Adam Brooks’ “Definitely, Maybe” (presented by 10 Years Ago: Films in Retrospective)

This review originally appeared as a guest post on 10 Years Ago: Films in Retrospective, a film site in which editor Marcus Gorman and various contributors revisit a movie on the week of its tenth anniversary. This retro review will be a bit more free-form, recappy, and profanity-laden than usual.

Ad exec Will (Ryan Reynolds) wanders through Manhattan to pick up his daughter, playing “the perfect song” for when you’ve just been served with divorce papers: “Everyday People” by Sly & the Family Stone. Let’s agree to disagree, movie. This is perhaps the most generic song until “ABC” the following year, and it isn’t nearly as catchy. My overt hostility this early into the film should tell you what to expect here – this is the first 10YA film I’ve rewatched and found substantially less enjoyable than my first viewing a decade ago. So let’s do this thing. Will’s tiny individual Bluetooth earbuds indicate that he is abundantly wealthy and tech-savvy by 2008 standards (these are still barely a thing). He interacts with a series of New York street people from central casting as the credits play, then wanders up to his daughter’s school.

“Sometimes, no matter how carefully you plan your playlist, there is no right track for what awaits you.”

I normally begin my 10YA reviews with a selection from the opening voiceover, but this is really the first time it’s been this trite and inconsequential. His song is uninspired, his metaphor is now dated, and “what awaits him” is a bit of a cacophony at the school because the kids have just started sex-ed. His daughter Maya (Abigail Breslin) explains the mechanics of sex, and asks a perfectly reasonable question – her friend Sammy Boigon’s sister says he was an accident, and how do you accidentally thrust a penis into a vagina? Will shuts her down, telling her to stop saying such accurate words (“say tinkle-part or wee-wee or something cute”) – bad form, Will. Comprehensive sex-ed is better for a reason. She then asks more pointedly, “If they didn’t want to have a baby, why did they have sex?” Will misses a second teachable moment, and says they were rehearsing. He’ll miss another one later when his daughter asks, “What’s the boy word for slut?” One thing I’ve done since 2008 is become a parent, and I really try not to judge how other parents handle common pitfalls. But Will seriously biffs this moment, and given that it’s one of the only consequential moments with his daughter until the end of the film, it seems worth noting.

Anyway, all of this was an awkward lead-in to Maya asking how Will met her mother. Does this premise sound familiar? The CBS series “How I Met Your Mother” was in its third season and largely unknown to me in 2008, although seeing this film may have seeded my interest in it. Now that I’ve seen that whole series, which spawned a skip list and series-end podcast in which I called it “one of the finest sitcoms on television,” this film suffers by comparison, both in the credibility and structure of the story, and the likability of the characters. More on that later. Will agrees to tell Maya the complete story of his adult dating life, but he’s going to change the names, and he won’t reveal until the end who her mother is. Definitely, Maybe does a poor job of justifying its premise. It attempts to lend a sense of urgency and purpose to the story by couching it as Maya’s precocious attempt to “solve” her parents’ impending divorce. And Will makes it clear (to the audience) that he knows this, but never that he’s doing this for some definable purpose, or even against his better judgment. Beyond the appropriateness of the subject matter, this just really seems like a bad idea. But…what the hell do I know, I’ve never been divorced. To call this situation desperate and sad seems a bit obvious, but it’s all I’ve got going in.

The tale begins. In 1992, Will is a volunteer for the Young Democrats of America in Madison, Wisconsin, and we meet Lady #1: Will’s college sweetheart, Emily (Elizabeth Banks). If I remember correctly, this is Maya’s mother. I obviously didn’t know this the first time I saw the film, but seeing it now, the film definitely pats itself on the back several times for hiding this result. Maya even guesses that it’s never the first girlfriend you meet – which implies that she knows more stories in this “rom-com mystery” genre that I’m unaware of. The only other one I can think of is Extraterrestrial, and the mystery there was “What’s up with the alien spaceship hovering over our one-night stand?”, but no matter. These particular early-90s Democrats work for the Clintons, and Will is leaving for New York to work for Bill’s presidential campaign. Because Will wants to be president. I give the movie kudos for presenting Will’s political aspirations (with a mix of real and fictional politicians) as something admirable and sincere. Reynolds plays Will’s later disappointment with President Clinton’s scandals in a way that feels genuine and devoid of cynicism. Clinton is his idol, and his fall from grace disappoints him. It doesn’t count for much of the film’s plot, but it’s something.

