“How I Met Your Mother” – Skip List and Episode Guide

Still from "How I Met Your Mother"

Already watched the series? Check out our special HIMYM finale episode of the FilmWonk Podcast right here!

Six weeks ago today, the CBS sitcom How I Met Your Mother ended its run after nine seasons and 208 episodes. The tale of these five friends and their decade-spanning relationships (including several decades in the future!) spoke to us at FilmWonk sufficiently that we recorded a special TV edition podcast about it. On that episode, both Daniel and I came to two conclusions: First, this is one of the finest sitcoms on television. And second, like all sitcoms, it goes on for a bit too long.

To that end, we’ve cast our eyes toward the casual viewer who is interested in watching the series, but is intimidated by its length (self-five!). We’ve spent the last six weeks carefully rewatching the entire series and putting together a list of the episodes that, in our opinion, can be safely skipped without affecting the outcome of the series. The list and descriptions were primarily written by Glenn, with contribution by (and occasional vociferous argument with) co-host Daniel.


Criteria
Any episode that meets at least one of the following criteria is not considered skippable:

  • Does the episode directly advance the story or characters toward the series’ end in some way?
  • Does the episode introduce an amusing concept or running gag that will continue throughout the series?
  • If it doesn’t do either of the above, is it funny enough as a standalone episode that it’s worth watching anyway?

Spoiler Policy
This episode guide is intended to be read as you watch the show for the first time. The description for a skippable episode will generally spoil that specific episode, especially if there is some minor piece of information that you need to know for future viewing (major developments won’t generally be skipped). Additionally, an episode description presumes you are caught up to that point in the series. For example, an episode description in Season 6 might make reference to events that occurred in Season 5. And finally, some episodes are skipped because they contain themes or material that are addressed similarly (or in a better way) in a future episode. To that end, a description might mention the title of a future episode, but no specifics about future episodes.

Stick around at the end for a “Best of the Series” list, and concluding remarks.


Season 1: 

  • Pretty much 100% gold, but if you must, skip Episode 19, “Mary the Paralegal“.

Season 2:

  • “First Time in New York” (Episode 12) – Basically nothing is at stake in this episode, except the question of whether or not Lily played a little “just the tip” with her high school boyfriend Scooter. Spoiler alert: She did, and it doesn’t matter. The Empire State Building is used as a belabored metaphor for sex, and we meet Robin’s kid-sister Katie, who is basically never seen again.
  • “Monday Night Football” (Episode 14) – The gang struggles not to find out the results of the Superbowl before watching a DVR’d copy the next day. There’s some good stuff in this episode (Marshall being blackmailed by a 5-year-old was hilarious) but again – it’s hard to take the stakes too seriously.
  • “Lucky Penny” (Episode 15) – This episode reinforces the show’s persistent theme of every event in a person’s life being causally linked (and perhaps “destined”), but it belabors the point through cartoonish nonsense like Barney running a marathon with no training (and then becoming paralyzed on the subway). The end-result of this episode is maintenance of the status quo – Ted doesn’t interview in Chicago, and instead, he stays in New York to meet the Mother. Funny, but ultimately inconsequential – Ted’s court date notwithstanding.
  • “Moving Day” (Episode 18) – Ted and Robin are moving in together! Spoiler alert: They don’t. And I just couldn’t suspend my disbelief that a moving truck full of Ted’s stuff somehow translates to a portable fuckpad (complete with mood lighting and an assembled bed with linens) for Barney.
  • “Showdown” (Episode 20) – Barney’s fixation on Bob Barker being his father is one of the sillier things this show has ever done, and it hangs over way too much of this episode.

Season 3: 

  • “The Bracket” (Episode 14) – Don’t get me wrong; this episode is funny. But it’s almost better to pretend it’s not part of the show’s canon – that it’s merely a brainstorming session in the writers’ room about how to make Barney a cartoon villain for the women of NYC. During a heartfelt apology to one of his myriad conquests, he literally reminisces about engaging in human trafficking. I’m dark enough to laugh at such a joke, but I’d rather not believe it’s actually true for the character.
  • “Everything Must Go” (Episode 19) – With the exception of some delightful mockery of Ted and his dumbass red cowboy boots, absolutely nothing in this episode matters. Britney Spears is the single worst piece of stunt casting this show has ever done – and her subplot with Barney is an anchor that drags down an already middling episode. She is so uniformly terrible as Stella’s receptionist Abby that I actually considered adding “Ten Sessions” to this list, despite its other strong points.

