they all learn the secret. Barney is wrong, Marshall gets to slap him five times anytime, and Robin is embarrassed but feels good now that Ted knows her biggest secret.
Who would’ve expected Robin Sparkles and “Let’s Go To The Mall?” That is a brilliant payoff and a hilarious faux-‘80s-music-video that comes with it.
The use of the “Slap Bet” is wonderful and there are many laughs (and slaps) that come with it, especially with Lily as the appointed Slap Bet Commissioner. And it leads to one of the best running gags of the series. Though, I have to ask—if Barney knows Marshall can slap him at any time and is afraid of it, why doesn’t Marshall use it to scare Barney out of their business when he’s doing one of his schemes or something against them? (Sorry, but that’s always bothered me.)
10) MURTAUGH (S4E19)
OK, so there’s nothing especially progressive about this episode. You could watch this by itself and still laugh at it. It’s on my list because…well, exactly that—it’s one of the funnier episodes in my opinion. Barney is kicked out of his favorite laser-tag joint, which inspires Ted to break out the “Murtaugh List.” It’s a list of things people are too old to do, inspired by a line of dialogue by Sgt. Murtaugh in “Lethal Weapon” (“I’m too old for this…stuff”). Barney challenges himself to do everything on the list, which of course leads to hi-jinks.
To see Barney go through such ridiculousness (at least, “ridiculousness” for his age) is funny enough (he gets his ear pierced, hurts his back after sleeping on a futon, and so on), and it gets better when Barney and Robin come up with their own list and challenge Ted to do things he’s “too young to do,” turning Ted into somewhat of a “grumpy old man.” All of this is fun to watch and makes me laugh each time I watch it.
Oh, and there’s also a subplot featuring Marshall and Lily butting heads when it comes to Marshall’s coaching methods in kindergarten basketball. It’s cute, it has some laughs (including a random Teen Wolf…don’t ask me), but whatever—get us back to the Murtaugh list!
9) SANDCASTLES IN THE SAND (S3E16)
More Robin Sparkles! But uh-oh! There’s something more!
This episode begins with Robin reverting back to her teenage self after her former boyfriend, Simon (Dawson himself, James Van Der Beek), comes into town. Even though Robin has clearly changed for the better since they were together, she can’t help herself around him. Each member of the group feels the same way whenever they reconnect with old friends, a phenomenon of reverting to one’s high-school self (associative regression or “revertigo?”), leading to a very big laugh when Lily’s old high-school friend revisits her.
Blah, blah, blah. What do people remember most about this episode? Robin Sparkles 2! Barney overhears Simon mention another music video Robin made when she was a pop singer, and he sets out to find it because…well, he’s Barney and he’ll do anything to humiliate Robin. But that leads to a surprising development in which Barney actually shows somewhat of a sweet side after Simon dumps Robin. That leads to Robin showing Barney what he’s wanted to see. That leads to yet another delightful Robin Sparkles music video (a love ballad this time, whereas the other was a techno pop song). That leads to…Robin and Barney kissing?! The end.
When this episode was aired for the first time, HIMYM fans freaked out. They had no idea where this was going to go. Were Robin and Barney going to date?! How was this going to work out?! Everyone was excited to find out. Watching this episode knowing what I know now about where this ended up going, it’s still a clever script—it’s interesting to see the subtle hints Barney and Robin may have dropped on each other. Maybe it’s possible Barney’s quest to find more humiliating Robin Sparkles videos was his way of knowing more about the other side of her personality…
Or maybe the writers wanted to deliver some kind of fan service; that’s also a possibility. But I’m sticking to my theory!
8) GAME NIGHT (S1E15)
One of the things I love about this show is whenever it takes us into the pasts of the characters we’ve become very familiar with—I call them “looking-back episodes,” in which characters swap stories about who they were (being a sitcom, they’re usually embarrassing stories). One of my favorites is a Season 1 treat called “Game Night.”
We were only 15 episodes into this show, and we had a pretty good idea about the legend that is Barney Stinson. But it was time to show who Barney Stinson was before he became…Barney Stinson, so to speak. The episode begins when the group is having game night but discovers an embarrassing videotape of Barney…or a longhaired, hippie-ish Barney crying his eyes out and singing a sappy love song to his lost love. The group wants to know what the tape is all about, but Barney will only tell one part of his story and will continue only after someone from the group shares his or her own embarrassing story.
Just when fans think Barney is a one-dimensional playboy at the start of the series, “Game Night” brings new dimensions to his character that’s so fascinating to watch. It’s amazing to see who Barney was and think this is who he is now. It brought the character to a whole new level.
Barney, you got issues. But for you, my friend, I will SUIT UP!
7) SPOILER ALERT (S3E8)
This is the episode in which we learn all the annoying behaviors of the group just as the characters themselves learn them too. It begins with Ted dating a woman he thinks is the perfect girl but everyone has a problem with. Since he doesn’t see their problem with her, they agree not to tell him what it is. But he begs them, and they reveal she’s very talkative. Now he can’t stop noticing and he breaks it off with her. But it doesn’t stop there. The five friends let slip each other’s flaws, leading to annoyances amongst them.