Emily, who is staying behind, sends Will along with a book-sized package to return to one Summer Hartley (Rachel Weisz), whom she met on her exchange program at Cambridge. You may be assuming that this means Weisz will speak with her native British accent, and you would be wrong. Emily notes that all the guys wanted to sleep with her, and Will suggests that perhaps she should mail it instead. Whoops. We haven’t seen her yet, but Summer is Lady #2, and Will is definitely, 100% going to sleep with her. Flying into New York, Will looks out the window and sees…what looks like archive footage of the NYC skyline. The WTC towers are visible, but also it looks a bit grainy, which is a strange thing to see in HD. He’s handed a cellular telephone just slightly more advanced than the one Zack Morris carried in ’92, and is sent to get coffee and bagels. When he returns, he wipes out offscreen into the men’s room with a comically huge pile of TP while the campaign manager briefs everyone, and screams “what am I doing here?!” We get it, movie. Shit rolls downhill. This film largely predates the gig economy, but Will’s bitching about his no-future entry-level political job feels petty. Suck it up, intern.

Will meets April (Isla Fisher) at the copy machine, and they flirt. April is apolitical – this is just a gig for her. She’s also Lady #3. Will makes some vague promises about how great Clinton will be for African-Americans and women, and then the Gennifer Flowers scandal breaks. Whoops. The campaign gang goes out for beers, and they spontaneously compare notes on who their romantic “types” are. Will’s type is brunettes with horn-rimmed glasses (neither Emily nor April). He drunk-dials Emily, who correctly concludes that he’s never coming back from NYC. Back in his room, with some prodding from his campaign roommate Russell (Derek Luke), Will rips open the package from Emily and finds…a diary. They decide they can’t read it. Then they read it, it plays as light erotica written by a dude, and it seems that Summer might be Emily’s ex-lover. I’ll go ahead and admit an area of personal growth for me here: This is definitely something that would’ve seemed like a bigger deal to me in 2008 than now – I didn’t really grok the Kinsey scale in those days, and this sort of revelation would’ve made me feel insecure in a more categorical way than the existence of ex-boyfriends. But it’s a personal hang-up that I find silly in retrospect (you’re either confident the person you’re dating likes you, or you’re not), and I’m glad to be past it.

Will heads over to Summer’s apartment without calling first, and finds Kevin Kline in an open bathrobe. He is Professor Hampton Roth. Will asks if he is Summer’s father, and he confirms, “Yeah, I’m her daddy.” Gross. Then – and I’ll pause here to note that it’s about 10AM – he pours some Johnny Walker. The boys get hammered and pass out, and Will awakens to the face of Summer, who introduces the professor as her boyfriend (and thesis advisor). They engage in some flirtatious banter in Weisz’s hit-or-miss American accent. This was a miss. The accent, and the character. She asks if he read the erotica-diary, throws it at him and suggests that he read it when he’s lonely, then follows him into the hallway and kisses him. “Sorry,” Summer says, “I was just curious. Hampton encourages me to cultivate my curiosity.” Ugh. These two met 60 seconds ago. This is utterly bizarre, even in this genre.

Back at the campaign, Will is stapling signs, nearly staples his hand, and screams aloud again, “What am I doing here?!” Each of these complaint beats feels like the failure mode of an “As Seen on TV” commercial. Luckily, the movie has also lost patience with this, and campaign manager Arthur Robredo (Nestor Serrano) realizes he needs someone with a Wisconsin connection to court Madison donors in the NY area. Will now has a desk and a real job, and it turns out he’s an ace at it, selling out an entire fundraiser table. He runs into April buying cigarettes at the convenience store, and the two have a dumb argument about which of their brands is healthier and/or burns faster. Then they proceed to have a competitive smoke-off. During the ensuing chat, we learn that it’s April’s birthday, her musician boyfriend stood her up (on her birthday!). She wins the bet, but declines the payoff, and they haggle their way into attending a party together. They end up on a rooftop, and Will reveals that he plans to propose to Emily when she comes to NYC. April invites Will to practice the proposal on her. He starts with a half-assed “Will you, um, marry me?”, and she gives a solid rehearsed speech excoriating him for it. This is a decent scene – not because of the overwritten rom-com speeches, but because April is not being a ridiculous caricature here – perhaps just a hit heightened. She’s neither manic, nor pixie. I buy that she has a life outside of this moment. They go back to her apartment for tea, and they have a nice chat about a copy of Jane Eyre that her father inscribed and gave her before his untimely death. This’ll be important later. They chat all night about music, politics, travel, etc, and she tosses in a line about how this is nice that they can just sit here and chat and not have to worry about flirting or all the attraction stuff. Then they frantically make out, and then he leaves. It’s a mess. So far, I believe this relationship the most of the three.