Season 4:

  • “Little Minnesota” (Episode 11) – I initially gave this episode a pass for offering some nice character material with the rare one-on-one pairing of Marshall and Robin. But this duo gets revisited nicely in “Three Days of Snow” (Episode 13), so I daresay the mini-Minnesota and mini-Canada themed bars aren’t worth the Ted/Barney/Lily storyline, which features another one-off sibling who is never seen again. Ted’s kinda-wayward sister, Heather, whom Barney desperately wants to bang, ends up cosigning a lease on a New York apartment with Ted at the end of the episode. And, to rehash, is never seen again. So we can reasonably assume that she was murdered after not purchasing an adequate deadbolt as her big brother advised.
  • “The Stinsons” (Episode 15) – Barney has been running a long-con on his mother for the past…8 or 9 years? However old his fake-son Tyler is – and Tyler no-likey. It’s all terribly unfunny, and of course Ted messes it up by making out with the actress playing Barney’s fake-wife after bonding with their common love of high-brow theatre. There’s a lot of shallow crap happening in this episode that gets wrapped up by the end… Robin thinks her new job is going to suck, Lily hates her mother-in-law, etc. The only running joke that is introduced is that Barney always roots for the villain in classic movies, including Johnny Lawrence (William Zabka) from The Karate Kid, who would go on to appear in Season 9.
  • “Sorry, Bro” (Episode 16) – The only bit from this episode that you have to know is that Ted has reentered a destructive relationship with his Cheaty McCheaterson college girlfriend Karen. It’s actually pretty funny watching Laura Prepon and Josh Radnor engage in a competitive douche-off in flashbacks (they’re both excellent at it), but strictly speaking, this episode doesn’t accomplish much with Karen that isn’t also present in “The Front Porch” (Episode 17), a much more consequential episode for the rest of the gang.
  • “Murtaugh” (Episode 19) – The gang devises a list of shit they’re too old for. Barney decides to do everything on the list. It’s juvenile, and a little bit boring.
  • “Mosbius Designs” (Episode 20) – Shut up, Ted. You’re not going to have your own architecture firm, and we all know it. You know it. Stop hiring a dumbass assistant for Robin to have sex with. This episode’s only meaningful contribution is the “What’s the difference between peanut butter and jam?” joke that explains Alyson Hannigan‘s pregnancy-related absence for the next four episodes. Google it.

Season 5

  • “Robin 101” (Episode 3) – Robin’s ex-boyfriend (Ted) teaches her current boyfriend (Barney) how to date and have sex with her. It’s creepy and weird, and Robin is understandably pissed. And lo, it stops. Given the course of their prior relationship, some of Ted’s ideas about Robin (stroking her left knee gets her off!) are hilariously bad, but they just aren’t worth the time and trouble.
  • “Duel Citizenship” (Episode 5) – Robin has an identity crisis about whether she’s American or Canadian. Spoiler alert: She’s both, and it doesn’t matter. The B-plot isn’t bad – it concerns Ted, Marshall, and Lily trying to recapture the joy of a former bros’ roadtrip to Chicago (minus Lily) for bad pizza. But there are certainly better takes on the same formula during the series run – i.e. Single-Ted + Married Couple = Sad Ted + Wistful Future-Pining. Long live Tantrum.
  • “The Window” (Episode 10) – This episode is borderline, as it tackles an interesting moment of self-doubt in Ted’s return to the serious dating scene. But ultimately, the love story at the heart of it isn’t quite as sweet as the episode makes it out to be – it’s basically just There’s Something About Mary, with all the creepy zaniness that implies. This episode also introduces the concept of time travel. Do with that what you will.
  • “Girls vs. Suits” (Episode 12) – The 100th episode is nothing but a giant, gimmicky misdirection. Sure, we learn a thing or two about the Mother (Cindy’s unseen roommate),  but it’s really nothing that will matter until it reappears in Season 9. And that freaking Urkel-worthy dance number. Is it catchy? Emphatically, yes. But do I believe that Barney would consider getting rid of his suits for one more dubious conquest? Not even a little. What’s more, everything surrounding this plotline was a complete misfire, whether Marshall and Lily’s pointless argument about the bartender’s hotness, or the equally pointless stunt casting of Tim Gunn. The musical number is worth a look on YouTube (Neil Patrick Harris is a wonderful singer), but the rest of the episode is not.
  • “The Perfect Week” (Episode 14) – Barney tries to bang seven chicks in seven nights. And succeeds. And here’s the thing about this episode – it is quite entertaining, but it is ultimately a guilty pleasure, and it wallows in the worst excesses of Barney’s character without the sort of self-awareness that is present in, say, “Right Place, Right Time” (wherein Barney has sex with his 200th woman). All of the sports commentary with Jim Nantz is gold, as is the revelation that the entire group has accidentally used the same toothbrush, but this episode also leans hard on a throwaway racist joke about a student named Cook Pu. It does a few things well, but ultimately can’t justify its excess.
  • “Rabbit or Duck” (Episode 15) – This episode belabors a metaphor involving the rabbit-duck illusion for whether or not Robin is in love with her co-anchor, Don. While the episode has its moments – there’s a hilarious montage of the group violently arguing over which is the better option between the two animals – the metaphor really doesn’t work, because we know almost nothing about Don except that he’s a crappy news anchor. There’s also some nonsense about a perpetually ringing cell phone (a result of Barney holding up his phone number on TV at the Superbowl) that always has a different attractive woman calling. It’s a mildly amusing concept, but quickly falls apart if you think about it for more than five seconds. How long would this phone’s popularity persist? What would be the ratio of women in New York City to, say, prank-calling 14-year-olds from literally anywhere else in the world? Like the rabbit-duck metaphor, it’s a bit tedious, and it doesn’t really work.
  • “Of Course” (Episode 17) – If you must, just watch the last 5 minutes of this episode. Robin has been upset at Barney’s parade of post-breakup conquests, and he does something nice for her to make up for it. Robin gets together with Don. Everything else is just a lackluster episode with a lackluster musical guest star (J-Lo) – following right after a surprisingly strong one (Carrie Underwood) in the previous episode. There is also a fairly elaborate visual effects shot in the bar booth (complete with Ted…singing?), and I do give the show credit for pulling it off, given my criticism of some of its later attempts. But the rest of the episode is a slog.
  • “Zoo or False” (Episode 19) – This episode isn’t bad, but we get enough reminders that everyone on this show is an unreliable narrator without an entire episode devoted to the concept.
  • “The Wedding Bride” (Episode 23) – Pretty much undoes any goodwill that I had for Stella and Tony from “As Fast As She Can” last season. And this may just be my film critic sensibilities talking, but I find the idea of The Wedding Bride as a Love Actually-caliber critical and commercial hit to be offensive and stupid. Recycling the real Love Actually score was a nice touch, but this episode also recycles a joke from last season’s “Murtaugh” about accidentally helping burglars “move” everything out of an apartment that isn’t theirs. But on a positive note, Judy Greer and Jason Lewis are excellent here.

Season 6:

  • “Subway Wars” (Episode 4) – Absolutely nothing consequential happens in this episode. The gang races to a steakhouse. Everyone’s a bit nervous about where they’re at in life, but in the end, they feel comfortable with it. Somebody wins.
  • “Baby Talk” (Episode 6) – Marshall and Lily engage in various bits of Eriksen/Viking lore in order to influence the sex of their future baby. And don’t get me wrong; that stuff is pretty funny – but you know how this episode ends. They’ve got a bit of anxiety about being parents, but they love each other, and they’ll be happy with any kid as long as it’s healthy. None of this is essential viewing, and it’s surrounded by an excruciating plotline in which Ted and Barney debate the merits of adult women who talk like little girls. Ew.
  • “Blitzgiving” (Episode 10) – If you skip this episode, you might miss something awesome… Or not.  Despite Jorge Garcia‘s many favorable years on Lost (which this episode couldn’t shut up about), this – along with Alcatraz – made me seriously question his acting chops. If you can’t deliver the line “Aw, man!” convincingly, that’s a problem. Oh, and Zoey becomes friends with the group.
  • “Oh Honey” (Episode 15) – This one is borderline. It begins with a ridiculous gag wherein Robin burns dinner because she thought the oven was Celsius (a mistake that would result in a lower-temperature oven, not a higher one!), and it’s mostly downhill from there. Katy Perry plays a gullible girl known only as “Oh, honey”, and we hear the various obvious lies to which she has fallen prey. And an alarming number of them were about people taking sexual advantage of her. Until Barney decides to…ya know, take sexual advantage of her. There’s really not enough here for me to speak to Ms. Perry’s acting chops, because this is just an incredibly simplistic character. Also, on a surprisingly positive note, Ted’s in love with Zoey, who is married, but soon to be divorced, and in love with him as well. I had never thought there was a chance that Zoey could be the Mother, but I’m really quite liking this character (and Jennifer Morrison‘s performance) the second time through. This episode is mostly tablesetting, but it’s really not bad.
  • “Garbage Island” (Episode 17) – Okay, don’t actually skip this one – the stuff with Ted and Zoey and the Captain was pretty funny, and fairly consequential to Ted’s character. But the science nerd in me is bothered by this episode. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch doesn’t look like a bunch of recognizable garbage-y things floating in a harbor. It’s not birds caught in six-pack rings. Those things happen closer to land, and are horrible. This? It’s more like hundreds of thousands of <5mm plastic particles suspended in the top layer of ocean water, amounting to about 5kg of debris per square kilometer. And yes, it’s a big deal, and Marshall should care about it. But “Garbage Island” is not a thing, and neither is the Barney/Nora romance, really.
  • “The Exploding Meatball Sub” (Episode 20) – The only consequential note on this episode is that Ted is sick of being in a relationship with someone (Zoey) who doesn’t support him. And that long-approaching revelation is pretty much covered by the last two minutes of the episode…or the first five minutes of “The Perfect Cocktail” (Episode 22). Marshall and Lily are still the most supportive couple on this show, and none of Lily’s self-doubt in this episode changes that in the least. Beyond that, there’s a totally frivolous long con with Barney and a meatball sub – to that, I reiterate Robin’s line: “What is the matter with you?!”

Season 7:

  • “The Naked Truth” (Episode 2) – Tablesetting. Marshall strives to keep an embarrassing college video from his future employer, who (spoiler alert) sees it anyway and doesn’t care. Barney delivers a humorless verbal rehash of “The Bracket”, spilling all of his horrible, rakish pickup scams to Nora so she’ll date him, and (spoiler alert) she does. In an even more pointless subplot, Ted tries to decide between taking Random Girl A or Random Girl B to the Great Big Architecture Thing. He takes Robin, and (in the only consequential note of the episode), he spots his ex-girlfriend Victoria, from Season 1. And Marshall’s future boss, Garrison Cootes (Martin Short), is just an unfunny rendition of the Literal Doctor from Arrested Development.
  • “Field Trip” (Episode 5) – Remember Garrison Cootes, from three episodes (and lines of text) ago? Yeah, he’s still not funny. Neither is Barney’s Ewok theory, which is pretty inconsequential to this episode’s outcome. Barney is still dating Nora, and Robin is dating her former therapist, Kevin. It would be creepy, but Kal Penn is just so darn charming. Marshall’s still trying to save the environment, and Bob Saget‘s narration weirdly reassures us that he succeeded by 2030. Tall order, Marshall.
  • “Mystery vs. History” (Episode 6) – They’re having a boy. That is all.
  • “46 Minutes” (Episode 14) – The group loves each other. This love persists despite a slight train commute between them. The alternate versions of the title sequence were pretty good, but there’s not much here.
  • “The Burning Beekeeper” (Episode 15) – A bunch of zany stuff at a housewarming party. More unfunny Martin Short. That is all.
  • “The Broath” (Episode 19) – Barney and Quinn are a dynamic duo of evil who move in together. Robin and Ted have each been having a hard time (as we saw in previous episodes), but they’re good now. Albeit not really. There is a lot of character development in this episode, but everyone ends in roughly the same place they started, and all of these feelings are fleshed out in greater detail in the episodes that follow.
  • “Now We’re Even” (Episode 21) – This list and this episode are both proof positive that not every night can be legendary, despite Barney’s protestations to the contrary. We also learn that he can’t really get past Quinn being a stripper, which is pretty well covered in the next episode. The only other significant note here is that Robin becomes famous by way of a helicopter incident, which is…problematic. She’s already an NYC journalist with occasional national media exposure, but she only gets famous when a crazy, random accident turns her into the poor man’s Sully Sullenberger. It’s a realistic – albeit depressing – take on fame. But this incident is literally never mentioned again, and as the series goes on, we get plenty of other allusions to Robin getting famous on her own journalistic merits. The rest of the episode just feels like filler, legendary or otherwise. And the less said about Lily’s sex dream about Ranjit, the better.
  • “The Magician’s Code, Part I” (Episode 23) – Ah, the standard sitcom unnecessary two-parter. Budgets need to be spent, baby-birthing needs to be stretched out to real-life proportions, and a series of amusing and inconsequential anecdotes must be told, as all of our characters are inexplicably delayed from getting to the hospital set down the hall. Everyone makes it, and it’s a beautiful baby boy with an awesome middle name. Watch the last two minutes if you want the sweet moment. No judgment here.

Season 8:

  • “The Pre-Nup” (Episode 2) – Quinn, who was actually a fairly interesting foil for Barney last season, is ridiculously and unceremoniously written off the show by way of a series of competitive and outlandish prenuptial agreements. Barney and Quinn don’t trust each other, and we’ve already been told that he marries Robin, so that’s that. We also learn that Ted’s relationship with Victoria will implode within the month.
  • “Nannies” (Episode 3) – Marshall and Lily struggle to pick a nanny, then they pick Lily’s dad Mickey (Chris Elliott), who was a crappy dad to Lily except when he wasn’t. Given that the next episode features a much more consequential plot of Marshall and Lily reconnecting with the group to select godparents, this just feels redundant. On top of that, Robin and Ted’s relationships are each suddenly terrible for really shallow, sitcommy reasons, and it has already been revealed that both relationships are soon going to end soon, so it just feels like marking time.
  • “Twelve Horny Women” (Episode 8)  – This is an amusing episode with all of the courtroom realism of an episode of Law and Order: SVU, and it makes excellent use of Joe Mangianello. But that’s about it, and this episode is held back by a boring B-plot about the rest of the gang debating who was the biggest teenage badass. The clear winner is Lily, with an amusing reference to The Wire. And Marshall wants to be a judge, which is a nice reveal, but it doesn’t really make sense that he would tell this particular story (of himself being duped and defeated) to the New York State Judicial Board as evidence of his good sense and judicial acumen.
  • “Ring Up!” (Episode 14) – This is a funny episode, to be sure. And Robin’s invisibility-ring is an amusing concept. But there’s really not much substance here, apart from Robin and Barney getting used to their new reality of being engaged. And Ted’s proxy-bang of Barney’s half-sister goes to a weird place. Shotgun-wedding weird. Given how long we have until the big wedding of the series, and given that this is the third one-off sibling for the group that is never seen or heard from again, this is hardly essential viewing.
  • “Bad Crazy” (Episode 16) – This is just a straight-up terrible episode. We all know that Crazy-Ass Jeanette is not the Mother, and this episode ends with her and Ted still together. The reveal that she’s a certifiably insane NYPD officer who barricades herself in Ted’s room is mildly entertaining, as is the montage of Robin and Lily getting wine-drunk repeatedly over the next 20 years and Robin gradually revealing more and more of an incident that occurred when little Marvin was an infant. But the punchline of this story is that retired professional ear-biter/boxer/convicted rapist Mike Tyson held the infant Marvin, and advised Robin about the nature of “crazy chicks” who are driven crazy by a guy sending mixed signals. This is a dubious message in any event, since Jeanette was clearly mentally ill before she met Ted, but coming from a source like Tyson, it’s just cringe-inducing and gross. Oh, also, in the HIMYM-verse, Tyson will become a US Senator. So that happens.
  • “The Fortress” (Episode 19) – The fate of Barney’s Wonka-worthy magical apartment is revealed. There’s a Downton Abbey parody, some Wendy’s product placement, and a mildly amusing litany of ridiculous artwork from The Captain. This is not a bad episode by any means, but it’s completely inconsequential and a bit silly. By Stinson.
  • “Romeward Bound” (Episode 21) – Lily is offered an awesome job in Rome, and she briefly dithers about accepting it because she fears failure. Then she accepts it. Given the way this conflict hangs over the next season, this episode doesn’t really resolve the issue in any final sort of way. And the main plot, involving a wedding planner with a giant trenchcoat and a “redonkulous” [hidden] body, is mostly worthless. There’s also some awkwardness between Ted and Barney about who really knows Robin better that feels downright bizarre – and again, it’s nothing that isn’t broached again in detail during Season 9.
  • “The Bro Mitzvah” (Episode 22) – I suspect this episode is what going mad feels like. Absolutely no one acts in a believable way for a moment except for Ralph Macchio. On a curious note, Macchio is credited as “Himself”, while William Zabka is credited as “Clown/William Zabka”. And while I was glad to see Quinn again, I don’t buy her reappearance in the least. Other odd note: Becki Newton is a “Special Guest Star”, while the two Karate Kids are merely “Guest Starring”. The mysteries of Hollywood.

Season 9:

