Best Episode of the Season: How I Met Your Mother Season 9

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Season Analysis:  Stretching out one weekend over an entire season of 24 episodes was a more satisfying experience than expected … but then the series finale rushed to fit decades’ worth of story into less than an hour, and we were all very confused.

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“Sunrise”
Some of the best love stories of all time are the ones in which the lovers let go of each other: Rick insists that Ilsa get on that plane, Kevin Arnold and Winnie Cooper are not meant to be, Jack and Ennis cannot be together.  So to have Ted Mosby pining after Robin Scherbatsky season after season, when the audience knew from the very first episode that she was not destined to be the mother of his children, was not wholly unprecedented, even though it was always going to be tricky.  Ted had tried to let go of Robin on many occasions before their walk on the beach in “Sunrise,” but he had never truly been able to.  On the cusp of Robin’s wedding to Barney, he still was not really ready to, but he knew he had to.  Ted ranked his top 5 ex-girlfriends, and, no surprise, number one was fan favorite Victoria.  His subsequent revelations – he broke things off with Victoria because he did not want to end his friendship with Robin, and he actually does not have a top 5, because Robin has always been number one – are heartbreaking.  He is still not ready to let her go, but this time he knows he has to, and the shot of Robin floating away into the sky is beautiful.  (This perfect moment is one of many reasons why the route that the finale took is utterly incomprehensible.)

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Best Episode of the Season: How I Met Your Mother Season 8

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Season Analysis: Season 8 of HIMYM felt awfully stretched out.

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“P.S. I Love You”
The story of How I Met Your Mother has never really been about Ted meeting the mother.  Well it has, but it has never been the focus.  Now that the mother has been revealed and now that we have known for a while that the narrative is heading towards Barney and Robin’s wedding, the serialization elements have not been able to pull too many surprises.  Frankly, I don’t know why the wedding hasn’t happened yet.  So considering how frustrating the serialization is, it makes sense that the best episode this year would be more or less a one-off.  The Robin Sparkles episode of Underneath The Tunes is essentially the ultra-Canadian version of Behind the Music, which is kind of funny because the Robin Sparkles song that is the focus of the show is a parody of “You Oughta Know” by Alanis Morissette, who is already Canadian in the first place.  “P.S. I Love You” is so satisfactory thanks to displaying the full breadth of Canadian manhood, with guest appearances from Luc Robitaille to Jason Priestley to Alex Trebek all the way to Geddy Lee.

Best Episode of the Season: How I Met Your Mother Season 7

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Season Analysis: Inspired by the death of Marshall’s father, HIMYM plumbed some of its deepest emotional depths in the first half of the season, with Jason Segel doing his best work of the entire series.  Then in the second half, there was a little of this, a little of that, and by the end, we still hadn’t quite made it to the wedding that was teased in the season premiere.

“Trilogy Time”

As part of a triennial tradition, Ted, Marshall, and Barney gather to watch the original Star Wars trilogy back-to-back-to-back.  I would have been happy if this episode had just been the three of them reacting to the movies, but what this episode actually turned out to be was good, too.  It turns out that every year of this tradition, they have imagined what their lives will be like three years into the future.  This structure of potential flash-forwards within flashbacks was mostly silly, in that it was already known that these possible futures – at points now in the past – would not come to be.  But it was also clever in a way that HIMYM often is, displaying a strong awareness of continuity, as Lily and Marshall’s relationship troubles and Barney and Robin’s secret affair are referenced at the appropriate points.  There was also a plethora of blink-and-you-miss-’em gags, particularly the presidents mentioned in the newspaper headlines (Al Gore in ’03, Howard Dean in ’06, Dennis Kucinich in ’09, and George W. Bush for a third term in 2015).  Gratifyingly, something resembling a self-appointed endgame was established, with an actual flash-forward to the next trilogy time in 2015 revealing that Ted would be breaking the tradition by bringing a girl along – with that girl being his infant daughter.

Best Episode of the Season: How I Met Your Mother Season 6

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“Hopeless”

It was distressing to see Barney struggle to reunite with his father this season not only because we wanted the reconciliation to be a happy one, but also because we wanted to see John Lithgow break loose and show off his comic skills.  This finally happened with “Hopeless,” in which Jerry (Lithgow) realized that Barney would never start having a good time with his father until they had a legendary night of partying.  So the sometime magician pulls off the ultimate magic trick: a pretend night of debauchery.  Using sleight of hand, he downs several shots in a row, and in the hours that follow, he picks a fight with a biker, yanks out a parking meter, and pukes on a cop car, or at least that is how a very drunk Barney sees it.  Really, the biker is a statue, and Barney is the one who threw up.  As Jerry explains his ruse and its purposes of bonding with Barney and teaching him that he cannot party forever, we have one of those great “think back, remember how it really happened” moments.

Next up: Gossip Girl

Best Episode of the Season: How I Met Your Mother

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“The Playbook”

They are known as static characters.  They are not the main characters (or at least, they should not be).  They do not change over the course of the story, but they do not have to.  Change is only demanded of the protagonist (and maybe of the antagonist).  It would be too much to keep up with if all the supporting characters changed as much as the leads.  Barney Stinson is a static character.  He is a 21st century lothario, and it is expected that he will remain that way for the entire run of How I Met Your Mother.  Even if he does settle into a steady relationship for good, he ought to never give up his “Playbook.”  Following his breakup with Robin, Barney went full force back into the Playbook.  Eventually, he broke down and admitted that relying on the Playbook was his way of coping with the breakup, which he was truly hurt by.  It was interesting to see a version of Barney on the verge of reforming his ways, but it simply did not feel right that that version should last.  Ultimately, the breakdown turned out to be a part of Barney’s most elaborate con ever, and all was right.  Barney was still what we loved him to be.  But somehow in maintaining the status quo, we were given a glimpse behind the master’s work and a peek at a what-if scenario.  And it was all intriguing enough to suggest that maybe it was not all part of the con.

Next up: The Big Bang Theory