Back in the hotel, Emily – Will’s actual girlfriend, remember – has arrived on the red-eye to surprise him in the morning! She takes the elevator, he takes the stairs, and he magically gets to the room…long after she does. Well played, movie. But it’s fine, because his roommate has covered for him. They kiss, and Emily notes a bit frantically that his tongue tastes different. They wander through Central Park, and Will tells a rambling story of how his father ran into an ex on his way to propose to his mother (meta-story!), and it turns out he’s proposing to Emily now, and Emily panics and scream-admits that she slept with Will’s roommate Charlie. So it’s over. And I now remember with absolute certainty that Emily is the mother, so at some point this will all be a double-reversal. Back at the campaign, Bill Clinton has won the New York primary (and three others, including Wisconsin), and it’s party time. April drops by to see why Will is so miserable, and they banter and apologize for the kissing. They have a competitive metaphor-off for how disastrous their hypothetical romance would be, and she wins with “Sandpaper and bare ass (you’d be the ass)”. Then she asks him to dance. I continue to buy this relationship the most of the three.

Will and Russell hit the road to continue with the campaign. And then time advances, montage-style. Once Clinton is elected, the two form their own political consultancy, and they join the [fictitious] gubernatorial campaign of their old boss, Arthur Robredo. Will starts dating again, April dumps her loser boyfriend and goes traveling, and the two become pen pals, and fast friends. It’s 1994 in New York. Will lazily informs us that the internet is getting started, everyone on the street has a large (but not huge) cell phone, and I start to think this movie has Forrest Gump ambitions of being a time capsule for future rosy-eyed nostalgia. It would really need a better soundtrack for that. Will gets invited to a book signing with Professor Roth, and runs into Summer again. Summer is writing for NYMag, and the professor has moved on to dating a pair of college freshmen. Legal, but still gross. And the three of them engage in more preposterous banter. It is utter nonsense that any of these people would remember each other from a single meeting two years earlier (kisses and drunkenness notwithstanding), and all of this feels forced. Summer agrees to write an article about the campaign. She and Will go out for dinner again, flirt like crazy some more, and montage their way into a relationship (much of which is weirdly musically-focused and takes place on the same park bench). They make out on various couches, decide to spend the whole day in bed together, then they’re immediately called away to the hospital to tend to Professor Roth, who has had an aortic rupture (a condition with a 90% mortality rate) and is somehow still alive. Roth is just conscious enough to criticize her for not writing a sufficiently hard-hitting exposé on Robredo’s campaign, seeding the destruction of this relationship, which is barely five minutes old in movie time.

And then April returns. They wander the streets, and she tells a story of bursting into tears after making out with a hot stranger on a Cretan beach, because she realized that she couldn’t see a relationship with this guy going well. And then she realized she simply had to tell someone specific about this, and that someone is right in front of her face- annnnd while they’ve been talking, they’ve walked into a jewelry store because Will is picking up a diamond engagement ring for Summer. Whoops! Back in the present day, daughter Maya recites some subtext: “Weren’t you listening? She came home for you!” Will looks pensive, as if he somehow didn’t realize this. This is where the structure of the movie strains credulity a bit. It’s certainly possible for someone to interrupt a personal anecdote to say, “Hey, you were the asshole there”. But it doesn’t really make sense that Will would tell this story, which obviously emphasizes April as a major participant, if he never realized that April was one of his own love interests. He can tell the story of how he met Maya’s mother, but April is only an important character if she’s a potential mother, and it sounds like Will is supposed to be gobsmacked by this sudden realization.

Back in ’94, he goes to meet Summer. NYMag has asked her to do a followup on Robredo, which she has already written, and it’s a doozy: Robredo abused his political influence to get a friend an early parole from prison. Will says this is bad…that his boss is the “tough-on-crime Democrat”. Then he tells her if she hands this in, “we won’t survive this.” Summer starts to equivocate, and then he makes it clearer. “I’m talking about you and me.” This is the point in the story in which I interrupt Will and say, “Hey, you were the asshole there,” because that’s a hell of a thing to say to someone you’re about to propose to. It’s also the point where I say the same thing to Summer, because writing an exposé about her boyfriend’s campaign…well, I’m no journalist, but it sounds like a serious conflict of interest. And it turns out she’s already handed it in, so the campaign and the relationship are over. The relationship careening off a cliff makes sense, since this relationship was utter tosh to begin with – but politically, this feels quaint in a post-2016 world. This is a mundane bit of patronage, and it’s hard to imagine this scandal would torpedo a campaign today, when every politician with a national profile is gleefully ignoring multiple career-defining scandals each week. The world got weird and ugly. The GOP backed Roy Moore. And this would barely make a dent today.

Speaking of scandal, we flash forward to 1997, when Clinton is about to be impeached, and April finally calls Will back, leading with “Are you watching?” I guess their meta-awareness that they’re in a story is just something I’ll have to suspend disbelief on, because this is a weird way to call someone after a three-year break. They banter. April is quite sure that Bill did it, saying of Monica Lewinsky, “Look at the picture of her! I love her, she’s so his type.” I was rather incredulous at this line – both because we seem to have found the one person in 1997 who was kind to Lewinsky, and because… Well. I’m not going to pretend we (or I) have found some sudden piety on the subject of powerful men abusing their positions to make advances on the women in their employment in the past six months, much less the past decade since I first saw the film. This is an issue we’ll be coming to terms with for a long time as we begin the slow, generational task of reducing the incidence of women being drummed out of male-dominated industries by sexual harassment from men in supervisory roles. That said, it seems worth acknowledging that “she is so his type,” while perhaps a period-accurate statement for someone to make in 1997, is a little fucked up. As if type has much bearing on it when he’s the President of the United States.

Later, Will and April are back in a diner, and they discuss the nature of finding “the One”. April says it’s not a matter of who, but when – you reach a point where you’re ready to settle down, and whoever you’re with then becomes The One. More on this at the end. But first, Will dopily inquires if there’s ever been a guy that made her think, “This is it, this is him.” Isla Fisher kills this moment, because standard rom-com misfortune dictates that she has had this exact thought about Will, but April reveals just enough of this for the audience, but not enough for dunderhead Will. Then she reveals that she’s seeing someone (a dude named Kevin), and Will gets drunk. He’s disappointed with his life, Clinton’s linguistic dickery over the word ‘is’, and obviously the April situation. He checks his answering machine (kids, this was like a Google Home that only worked offline), and finds messages from April about his upcoming birthday, a surprise call from Emily (who is in New York), and April again. He wraps himself in a blue blanket of sadness, and April shows up at his door. This is the second time she has come looking for him when he’s being a sad sack and avoiding a party. This happened to me once in my early 20s, and I also failed to pick up on its meaning at the time. Will fails similarly, falling on his face off-screen as April marvels inconsequentially as his disheveled apartment, and- WHOA. Aggressive smash cut to them arriving at the party, and it really feels like there was supposed to be more dialogue here. I guess the movie was running long.

Here we see most of the minor characters from earlier in the movie. They chat about Bill Clinton, whom Will has genuinely lost faith in, and thinks maybe should be impeached. Will leaves the party, gets drunk (again), and wanders to April’s doorstep, where she finds him and cheekily berates him for missing his cake, which she baked (*sigh*). And hang on, folks, because this scene is quite a ride. He quotes Nirvana. She takes an intimate swig of his beer without asking. He calls her beautiful and she thanks him. He drunkenly confesses that he likes her, then soberly confesses that he’s in love with her. He then projects some insecurity onto her, and she says he’s an idiot. He kisses her, and she pulls away and demands to know why he didn’t tell her sooner, instead of like this, when his “shit is a mess”. And he apparently took the ‘mess’ thing personally because he gets personal, and nasty. Nastier than their friendship can withstand. He insults her life and her career and her choices, and then twists the knife by saying he’s just saying this as a friend. She slaps him and goes inside. Reynolds made his bones playing the loveable asshole, but I’ve seen him play truly unlikeable only a handful of times. It works for the villain at a nostalgic theme park, but not the hero of a romantic drama.