Among the group’s flaws: Lily’s loud chewing; Marshall’s constant singing about his actions; and Ted’s pretentious correcting. Everyone’s illusions of each other’s perfection are being shattered (followed by a shattering glass sound effect each time), but in the end, they learn that people don’t see the flaws of people they truly love and they become more accepting of them.
Yeah, it’s kind of predictable and obvious, but I like it. I like these people, flaws and all.
6) HOW I MET EVERYONE ELSE (S3E5)
This supposed simple story of how Ted met his wife rambles on a lot. We know that. But hey, that doesn’t mean we’re not curious to know how he and his friends met each other, especially after we’ve known for two seasons by this point.
Ted brings a date (named “BlahBlah,” as Older Ted can’t remember her real name) to meet his friends at McLaren’s Pub, and this leads to stories around the booth about how they all know each other. Marshall and Lily met in the college dorm and it was love at first sight (though Ted has his own twist on the tale). Barney and Ted met in a public restroom and Barney instantly decided he was gonna teach him how to “live.” But my absolute favorite is the story in which Barney met Marshall.
Though, I’ll be honest—I wish I would’ve seen what happened after Barney witnessed Marshall make out with Lily (before he found out it was Lily). Apparently, he was so impressed he provided services for Marshall, thinking it was a “Karate Kid” scenario of master-and-student. It would’ve been hilarious to see Barney’s reaction upon realizing Lily was Marshall’s girlfriend.
But hey, you enjoy what you can get. I enjoyed this episode.
5) GIRLS VERSUS SUITS (S5E12)
With the show’s 100th episode, the creators had to come up with something big. Not only did they drop several hints about “the mother,” giving us glimpses of her personality, but they brought Ted so close to meeting the mother without meeting her at all. (“I think I glimpsed her foot,” he narrated.) Ted dates a student at the university where he teaches, and she seems to have a “roommate complex.” Ted’s narration informs us (well, his kids, but mostly us) that his date’s roommate whom she’s not particularly a fan of is “the mother.”
This episode has the best use of comedic narration I’ve seen in the entire series. Example: When Ted’s date complains that men always fall in love with her roommate, Ted replies that he won’t. Older Ted narrates, “Oops.” I don’t know why, but that always makes me crack up.
So what is the mother like? Well, from what we hear, she’s quirky, sweet, artistic…wait, she actually sounds like my girlfriend! Guess I’m a lucky guy, huh? But I digress.
But the hints about the mother aren’t what people remember most about this episode. No, no, no…it’s Barney’s musical devotion to suits! This musical number is GREAT fun to watch, and you can tell Neil Patrick Harris is enjoying the hell out of it with his exuberant performance. It’s well choreographed, the song is well-written, the other members of the group tune in as well, and fans totally ate it up.
And I did too. This episode is transcendent. The show couldn’t get better than this from that point forward…well…except for my number-two choice…
4) THE LEAP (S4E24)
This was the end of Season 4, the year in which Ted got so much crap thrown on him. He was left at the alter. He lost his job. He got in an intense fight with a crazy bartender. Oh yeah, and he got beaten up by a goat. But as Older Ted narrates while looking back, it was the best year of his life, because if he hadn’t gone through all of that, he wouldn’t get his teaching job (which he calls the best job he ever had). This would lead him to his future wife…
I’m going to be honest. This episode is one of my favorites mostly because of the ending. The story of Barney and Robin stubbornly trying to scare each other away from a relationship even though they’re nuts about each other is funny and kinda sweet, and of course the fight with the goat is fun too. But it’s the ending I’ll always take from this one. This episode represented the end of Ted’s job as an architect and the beginning of his job as a lecturer. He feels bad about himself, having been fired from his firm and his clients (you know, the two Texans who wanted him to design a rib restaurant shaped like a cowboy hat?). But thankfully, Lily is there to set him straight and tell him to take a major leap and see what the view is like from the other side.
Of course, this is happening in a story in which Marshall wants to take a literal leap from one rooftop to another. Lily’s words inspire Marshall to ultimately take the leap, leading to everyone else following his lead, including Ted, who has now seen the point.
It’s an obvious metaphor, to be sure. But it’s a very effective one. Top it off with the A.C. Newman song “Prophets,” and it’s a hell of a scene.
3) DUAL CITIZENSHIP (S5E5)
This was the first episode I ever watched, and it made me watch the series from the start. And it was a great introduction for me—this is sitcom material at its absolute finest.
It features two stories—one featuring Barney and Robin, the other featuring Ted, Marshall, and Lily. And I enjoy both of them greatly. In Story A, Barney tutors Robin so she can pass an American citizenship test (while also giving his own questions about what it means to be an American—very funny). But she “goes Canadian” (as Barney puts it) and ends up in Toronto, where Barney follows. She doesn’t feel American enough or Canadian enough, so she decides to do “duel citizenship.” The highlight of this story is Barney’s constant belittling of Canada, to the point where he badmouths the customers of a Toronto coffee shop, leading to a pretty funny resolution. This is yet another nice moment in the series that shows how Barney cares for Robin.
