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HIMYMania: The 30 Best ‘How I Met Your Mother’ Moments

The cockamouse, ‘Swarley,’ the Woo girls: we’re counting down our favorite HIMYM bits

how i met your mother himym

Ron P. Jaffe/ CBS

Like Ted Mosby, we’re feeling sentimental. The finale of How I Met Your Mother is less than a week away, and it deserves a proper send-off, especially since the protracted (and not particularly satisfying) momentum of later seasons has possibly overshadowed the brilliance of earlier ones. Like so many series at their best, HIMYM was constantly imperiled in the beginning, somehow threatened with cancellation despite a phenomenal run of episodes. But though HIMYM is clearly informed by Friends, the former did a far better job of expressing and immortalizing that crucial period between post-college and the rest of adult life. It birthed the kookier-but-tragically-short-lived Happy Endings, New Girl, the yet-to-be-tested Friends With Better Lives, and its very own spinoff, How I Met Your Dad, which has enough talent attached (i.e. Greta Gerwig) to suggest that it might even improve on the formula.

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Yes, the formula: How I Met Your Mother was the Lost of sitcoms. Creators Craig Thomas and Carter Bays understood the modern predisposition toward nostalgia, thus episodes were often chock full of callbacks to former ones, continuity was key (though at times relied upon for its own sake), and throughout, audiences were as much at the mercy of unreliable narrator Ted Mosby (voiced by Bob Saget) as his patient children were. (Kids, every time we recall a memory, we alter it, the protein in our brain rearranging — you know what, your father will happily explain it.) But the takeaway is: This was their youth — Ted (Josh Radnor) Marshall (Jason Segel), Lily (Alyson Hannigan), Robin (Cobie Smulders), and Barney (Neil Patrick Harris) grew up together, and some of the times they had were legendary. What follows is a highly subjective list of the best moments of the series, which was nearly impossible to whittle down to a mere 30. We’re arguing with ourselves already, and invite those of you with encyclopaedic knowledge of the sitcom to do the same. By Greg Chow and Phoebe Reilly

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15. “I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles)” (Season 2, “Arrividerci, Fiero”)

Marshall and Daphne's Season Nine road trip harked back to Marshall and Ted's first journey home from Wesleyan. But unlike the song, the joke didn't make as successful a comeback, because the punch line — that the Proclaimers' hit is the ne plus ultra of songs that are as annoying as they are catchy — struck a chord only once (yeah, we did). College versions of the characters are a fan favorite — here, pedantic, frizzy-haired Ted (aka Doctor X) gets his ass kicked in Zitch Dog by Marshall, a champion game player even then. More important, the two form a life-long bond. 

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14. A New Beginning (Season 6, “Hopeless”)

A long cold opening of Barney straining to impress his dad Jerry (John Lithgow) has him improving the identities of his friends to make them cooler: Marshall is a womanizing drunk; he and Lily are in an open relationship. About six minutes in, he adds one final embellishment: "We're also a band." Cue the credits, with the quintet performing the Solids' theme song (Robin on drums, of course) — a surprising beginning to a really good episode. While we're at it, maybe it's time to mention how well the standard credit sequence nailed it, too. The brief, pre-Instagram collage of candid bar photos perfectly set the tone of this show, and took on the significance of a time capsule as the cast aged.

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13. Jumping Off the Roof (Season 4, “The Leap”)

On his 31st birthday, Ted is savaged by the goat that he initially remembered being at his 30th surprise party the previous season. This caps off a pretty bad year, so when Lily tells Ted to "take the leap" and quit designing a building he doesn't care about, she inadvertently inspires something else entirely: Marshall running to the roof and jumping to the adjacent one, with each of his friends following suit. This could be a callback to the pilot, in which Ted refers to taking the leap to pursue Robin (in the wake of her news report about a guy who didn't jump off the George Washington Bridge). In any case, this (and the goat) is an impressive bit of continuity, since Ted referenced those ill-advised five words — "I can jump that far" — much earlier in the season. HIMYM had a knack for stitching melancholy endings onto mediocre episodes, making them that much more memorable. Also, kudos for setting the moment to A.C. Newman's "Prophets," which might be the best use of a song in the whole series. 

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12. Interventions Spin Out of Control (Season 4, “Intervention”)

After a successful intervention for the boozy Stuart (Matt Boren), the gang starts holding interventions for minor trespasses — Robin's spray tans, Lily's fake British accent, Ted's pretentious pronunciations — until they eventually hold an intervention for the interventions. But when Ted discovers a banner in the closet that his friends planned to use for his fast-moving relationship with Stella (Sarah Chalke), he gets cold feet about the future. Worse, his trepidation is contagious: Marshall and Lily don't want to move to Dowisetrepla; Robin doesn't want to go to Japan for her new job. Their freakouts capture the anxiety of the characters' ages, and the pressure to move forward and grow up and change while at times feeling nothing but resistance to just that.  