  • “Last Time in New York” (Episode 3) – Ted bids farewell to New York in flashback. Translation: He does absolutely nothing in this episode that you haven’t seen him do already. Swordfight included. This is also the first of what I expect will be many skippable episodes chronicling Marshall and Daphne’s Boring-Ass Roadtrip. Also, Barney and Robin are desperate to hide from a shambling grey mass of zombie old people and find a room to have sex in. Amusing, but not essential viewing. That said, the abuse of the bottle of [fictitious] 30-year Glen McKenna scotch is a hilarious and horrifying crime. There is a minor bombshell in the last 10 seconds of this episode, but it’s repeated and explained at the beginning of the next one.
  • “The Broken Code” (Episode 4) – Yeah… About that bombshell… We really don’t need to hear any more about the fake history of The Bro Code. Also, Tim Gunn is not an actor, and he has no business being on a sitcom. Yes, Ted and Robin had a weird moment in the park in “Something Old” (Episode 23 of last season), and yes, Barney is aware of it. End-result: Everyone’s cool, and Ted’s still the best man. The issues raised in this episode are real and lasting, but they’re also broached repeatedly over the course of the season.
  • “Knight Vision” (Episode 6) – Utterly disposable. It could not matter less which rando girl Ted tries to hook up with on the weekend he meets the mother of his children. And it’s actually a bit sad how much Barney – and the episode – think we should care about this. They compare this random (and ultimately doomed) hookup to the Holy Grail, and as much as I love an appearance by Anna Camp (who is great as always), this plotline could be excised completely and affect nothing. Also irrelevant: Marshall and Daphne rehearse his impending gigantic fight with Lily. This is literally an in-show rehearsal for a scene that will take place later in the season. What the damn-hell? Also-also irrelevant: the minister might decide not to solemnize the marriage, because he’s a bit conservative, and has somehow missed the gargantuan amount of debauchery surrounding this couple at all times until the weekend of their wedding. Then the show takes a cue from Entourage and creates a no-win situation with a character who solves the problem by conveniently dropping dead. Lame.
  • “No Questions Asked” (Episode 7) – Okay. Contrary to what I initially typed here, this is not the worst episode of the entire series. But No Questions Asked commits an even more cardinal sin than the previous episode. It doesn’t just contain redundant plot… It contains anti-plot. The characters are literally conspiring to prevent the plot from advancing. Marshall enlists the gang’s help to prevent Lily from seeing a text sent from his phone (by Daphne) – a text that confesses that he took the judgeship without talking to her. And it’s pointless. She will find out, they will have this fight, and they will have to come to terms on this. This show can rightfully be accused of spinning its wheels during this season, but this episode actually tries to shift the plot in reverse, and it’s inexcusable.
  • “The Lighthouse” (Episode 8) – More boring roadtrip crap, with the unwelcome addition of Ted’s stepfather Clint. And a scrambled egg cookoff. Just let that simmer for a minute. There’s also more delightful (but still unnecessary) use of Anna Camp as Ted’s awful date for the weekend. There are some nice moments here (and one extremely important one with the Mother), but they’re all mercifully in the last five minutes of the episode – bad greenscreen and all.
  • “Mom and Dad” (Episode 10) – This is a fine episode, and Barney’s mother Loretta (Frances Conroy) is actually a favorite side character of mine. But in a season that drags a bit, this episode doesn’t drive the plot or advance the characters in any meaningful way. It also features the final appearance of Daphne (Sherri Shepherd), who I must admit isn’t bad here. This is as close to a real character as she ever becomes, and her acting caliber deserved slightly better than a tedious roadtrip plot. But this still isn’t necessary.
  • “Slapsgiving 3: Slappointment in Slapmarra” (Episode 14) – Upon second viewing, now that I’m no longer angrily awaiting the end of the story, this is a fun episode. It’s also purely optional. This is a 22-minute story about a slap that takes less than a second, and it’s fictitious even within the context of the show. It’s a fun exercise, but you’ve been warned.
  • “Sunrise” (Episode 17) – This episode should not be skipped. It’s strong overall, and it is essential viewing for both Marshall’s argument with Ghost-Lily, and for Ted and Robin’s pow-wow on the beach. But it has two serious problems. First, everything to do with the drunken, wandering Barney passing off the bro-mantle to Britanick (whom I love otherwise) was terrible. That entire subplot can and should be skipped. Second, everything to do with Ted’s balloon metaphor. And I’m dead serious here… You do not put Cobie Smulders on a harness and have Ted watch Robin fly away into the sky like a balloon to the overwrought tones of “Eternal Flame”. And if you insist on doing that, you sure as hell don’t start the next scene with the two of them sitting side-by-side again. This is an important episode, but it goes way too far.

Still from "How I Met Your Mother" - Future Ted

Conclusions

Careful readers will note a couple of things. First, there are 52 episodes on this list. Even more careful readers will note that the real total is 50, since I included two episodes that shouldn’t actually be skipped. But it’s cleaner with 52, because that’s exactly 25% of the series’ run. In this critic’s opinion, 1 out of 4 episodes of How I Met Your Mother can be safely skipped without affecting the outcome of the series.

But the second thing you’ll notice is that I only truly disliked a handful of the episodes listed above. And it is my sincere belief that this is one of the finest sitcoms on television. As I write this conclusion, the series finale aired exactly six weeks ago, and I breezed through nine seasons and 208 episodes of this series during that time like it was nothing. It was an absolute pleasure watching this series again, and I did not create this list to suggest otherwise.

In fact, I learned one additional lesson while re-watching the series, and it was something that was lost on me the first time through. It is a common vice of sitcoms to overstay their welcome, and HIMYM is no exception. But this is generally accompanied by an early peak and a steady run of increasingly lousy episodes with no clear end or trajectory in sight. I believe How I Met Your Mother thoroughly avoided this pitfall, and to demonstrate this, I’ve composed another list to finish out this article – three episodes from every season that are unquestionably among the best of the series.

“Best Episodes of the Series” in each season:

  1. “Pilot”, “Purple Giraffe”, “The Limo”
  2. “Slap Bet”, “Swarley”, “How Lily Stole Christmas”
  3. “How I Met Everyone Else”, “Slapsgiving”, “Sandcastles in the Sand”
  4. “Benefits”, “Three Days of Snow”, “The Front Porch”
  5. “The Playbook”, “Last Cigarette Ever”, “Robots vs. Wrestlers”
  6. “Natural History”, “Last Words”, “The Perfect Cocktail”
  7. “Disaster Averted”, “Symphony of Illumination”, “Trilogy Time”
  8. “P.S. I Love You”, “The Time Travelers”, “Something New”
  9. “How Your Mother Met Me”, “Vesuvius”, “Gary Blauman”

This is a show that understood and reinforced its themes right to the end – a show whose grand mystery about life and love was constantly dropping clues for any lost and lonely twentysomething viewers – to say that even though you might go through myriad struggles and false starts, you’ll eventually figure out your life. It advanced and repeated the idea that true love is worth pursuing because it’s simply the best thing we do. And yes, as Ted Mosby acknowledges when he states that theme aloud in “The End of the Aisle” (S09E22), that is a cheesy message. But like most cheesy messages, it’s one that we desperately want to believe is true. And it’s worth repeating.

Done watching the series? Check out our special HIMYM finale episode of the FilmWonk Podcast right here!

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Bad Trailer/Good Trailer: “Brothers” and “The Crazies”

I saw F. Gary Gray’s Law Abiding Citizen last night, and saw two incredible trailers, which prompted this aside:

The purpose of an advertisement is to make me want to buy your product, Hollywood. If I don’t see a trailer for your film, I’ll at least feel neutral about it. If I see a compelling, provocative trailer, I may well want to see the film. But if I see a trailer that gives away the whole damn plot (or at least gives me that impression), it will leave me utterly uninterested.

Whether we’re talking about a cheesy, but potentially enjoyable armored car heist or Tom Hanks forging a deep friendship with a volleyball, this has been a problem for a while.

But it’s rare that I’ve seen such an egregious offender as Jim Sheridan’s Brothers:

I don’t need to see this movie. Ever.

Remarkably, in the same evening, I saw an absolutely balls-out-audacious trailer that gave away a TON about its film – Breck Eisner’s “The Crazies” – and yet still left me wanting to see it:

Story structure exists for a reason. You can pitch me a movie without revealing every twist. It’s okay. Really.

Both of these films have their selling points. The acting looks solid in Brothers, and I’m quite pleased to see someone acknowledge the uncanny resemblance between Jake Gyllenhaal and Tobey Maguire. I approve of the The Crazies‘ shameless appropriation of Gary Jules’ “Mad World” (originally written for Donnie Darko), and it looks like potentially fun cheese (although I’ve been burned by that assessment before).

These films may be good or bad, and that’s really not the point. We’re talking about the difference between a book jacket and the Cliff’s Notes.

Tantalize me, Hollywood. Give me a little, and leave me wanting more, and I may just buy a ticket.

*There are two exceptions to this rule:
-Romantic comedies. The quantity of “spoilers” in the trailer had no bearing on my decision not to see Love Happens.
Marley and Me (only obliquely related, and thoroughly spoilerific).

“Zombieland” – psychopathic indulgence?

UPDATE: I wrote this piece in June 2009 as a reaction to the trailer for Zombieland. Admittedly, that film was a bit more substantial than the trailer made it look, but if you’re still interested in the zombie phenomenon at large, read on!



The zombie craze has seen an upswing in recent years, ever since Danny Boyle and Zack Snyder made the novel reintroduction of zombies that can run fast. Of course, Boyle denied that his film was even a zombie movie (spoiler: it was), and Zack Snyder discovered fast zombies right around the same time he became obsessed with slow-motion, so it’s possible their contributions passed unnoticed.

But the zombie films kept coming, and they were quickly joined by unofficial video-game tie-ins and inexplicable Jane Austen crossover tales.

zombieland

The latest entry in an already clogged genre is Ruben Fleischer’s “Zombieland”. Click here or on the photo above to check out the trailer.

The zombie has always evoked a rather conflicted reaction from me… The primary (and earliest) reaction is the adolescent boy, which says that blowing shit up is cool, and that goes doubly for zombies, thank you very much. The second, which has developed in the intervening years, is the amateur criminologist and armchair psychologist in me, which hypothesizes that the appeal of the zombie genre can best be explained as an indulgence for latent fantasies of mass-slaughter.

There are other archetypes (e.g. vampires, humanoid machines) that serve a similar narrative purpose– facing a horde of creatures that appear human, share human intelligence and free-will, but present an imminent threat that must be destroyed. Such archetypes, when presented effectively, can raise fascinating and provocative questions about what it means to be human, about the nature of and justification for violence, etc.

An essential characteristic of these tales is that the protagonist cannot be regarded as entirely sympathetic unless he at least briefly questions the morality of his indiscriminate slaughter. It is in this key area – the free-will and reason of the threat, leading to the incumbent empathy of the protagonist – that the zombie archetype diverges from those above.

riverreavers

“Reavers might take issue with that philosophy. If they had a philosophy. If they weren’t too busy gnawing on your insides.”

A zombie is a creature that looks human, and (in the films I mentioned above) is as strong and as fast as a human. But it has completely lost its humanity. It has turned into a beast, and a dangerous one at that. The slaughter of these creatures is therefore not open to any moral debate. To kill a zombie is unquestionably an act of self-defense – and indeed, the defense of others.

If you kill a zombie, you’re a hero, taking on a grim duty. You’re a defender against the invading horde. But you’re also just an everyman, defending the people he loves. You’re Atticus Finch, putting down a rabid dog to protect your children and your neighbors. Nations throughout history have striven for this kind of success in vilifying their enemies in warfare. Every empire has its barbarians, and the goal is inexorably to create soldiers that can destroy them without any moral reservations, and feel good about themselves afterward.

The zombie archetype takes this to absolute excess. “Zombieland” is the most blatant example of this so far. Woody Harrelson’s character doesn’t just kill zombies, he revels in killing zombies. He indulges in slaughter, and everything in the presentation – the narration, the campy music, the slapstick gags/kills – is designed to put the audience right there with him. Sure, I expect there will be a threadbare plot in which they have to get from Point A to Point B, and a few token innocents (little more than setpieces, really) will tag along for the ride…

But the point of the film will almost certainly be to take in the ambiance and indulge a latent, fantastical desire to be able to go on an indiscriminate, remorseless killing spree. When discussing such a spree, one example tends to spring to mind.

There were a great number of myths surrounding the 1999 Columbine High School shootings. The central falsehood was that a pair of disaffected, bullied goths engaged in a targeted killing spree of specific subsets of their classmates, such as jocks, or Christians, or blacks. Most of the student witnesses initially told a different story – that the killing appeared completely random and indiscriminate1, and authorities quickly ruled out any targeting2.

ericharrisNonetheless, this falsehood prevailed in the media, and persists to this day. But there is one theory that the media got right– Eric Harris’ fascination with Doom, the prototypical first-person shooter from the early 90s. Harris wrote in his journal before the attack:

I have a goal to destroy as much as possible, so I must not be sidetracked by my feelings of sympathy, mercy, or any of that. … I will force myself to believe that everyone is just another monster from Doom. I have to turn off my feelings.3

This underlying fascination with indiscriminate slaughter seems fairly universal, but the vast majority of people are sufficiently well-adjusted, empathic, and possess an adequate measure of respect for human life that the thought of actually acting upon this fascination is unconscionable. It is only in the case of psychopaths4 like Eric Harris that conscience doesn’t enter the equation.

In order to kill humans indiscriminately, Harris turned off his emotions. In order to kill zombies indiscriminately, no such emotional stifling is required.

As such, zombie-killers are not psychopaths precisely, and yet they often loosely fit many of the criteria on the psychopathy checklist5:
ash

  • Glibness/superficial charm
  • Grandiose sense of self-worth
  • Lack of remorse or guilt
  • Callous/lack of empathy
  • Need for stimulation/proneness to boredom
  • Parasitic lifestyle
  • Poor behavioral control
  • Promiscuous sexual behavior
  • Lack of realistic, long-term goals
  • Impulsivity
  • Irresponsibility
  • Criminal versatility

Tell me that doesn’t read like Bruce Campbell’s resume (or, you know, one of his characters).

The zombie-killer is often a simplistic character, because he indulges a simplistic desire. I should be clear… I am not suggesting that zombie movies (or even violent video games) have a causal relationship with violence or psychopathy. That debate is a hornets’ nest of patent nonsense in which I have no desire to take part. I’m simply suggesting that the popularity of the zombie genre serves uniquely to indulge an intrinsic, universal fascination with remorseless slaughter. That the vast majority of us would never act on this fascination does nothing to dispute this point.

But does this medium serve a constructive purpose? Many of these films seem to have artistic merit… Some are compelling character studies about how a group of strangers band together amid disaster, and some are thoughtful renditions of the end of the world.

Some are even effective comedies, such as Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg’s Shaun of the Dead. I would even argue that SotD masterfully subverts the horror genre, but also provides an effective entry in that genre. It also relies on some strong and surprisingly dramatic performances.

shaunofthedead

An ensemble of strong performances.

Zombieland seems to have similar designs, and it’s possible that it will prove equally effective (although the trailer really makes me doubt it). Regardless of this film’s effectiveness on either level, I think it’s safe to say that when we reach the point of retooling pre-Victorian English lit, the zombie genre has just about run its course. It will do us no good as a society to dwell on it further. Granted, I doubt it will do us much harm, other than perhaps rotting our brains with exponential increases in stupidity.

But then, you never know. Perhaps it will trigger a wave of psychopathic sleeper cells, YEAH, an army of zombie-obsessed, remorseless, indiscriminate hunter-killers! And they’re on a rampage! And they must be stopped! By any means necessary!

This fall… Rick Moranis is: PSYCHO-HUNTER.

rickmoranis

“KILL THIS! *BANG*”

Sources:
1 Cullen, Dave. Columbine. New York: Twelve, 2009, pp. 151-52.
2 Ibid, p. 125.
3 Ibid, p. 276.
4 Ibid, p. 239-246.
5 Hare, R. D. (2003). “The Psychopathy Checklist—Revised, 2nd Edition.” Toronto: Multi-Health Systems.