Story B: Ted and Marshall make a road trip to their favorite pizza place in Chicago. But unfortunately for Ted, Marshall brings Lily along, and she becomes a nuisance—always having to pee (funny), bringing along a Kenny Rogers-narrated audiobook (very funny), and even worse, stopping at a bed-and-breakfast for a weekend of pampering for her and Marshall (Ted’s grumbling reactions are VERY funny). The resolution with this side-story is pretty funny as well.
You may notice I’ve used the word “funny” numerous times in this review. See why this episode got me hooked on this show? See why it’s one of my favorite episodes? I just think it’s so damn funny, plain and simple!
2) HOW YOUR MOTHER MET ME (S9E16)
There’s no contest—this is the absolute best episode of Season 9. And it deserves a high ranking as one of the best episodes of the entire series.
This episode is focused on The Mother (Cristin Milioti). We’ve finally come to meet her at the beginning of the season, interacting with some of the other members of our central group on the way to Barney and Robin’s wedding, where she will of course meet Ted. But who is she, really? We got glimpses of her personality, but there has to be something more to her.
With this episode, we got what we all wanted to see by this point. It shows the connections between her and the group from the start of the series, beginning from 2005 to the present point in time. In Barney and Ted’s round of their pick-up gimmick “Have You Met Ted?” it turns out the woman they tried to pick up went to the wrong bar. We follow her as she joins The Mother on her 21st birthday. From there, we get a series of events, most of which are related to what our key characters have gone through throughout the series. They were at the same St Patrick’s Day party, she encountered The Naked Man, she was there when Ted taught the wrong class on his first day, she guesses correctly why anyone would name a bar “Puzzles,” and of course, Ted dated her roommate (even though, if you recall, Ted would’ve liked to know her just from looking at her possessions).
Through it all, we see her own rocky journey through life and love. And she is EASILY sympathetic from the very start—her beloved boyfriend dies in 2005, thus making her romantic situation all the more complicated. The episode had barely started, and I already wanted to hug this poor woman and tell her it’s going to be OK.
We needed this episode, but more importantly, we needed it to be good. We’ve been waiting to spend time with The Mother, and since we obviously weren’t going to get to know her as much as we have known Ted, Marshall, Lily, Robin, and Barney. So, at the very least, we needed to feel like we know her. Was 22 minutes enough? Hell no. But for the challenge the writers brought upon themselves, they did a solid job. We get to know The Mother as much as we would if we were watching her in a 22-minute short film. We already know she’s adorable and immediately appealing, but now we know she has emotional baggage. We see why she has trouble socializing, we see what she does with her time while under stress, and we see how she decides to give relationships a chance again.
But that leads to the most beautiful scene in the series—and this is the moment I mentioned in the introduction made me a little teary-eyed. She’s at the location of the wedding, and she plays “La Vie En Rose” with the ukulele her late boyfriend gave her and sings to herself. Little does she know that Ted can hear her…
That is a beautiful scene, not only because we understand what she feels at this moment, but also because it’s a quiet, slow scene that earned its place in this quickly-paced episode.
I really, really wish we got to know The Mother even more, because she is a delight to watch. But alas…
This should be my #1 choice, since it has the moments that, for lack of a better phrase, “made me feel things.” But seeing as how the key characters I’ve come to know and love aren’t the focus of this episode, it would feel like to cheating to choose it as my favorite. Besides, this is a comedy show. Which episode made me laugh the most?
1) THE PLAYBOOK (S5E8)
I’ve been thinking, and no, I cannot think of another HIMYM episode that makes me laugh as consistently as this one does. (That’s right—not even “Dual Citizenship.”) That alone grants The Playbook the choice of my number-one favorite episode.
Barney and Robin have broken up one episode ago, meaning Barney is back on the prowl. (“Daughters, hide your MILSWANCAs!”—meaning Mothers I’d Like to Sleep With And Never Call Again) He shows the group his book of pick-up arts, simply known as The Playbook. Things are fine, until Lily’s attempt to set Ted up with a friend of hers backfires due to one of Barney’s plays. It becomes Lily’s mission to stop Barney from going through ridiculous schemes as she sees The Playbook only as an excuse to move past his relationship with Robin.
I’ve given enough spoilers away in this post, but I won’t dare say how this episode ends. But I will say it left me laughing for what felt like hours. Even today, it makes me chuckle and smile for a while.
And I can say the same for the plays we see performed throughout this episode. The Don’t Drink That. The Cheap Trick. The My Penis Grants Wishes. The He’s Not Coming. And…Mrs. Stinsfire. Every time this part comes up, I die laughing. It’s a cheap joke, but it works so well!
I’m such a fan of HIMYM that I bought the published Playbook. The best coffee table book I’ll ever have.
So, there you have it. A Top 15 list of favorite episodes from one of my favorite TV shows. It took a long while to write this, but you know what? It was worth it. I’d like to do Top 15 Episodes lists from my favorite shows, such as maybe Seinfeld or Psych. I hope you enjoyed this, and remember: