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The phrase “laugh track” might be a dirty word in some circles of television elitism, but not to you. Let these folks have their French CNN and vintage episodes of Masterpiece Theatre that you can only find on VHS — your next venture will be How I Met Your Mother, a sweet, surprisingly sharp tribute to love, friendship, and abject humiliation.

Premiering on CBS in 2005, the sitcom helped to launch the careers of Jason Segel (from all the Judd Apatow movies) and Cobie Smulders (from all the Marvel superhero movies), and helped to relaunch the careers of ‘90s TV fixtures Neil Patrick Harris (Doogie Howser, MD), Alyson Hannigan (Buffy), and Bob Saget (Full House)… or, at least, Bob Saget’s voice. Also, Josh Radnor, who is basically Zach Braff with darker hair. Aside from boasting a lineup of pop culture icons, How I Met Your Mother can take credit for breathing new life into the four-camera sitcom, reminding even the most hardnosed of comedy vérité fans why we all fell in love with the format in the first place.

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What’s the Deal:

In the year 2030, proud father Ted Mosby (Saget in voiceover) flashes back to his sad sack 20s as he tells his children the story of how he met their mother — a woman who we wait nine seasons to encounter as we follow present day Ted (Radnor) through an era of wacky antics, bad decisions, and mismanaged love affairs across the vast dreamland that is New York City (though it mostly just takes place in the bar right downstairs from his apartment). Along for the ride are Ted’s newly engaged college pals Marshall and Lily (Segel and Hannigan), psychotic lothario tagalong Barney (Harris), and the group’s newest member, the cool, callous, and highly Canadian Robin (Smulder), who Ted loves, dates, breaks up with, misses, reunites with, loses, pines for, gets over, gets back under – you get the idea.

Why You Two Should Watch:

The show is essentially a love letter to inside jokes, had-to-be-there stories, and all the other benefits to claiming a seat in a rigidly codependent group of friends. It’s a good way to refresh your mutual interest in your shared social circle — “Jeff is such a Barney!” — since you know you were both getting kind of bored of those people lately. Why else are you so eager to fill your time with decade-long TV shows? By the way, if Jeff actually is “such a Barney,” stop hanging out with Jeff.

Where to Find It Online:

The first eight seasons are available on Netflix, with a few episodes of the final No. 9 — still at large until the big finale on March. 31 — up for free on CBS.com and for purchase on iTunes and Amazon.com.

Time Investment:

High. At 22 minutes each, a fast-paced How I Met Your Mother episode might zoom by, but there are just over 200 of them.

Addictiveness:

High. How I Met Your Mother’s M.O. is the callback, both in running joke form and in the opening of small mysteries that it will wait several episodes (sometimes seasons) to solve. It makes for some guilt-free binging: “Well, we’ve got to keep watching in order to find out why the goat was in his bathroom!” Your addiction may get so bad you’ll need an intervention. (That will be very funny to you once you’re about half way through the show.)

Episodes of Note:

“The Pineapple Incident.” Every episode with “Slap” in the title (except maybe “Slappointment in Slapmarra,” which got the show in a heap of trouble over its use of Asian stereotypes). “Murtaugh.” “Subway Wars.” “The Playbook.” “Robots vs. Wrestlers.” Episodes that flash even further back to the gang’s college days, with “Arrivederci, Fiero” being the kingpin of that lot. Oh, and anything featuring Robin Sparkles (I’m not going to ruin the surprise for you here).

101440_FOX_0928bFavorite Characters:

Barney is the standard go-to, but the unsung hero is unfettered nice guy and wordplay aficionado Marshall. Also, Victoria (Ashley Williams). Limo driver Ranjit (Marshall Manesh). The Captain (Kyle McLachlan). Best of all: The Mother (we won’t tell you who it is, but she lives up to the hype).

Least Favorite Characters:

Lily. Ted’s girlfriend Zoe (Jennifer Morrison). Ted’s girlfriend Stella (Sarah Chalke). Almost everyone Ted dates, really. And, after a while, Ted.

The Infidelity Index:

Low. Even if you sneak one episode behind your significant other’s back, you’ll regret it as soon as you happen upon a familiar callback or beloved running gag, and have nobody to share a knowing glance with.

Sexytime Quotient:

Low. Even the sexiness is played for laughs in this show (Lily goes wild for Marshall’s behemoth calves).

CELEBRITY FANS:

Conan O’Brien loves this show so much he asked to be a background extra in one episode. Quentin Tarantino is also a fan, surprisingly. Regis Philbin also shows up a lot.

Famous Actresses Who Were So Close to Being “The Mother” But Weren’t:

Katie Holmes. Britney Spears. Mandy Moore. Carrie Underwood. Abby Elliott. Laura Prepon.

The Perfect Accompaniment:

There are entire episodes devoted to hamburgers and Chicago-style deep-dish pizza, so you’ll probably get some cravings. Plus, Minnesota-style seven-layer salad (which consists of potato chips, gummy bears, Funyuns, cabbage, shredded cheese, bacon bits, and guacamole). Wash it down with a Thankstini or some Glen McKenna scotch.

Terms and Phrases You’ll Pick Up:

Proudly exclaiming “Lawyered!” whenever you win an argument. Referring to narcotics as “sandwiches.” Breaking up multisyllabic words with “Wait for it…” Compulsively accepting every asinine dare you’re faced with by proclaiming, “Challenge accepted!”

Double Dates the Show Will Inspire:

Interventions (told you!). Slap bets. Laser tag. Quests to find your friends’ doppelgangers. Listening to The Proclaimers on road trips. The impossibly convoluted board game of Marshgammon.

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Harebrained Theories to Catch Up On:

The mother is Robin. The mother is the Slutty Pumpkin. The mother is Barney’s half-sister. Barney and Robin never get married. The mother is dead by the time Future Ted begins his story. Barney is dead by the time Future Ted begins his story. With both the mother and Barney dead, Ted gets back together with Robin. Robin is dead by the time Ted begins his story. Ted is dead and this is all some kind of Lost-esque purgatory. How I Met Your Mother fans are a morbid bunch.

Watch If You Love:

Seinfeld, but with a touch of Norah Ephron. Alcohol. Elaborate hijinks. Puns with the word “bro.” Creative methods of psychological torture to impart upon your closest friends.

Avoid at All Costs If:

Your relationship has hit a rough patch thanks to the unrequited romantic passion you’ve been harboring for your attractive Canadian pal.