Will wanders past a bookstore and finds the lost copy of Jane Eyre that both he and April were looking for, with the inscription from her father inside. Finding a specific lost copy of a book is a ridiculous plot device, but we’re moving at lightning speed now, and this is the only artifact that can save this relationship. He arrives at April’s apartment to deliver it. April’s roommate answers the door, and she is visibly amused by the torrent of sad sack apology messages he has apparently been leaving on the answering machine, because restraining orders don’t exist in Comedy World. She lets him into their gargantuan apartment, where he finds April’s boyfriend Kevin, who is Model-Hot, and who mentions he lives with her. This means Kevin should also be aware of the apology messages, so he’s either the most chill dude in the world, or he just sees Will as that non-threatening. Will leaves. Oh, and April’s in grad school now, so his abusive rant apparently stoked her ambition. More on this later.

Next up, he’s at a sidewalk café, a waitress brings him a gigantic glass of wine, and asks, “Do you know what you want yet?” “No, ” he responds, with a dumb double meaning. Summer wanders up, and is pregnant. Baby-daddy’s out of the picture, and she invites him to a party to make amends, and – whoa whoa whoa. Back in the present, Maya is now completely freaked out and demands to know if Will is really her father, and I have to say, the movie is being downright sadistic now. He is her father, and he’s a terrible one at that. He says this story has a happy ending, and she demands to know how that could possibly be, when whoever her mother is, they’re getting divorced. He offers to stop, then goes to get her a cup of tea before they continue. She falls asleep. Poor kid. The next morning, they get a bagel and continue the story. Will arrives at Summer’s party, and gives her flowers. She makes niceties, we learn that Professor Roth died alone in his office, and he…accuses her of planning to seduce him. Seriously, this rom-com narcissism is getting tedious. It’s like Will has read the script and knows these women are required to be into him (à la Black Mirror‘s “USS Callister”). She shrugs that off and asks if they can be friends, he agrees, and she leads him across the room to meet an old friend…his ex-girlfriend Emily, who lives in New York now. The two share some easy banter over whether he intended to call her, and he puts her number directly into his Motorola StarTac (I had one of those!) because he actually means to call her back this time. Later, Emily and Will wander in the park, and she makes overtures about continuing the relationship, and reaches up and strokes the side of his head, and BAM – Maya figured it out. Emily (real name: Sarah) is her mother, because she does that head-stroking thing to her too. Do I even need to point out that it would seem a bit odd for Will to include this particular visual detail in a story told verbally? No? Okay, let’s move on.

Sarah (who is Emily, remember) walks up, and they all share a stoic trip to the zoo. They stand in front of the penguins, and Maya teaches them all about lifelong penguin monogamy. It’s sad. We don’t know why these two are splitting up any more than we know why they got back together, so it’s hard to invest much in this scene apart from the grim knowledge that there must be a good reason. Maya leaves with her mother, then runs back to thank her dad for telling her the story. Will says he forgot to tell her the happy ending. He looks his daughter in the eye: “You.” They embrace. It’s a sweet and completely unearned moment. Bless her, Abigail Breslin adds almost nothing to this film. This girl was Little Miss Sunshine, and here she is relegated to a sympathetic sounding board for a midlife crisis. Then Bill Clinton (impersonator Dale Leigh) jogs by with a Secret Service detail, and Will shouts a greeting. Clinton waves, and…Will has closure, I guess? About something?

Will goes back to his office, signs the divorce papers, and finds the copy of Jane Eyre that he located for April, now many years earlier. And it’s happy ending time. He finds April at the offices of Amnesty International, in an unspecified do-gooder dream job. And here’s something I definitely didn’t realize in 2008: the movie is pretty clearly telling us that the torrent of drunken abuse that Will threw at April earlier was instrumental in helping her go back to school and get her life back on track, and this feels deeply unsettling in retrospect. All that we saw of April earlier was that she was confident, capable, gainfully employed, had saved enough money to go traveling (and then did so), and was in multiple relationships that we have no particular reason to believe were unhealthy. Will’s criticism of her in that scene is all the more baffling because it comes out of nowhere, and if the movie intended for him to be wrong or misguided, it does a terrible job of showing it. April laughs at him on arrival (in a “happy to see you” sorta way). They trade details: No one’s dating anyone, no one’s currently smoking, he just got divorced (which she somehow heard already), and the two are maybe finally ready to be together? He gives her the book. She cries and thanks him. He completely unnecessarily tells her that he’s had it for years, and apologizes. She tells him to leave. Come on, movie. Coffee is for closers.

Back home, Maya berates him, and reveals that Summer’s real name is Natasha (“who writes for that magazine”), and asks why he didn’t change April’s name in the story. She tells him he’s not happy. He tells her to get her coat. They head for Brooklyn. This is incredibly inappropriate, and I guess it’s really happening… They buzz April’s apartment, she demands to know who the kid is speaking in the background. He tells her. “That’s kinda cheating, isn’t it? Bringing your daughter?” Yes, April, yes it is. They decide to count to thirty and leave if April doesn’t come down. As April listens to this on the intercom, Maya tells Will he should tell April the story, and “Then she’ll know!”. They reach 30 and start to walk away, and April bounds out the front door, surprising no one, to ask, “What story?” He says he kept the book because it was the only thing he had left of her, and he couldn’t let her go completely. They embrace. Then they go inside for some awkward storytime, but not before the two grownups pop back out to the front step for a huge smooch. Annnnd we’re out. Good luck folks.

At the risk of vaguely spoiling How I Met Your Mother, the series did all of the same things as this movie, and it certainly had its share of redundancy and meandering subplots. It tried to have its ending both ways in a similar manner, giving the main character a happy (but ultimately doomed) romance with one character, only to pair him with another at the end. But what was it all for? Well, in How I Met Your Mother, the explicit message (as narrated by Bob Saget) was that love is hard, but it’s worth it, because it’s the best thing we do. The only thing close to a coherent message I can extract from Definitely, Maybe is April’s speech about finding The One – that at a certain point, everyone just decides they’re ready, at which point they love The One they’re with. It’s a glib message, but it’s one that’s supported by the complete lack of foundation for Will’s romance –
and re-romance – with Emily/Sarah. All we ever saw of this relationship was failure. I don’t know why these two were ever together, apart from the convenience of college geography, and I have no idea why they got back together, apart from quarter-life desperation. But at least they got a nice kid out of it?

FilmWonk rating: 4 out of 10


“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.

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


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!

FilmWonk Podcast – Episode #45 – (TV Edition) “How I Met Your Mother” Series and Finale

New to the series? Check out our HIMYM Episode Skip List here!

In this special TV edition of the FilmWonk Podcast, Glenn and Daniel take a deep dive into one of their favorite sitcoms, How I Met Your Mother, created by Carter Bays and Craig Thomas, which recently concluded its ninth and final season on CBS. And we had plenty to say about that ending. Spoilers for the entire series run will begin after about the 10 minute mark (55:15).

May contain some NSFW language.

Show notes:

  • Music for this episode comes from several original songs from the series run, including:
  • Topics covered:
    • The structure of Season 9, and the distant origins of the main event.
      • SPOILERY CORRECTION: We slightly flubbed the order of events on this. At the beginning of Season 6, Ted was revealed to be attending a wedding where he would meet The Mother. At the end of Season 6, Barney is revealed to be the groom. At the end of Season 7, Robin is revealed to be the bride. In Season 8, Robin is revealed to be having second thoughts, and Ted decides to move to Chicago.

    • Robin’s career vs. happiness
    • The “Urkelizing” of Barney Stinson
    • Our alternate structure for Season 9, assuming we keep the same ending.
    • Running gags/jokes/mythology
    • How well will the show hold up over time?

  • Correction: The final season was 24 episodes, not 22.
  • Correction: We made a pithy (and inaccurate) reference to Ted…mingling…with the Mother’s old roommate, Cindy. They had one date, which ended badly – while they made amends in a later episode, nothing further happened between them.
  • We referred to Cristin Milioti‘s lovely rendition of “La Vie En Rose” – we didn’t include it on the podcast, but it is available on YouTube as of this writing.
  • The long-term bet between Lily and Marshall was as follows: Marshall bet that Ted would end up with Robin. In the final episode, he is shown to pay off Lily on the day of Ted’s wedding to the mother, indicating that he lost the bet. Presumably, a refund might ensue sometime in 2030.

Listen above, or download: How I Met Your Mother (right-click, save as, or click/tap to play on a non-flash browser)

Week in Brief: “Whip It”, “Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs”


Drew Barrymore’s directorial debut, Whip It, is the story of Bliss (Ellen Page), a 17-year-old girl who takes a shine to roller derby – the sport in which ladies both lovely and terrifying skate around a banked oval track throwing elbows and attempting to collapse each other’s lungs while passing their opponents’ crumpled bodies to score points. The title refers to a technique whereby one or two skaters act as an anchor to in order to “whip” a teammate past them – a slingshot maneuver designed to greatly increase the teammate’s speed around the track. When I saw this and similar maneuvers put forth in the later matches of the film, I couldn’t help but think of the “Flying V” of The Mighty Ducks. Indeed, Whip It ends up falling somewhere between a Disney sports film and a Texas football tale, and even without the other story trappings, it would be an admirable entry in the sporting genre.

Bliss’ mother Brooke (Marcia Gay Harden) puts constant pressure on her daughter to stay pretty and compete in events that are equal parts beauty pageant and debutante ball, and is naturally appalled to find out what her daughter is doing with her spare time. The parallels to overeager Texas football dads aren’t exactly subtle, but this subplot worked well for me, owing largely to Page and Harden’s performances, as well as that of Daniel Stern as Bliss’ father.

When confessing her secret sporting life to her parents, Bliss proclaims, “I am in love with this!”. This line was in the trailer, and Page delivered it with such earnestness that it was almost solely responsible for my interest in this film. The story of a teenager in love who doesn’t need to wallow in brooding, misunderstood angst was strangely appealing to me, and Page’s performance delivered on every bit of promise from this line.

And yet, Bliss is not an unrealistic or idealized teen. She acts bratty and selfish at times, and is ultimately put in her place a bit for it. She partakes in a romance with a local guitarist, for no clear reason other than because he’s (omg) super-hot. This storyline initially seems pointless, but pays off rather well in the end, and treats us to a bizarre, but entertaining underwater makeout scene.

The supporting cast is solid, with great performances from Alia Shawkat (“Arrested Development”), Zoe Bell (the Kiwi stuntwoman from Death Proof), Andrew Wilson (Idiocracy), and Kristen Wiig (“SNL”) – who proves her acting chops even without her signature comedic deadpan. The great Juliette Lewis is also effective as a rival derby player.

The only real weak link in the acting – with the exception of Jimmy Fallon as an absolutely repellent announcer – is director Drew Barrymore. I was conflicted about her presence as an actress in this film; at times, it seems self-indulgent. Barrymore plays a member of the derby team – basically a non-character, lacking any defining characteristics beyond her nom de guerre (Smashley Simpson). I can’t comment much on her performance, since she doesn’t really do much acting, but she does bring the same convincing physicality to the derby sequences as the ladies above (granted, I have no idea how many of the stunts were actually done by the actresses). There’s seems to be no reason for her to be in this film except to join the fun, but I can’t fault her too much for it.

As a freshman filmmaker, Barrymore’s direction is not mindblowing, but she has done a fine job. Cinematographer Robert Yeoman brings the same sort of semi-grainy look that he’s used in every one of Wes Anderson’s films, but it works fine here. The camera starts off tight and claustrophobic – focusing on a one or two players at a time, intermixed with POV shots (seemingly from a camera on skates), but as the film goes on, the shots get wider, and we see more and more. The direction kept the action coherent, built the matches’ interest as the film went on, and brought an adequate measure of intimacy and earnestness to the character moments.

The empowering message of “Be Your Own Hero” is ever-present, but not overwrought. If there’s one message the film conveys best, it’s that roller derby looks brutal and immensely fun, and it’s wrapped in enough solid character work to make this a memorable film.

FilmWonk rating: 7.5 out of 10

Poster for "Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs".

Every once in a while, a film comes along that challenges Pixar’s well-earned dominance of the animation market. A film with a solid story, compelling characters, and gorgeous animation. Last year, it was about a panda that wants to learn kung fu. This year, it’s about a scientist who builds a machine that turns rain…into food.

Flint Lockwood (Bill Hader) is a crackpot inventor who has built a myriad of bizarre inventions since childhood, from spray-on shoes to a monkey thought translator. His latest invention is a machine that can “mutate the genetic formula of water to turn it into food”. And that’s about as detailed as the science gets in this film. Lockwood’s lab is designed very much in the Calvin and Hobbes aesthetic, complete with a set of blast doors painted onto a curtain. And just like Calvin, all of the science he develops is immensely fun and borderline magical.

Lockwood lives on a drab island town in the North Atlantic called Swallow Falls, which had previously survived solely on its sardine industry. This industry collapsed when it was discovered – and announced in newspapers the world over – that “Sardines Are Super Gross”. While the town makes an ill-conceived attempt to revitalize through “sardine tourism”, Lockwood’s invention accidentally blasts into the sky (as crackpot inventions are wont to do), and he discovers that it can be programmed remotely to make the skies rain down any food the townspeople want like manna from heaven.

Also in the mix is the power (and food) hungry mayor (Bruce Campbell), a beautiful weather intern (Anna Faris), Lockwood’s disapproving father (James Caan), an aging former sardine mascot (Andy Samberg), and an alarmingly speedy cop (Mr. T). The casting is one of the film’s greatest strengths. Sony appears to have learned a lesson from Dreamworks’ failures. You can’t just pack a film with movie stars and expect them to do well as voice actors. These actors (even Mr. T) feel very much at home in their parts.

As for the character design, it seems quite deliberately cartoonish. Flint Lockwood looks more or less like Jon Arbuckle, with a nose easily half the size of his head. His father’s eyes aren’t even visible under a huge bushy brow and above an equally monstrous mustache, and Mr. T’s cop sports an inverted mohawk (a line shaved down the center). This is in stark contrast to the rest of the animation, which looks gorgeous and practically photorealistic. The film takes place in a sort of heightened reality, and yet the island of Swallow Falls feels every bit like a real place, from its initial shroud of gloomy gray mist to its eventual golden glow amid a shower of falling cheeseburgers. The weather and atmospheric effects are incredible, and the food looks delicious.

Still from "Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs".

The film could have stopped there, but it goes on to showcase some remarkable visual wonders and absurdities. There are depictions of food and food-related wonder and peril that I never could’ve imagined before this film. What does a sunrise look like through the shimmering golden walls of a palace made of jello? How do the children play in a town covered in giant scoops of ice cream? What does it look like when huge animate gummy bears hop onto the wing of a plane and start ripping out wires like a pack of gremlins? I could go on. By the end of this film, you will know all of this, and more.

The film is written for the screen and directed by Phil Lord and Chris Miller, two of the writers of CBS’ brilliantly funny sitcom, “How I Met Your Mother”, and this film has many similarities to that show. In addition to the rapid-fire jokes delivered throughout the film, it also showcases several well-conceived running gags, each of which has a hilarious payoff by the end. It also balances the humor, which is unrelenting and hilarious, with some solid character work. There’s Sam Sparks, the weather girl, afraid to show how smart she really is, and ‘Baby’ Brent, the former sardine mascot, unsure of what to do with his life in adulthood…

There is also a very well-conceived relationship between Flint Lockwood and his father. Tim Lockwood is a simple fisherman, afraid of new technology, who can only communicate meaningfully with his son in the form of fish-related metaphors. As Flint unveils his fantastical machine to the townspeople, this relationship becomes imbued with subtle shades of the creative destruction wrought by new technology on old industry. The relationship keeps these shades while confronting one of the most basic questions between father and son: Is Tim proud or appalled by what Flint has accomplished?

It is largely through this relationship that the film tackles the implications and consequences of a society steeped in overconsumption, but it keeps this to a very basic level. This treatment of the film’s message seemed well-suited for such a lighthearted romp of a film, but it may feel to some like a missed opportunity. To such individuals, I would simply say this: not every film needs to be WALL-E. This film deftly acknowledges the implications of its grand premise, and then leaves its audience to ponder them further if they desire. This, along with the myriad of smart running gags, will ensure that this film rewards repeat viewings. This is a gorgeous, intelligent, and family-friendly piece of animation, sure to be enjoyed by adults and children alike. It respects its audience and will leave them begging for more.

FilmWonk rating: 8.5 out of 10

Special thanks to Devindra Hardawar from the /Filmcast for recommending this film, which I would probably have overlooked otherwise.