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11. Blah Blah on the Hot/Crazy Scale (Season 3, “How I Met Everyone Else”)

The series went to the women-be-crazy well a little too often, but Blah Blah made history. Her forgotten name ("Please, call me Blah") exposed Future Ted as an unreliable narrator, which gave the writers a lot of room for retroactive continuity (or "retcon"). Perhaps realizing just how much fun they could have with Ted's subjective storytelling, the idea of "eating a sandwich" was born; henceforth, this would be the awesomely PG euphemism for smoking pot. Anyway, Blah Blah (Abigail Spencer, whose character's name was recently revealed to be Carol) becomes agitated when she realizes the origin story of everyone else's relationship with Ted is better than hers, and she plummets below the Vicky Mendoza Diagonal. To make everything even more meta, the story of Marshall and Lily's meeting is, like Future Ted's ongoing narrative, massaged by time. 

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10. and 9. Puzzles and “Auld Lang Syne” [Season 4, “Three Days of Snow”]

This Season Four episode had everything: warped chronology, weather-related bonding, drunken ideas, not one but two great moments and a sentimental ending, at which point we realize each plot unfolds on a different night of a blizzard. When Carl leaves Barney and Ted the keys to MacLaren's, it checks off a box on Ted's list of ill-advised five words that every man utters in his life: "We should buy a bar." (Also on that list are flashbacks and -forwards: "I can jump that far" from the season's finale "The Leap," and "I'm gonna win her back" from Season Eight's "Weekend at Barney's.") Their Cocktail dreams of running the bar — now renamed "Puzzles" — go hilariously awry; meanwhile, Marshall and Lily agonize over whether to part with their cutesy ritual of airport pickups. After Robin and Marshall share a funny scene together in a stranded car, they end up at the airport on the wrong night. When Lily arrives two days later, she thinks her hubby has forgotten her — only Marshall has asked the bar's best patrons, the Fighting Hens, to gradually serenade her at the airport. Was there a dry eye in the house/apartment?

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8. Barney’s Bracket (Season 3, “The Bracket”)

Before Barney's caddishness became problematic (and his character only salvageable thanks to Neil Patrick Harris's breakneck delivery and sublime gift for physical comedy), it was actually very funny, especially in contrast with his friends' disgust over such wanton womanizing. When a jilted ex takes revenge, Barney borrows the March Madness blackboard and lets the gang duke it out over which ex has more cause to be upset: the woman who slept with him when she thought he only had 12 hours to live or the one he fake proposed to? (Ted: "It's 12-hours-to-live girl — she flew them both to Paris!" Robin: "She only bought him a one-way ticket!") The continuity of Barney's sexual history is impressive, and the gang feels increasingly defiled. Bonus: The nod to Doogie Howser's journaling, with Barney typing his blog in DOS to the theme's dopey synths. Also, the real culprit turned out to be Abby, played by a surprisingly funny, post-meltdown Britney Spears.

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7. Ted Makes It Rain (Season 1, “Come On”)

One of the best tropes of the series is Ted's faith in the universe, an example of both his romantic notions of fate and, sometimes, his abdication of responsibility. Despite his friends' fatigue, Ted believes he and Robin are meant to be together. So he enlists one of Barney's former bedfellows to teach him a rain dance so that Robin doesn't go on a camping trip with her co-anchor, Sandy Rivers (Hannigan's real-life hubby, Alexis Denisof). The heavens unleash at the same time that Marshall and Lily find themselves — in another memorable technique — pausing and un-pausing their fight over her San Francisco fellowship. The season ends on the stoop in a downpour to the strains of Bloc Party's "This Modern Love," with Ted overjoyed and Marshall sadly holding Lily's engagement ring.

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6. Barney’s Nickname (Season 2, “Swarley”)

Obviously, the greatest development of this beloved season-two episode is Marshall and Lily getting back together, but the greatest moment has to be the butchering of Barney's name when the boys try hanging out in a coffee shop instead of a bar (a clever nod to how this series improved on the one that started it all). The running joke carries the episode as Swarley — aka Swarlos, aka Swarles Barkley, aka Swarhili — explains his Crazy Eyes theory; Marshall examines his new date for signs of lunacy; and Lily, like Billy Joel in the song that Chloe (Homeland's Morena Baccarin) sings moments before, "just can't take it anymore" and interrupts their rendezvous on the couch. The Cheers credits were a bonus. Surprisingly, Swarley wasn't referenced again until the final season's episode "Vesuvius."

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5. Robin and Ted Get Messy (Season 2, “Showdown/Something Borrowed/Something Blue”)

This is hardly the first time HIMYM cleverly executed a plot point by manipulating the chronology of events — "The Pineapple Incident" might've been the original example, and to this day, we wonder how Ted came to possess that fruit — but the three-episode arc that concludes Season Two was pure genius. At the beginning of "Showdown," Robin and Ted enter the apartment covered in red sauce on the heels of Lily's freakout about the upcoming wedding, so they decline to explain. We won't find out for two more episodes that they had been at the restaurant where Ted stole the French horn and got into a fight about marriage that broke them up. In between comes the introduction of Barney's father issues and his fantastic winning stint on The Price of Right; the fodder for Ted's toast to the happy couple; and part one of the wedding, where everything goes wrong and Marshall and Lily end up exchanging vows in a heartwarming ceremony under the tree. In fact, you almost forget about the saucy mess until Barney overhears Robin and Ted talk about their "news" at the reception and spends the rest of the finale trying to get them to spill. It was a bittersweet development handled beautifully.

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4. The Gang’s Bad Habits (Season 3, “Spoiler Alert”)

Once another person's flaws have been pointed out to us, they're impossible to ignore — this is one of the smartest conceits of this particular episode. Here, it applied to Ted's new girlfriend, Cathy (played by Radnor's one-time girlfriend Lindsay Price), whom the gang can't stand because of her motor mouth. Ted, however, only notices how rude they are to her in return. When his friends finally spoil her for him, they turn on each other to point out everyone's annoying habits: Lily's loud chewing, Robin's misuse of the word "literally," Ted's pretentious tendency to correct everybody, and Marshall's penchant for narrating everything he does with nonsense songs "like a stroke victim." The friends burst out in unison, "Apple orchard banana cat dance 8663," which reminds Marshall of his password for the bar exam results — which of course he passed, and celebration ensues.

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3. The Platinum Rule (Season 3, “The Platinum Rule”)

Another great conceit, and maybe one of the rare instances of true wisdom from Barney, even if it's based on his misunderstanding of the Bible: "Never, ever love thy neighbor." Basically, he means don't shit where you eat, but it's a chance for the gang to take turns telling Ted about their own experiences of getting too close to people who were (literally) too close to them. Marshall and Lily made friends with the neighbors and soon couldn't leave the apartment without them. Robin dated a coworker who became too needy. Barney slept with Wendy the Waitress, thereby endangering MacLaren's as the go-to bar. It was superb storytelling that broke with the standard format of A, B, and C plotlines and gave each timeline equal weight — the episode unfolded in the 20 minutes it took Ted to playfully muss his hair.

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2. Robin’s Fear of Malls (Season 2, “Slap Bet”)

This episode was so strong that the slap bet is only the second best thing to come out of it — although both plot points are brilliantly intertwined. When Robin refuses to go to the Willowbrook Mall, the gang speculates as to why. Marshall thinks she probably got married in one; Barney's sure she used to be a porn star. The resulting tape proves neither are true: Robin was a bedazzled, acid-washed-denim-wearing Canadian pop star named Robin Sparkles, and the video for her hit single "Let's Go to the Mall" is a pitch-perfect send-up of neon revelry, synchronized dance, bad rapping, and corny, faux-candid close-ups á la Debbie Gibson ("The eighties didn't come to Canada till, like, '93," explains Robin). In the midst of this awesome embellishment of her backstory, Marshall points out that Barney violated the terms of their bet with his "premature slapulation" and, out of nowhere, delivers the first of many awesome retribution wallops. 

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1. Ted Meets Aunt Robin (Season 1, “Pilot”)

Begin at the beginning: It took no more than five minutes of the pilot for Ted to meet the woman he thought he was going to marry — and for fans to start conspiring as to how, one day, he would. She hates olives, she drinks Scotch, she can quote Ghostbusters, and Ted stole a blue French horn for her, providing the perfect anecdote for Marshall's future wedding-day toast. Except for one thing: The episode concludes with Ted telling the kids that this is the story of how he met their Aunt Robin. Perhaps forgotten now, but this was a shocking (and brave) twist. The writers immediately ditched Robin as the titular love interest, even if she would persist as an option for the next decade. Many of us, like misunderstood lemmings, fell for Robin then and there. We refused to believe she wasn't The One.

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