Ranking The Seasons of How I Met Your Mother

himym-seasons

9. Season 8

(My review)

Ugh, this show got bad towards the end of its run. There was a lot wrong with it — unfunny stories, character development ranging from goofy to garish, narrative spinning wheels — but the most troubling thing about the show in its wretched penultimate season was how little it seemed to care about its characters. Robin — once a unique, strong character depicting a side of feminine independence rarely seen in media — and Lily alternated between bitchy and horny. The male characters were not much better off, as Ted was glorified for being in a toxic but sexy relationship and Barney became engaged to Robin in about as implausible and deceitful a way as imaginable. There was maybe one good, clever episode (“The Time Travelers”) as HIMYM crashed and burned.

8. Season 7

(My review)

In the midst of a tailspin, the jokes became unfunny and the stories became boring. But there’s one thing that Season 7 did right, enough to buoy it at least one tier above the season that followed it: It focused its dramatic and romantic stories around Neil Patrick Harris, easily the best actor of the regulars. Sure, the writing wasn’t always there — the inevitable path to Robin and Barney getting together was full of awkward starts and stops, plus general ineptitude in handling Ted and Robin’s baggage. But NPH is a treasure, and he carried the show like ’07 LeBron. Another plus: Allison Williams reappeared as Victoria. She’s always a bright spot, even when this show is at its darkness.

7. Season 5

In retrospect, HIMYM‘s downfall was sharp and ugly. The show thrived on such a specific meditation on growing old and experience romance, such a specific crossroads for the characters, it was bound to sour. As the characters became full-fledged adults, their most potent stories stalled out. The fact that the jokes got less funny hurt, too. It was still a decent show at this point, but given that its peak was basically Sandy Koufax, a redefining force of sitcom energy and creativity, “decent” is a damn shame for HIMYM.

6. Season 9

Listen, I know that the final season of How I Met Your Mother is not strictly good television. (And I’m not even going to touch the finale, perhaps the most divisive episode of television since Lost.) But it was something that the show hadn’t been in years: interesting. By forcing a tight structure, focusing on long-overdue payoffs, and striving for meticulous fan service, the show attempted to steamroll its own ineptitude with ambition and creativity. While there were misfires, there were also some fantastic highs (like this). Mostly, it was just exhilirating watching the show swing for the fences, batting average be damned.

5. Season 6

(My review)

The show’s sixth season continued the shows downward stumble in the overall craft department. But it redeemed itself with an extremely solid backbone of two of the show’s best dramatic stories: Barney finding his father, and Marshall losing his. It allowed both Jason Segel and NPH to show their dramatic chops and gave noteworthy, game-changing arcs to the show at a relatively late stage in the game. Sure, “The Exploding Meatball Sub” is a fart of an episode, and not the only one, but when “Legendaddy” is this good and “Oh Honey” is this warm, can you not forgive the occasional miss?

4. Season 3

Frankly, you can arrange your preference of the first four seasons of HIMYM in any order you please, and I won’t quibble too much. Season 3 has some of the show’s best episodes: “The Platinum Rule” is a great primer on the show’s best quirks, while “How I Met Everyone Else” steeps the show’s characters in hilarious backstory. But there are also some of my least favorite early HIMYM stories here: the show’s first stab at RoBarn, Marshall’s corporate job, and Lily’s credit score.

3. Season 4

Surprisingly solid for four seasons into an ostensibly novelty sitcom, HIMYM excels in its fourth outing. Granted, it’s not all sunshine: There’s too much Stella and Stella fallout. But, damn, those highlights: “Three Days of Snow” is brilliantly structured; “The Naked Man” is built around one of the show’s funniest gags ever; and “Best Burger in New York” provides perhaps the show’s most brilliant two minutes. Best of all, my personal favorite episode of the entire series, “Sorry, Bro,” a masterclass of anticlimax and narrative structure, resides in Season 4; and for that, it will ever have my gratitude.

2. Season 1

HIMYM took a few years to find its comic voice — especially for Barney — but not its storytelling voice, which was incisive and evocative from the start. Ted’s reckless, swooning approach to romance clashing with Robin’s measured, hesitant approach — both contrasting to Barney’s playboyism and Marshall and Lily’s settling down — generated some fantastic stories and genuine insights. It’s the dramatic, almost auteur-style, dimensions of early HIMYM that make this season so unique and rewatchable, even if the show’s funniest gags were a year or two away.

1. Season 2

Ironically (or, perhaps, instructively) HIMYM‘s best season came when it made no pretenses at striving towards its title. Ted simply dated Robin. With slightly less structural pretense than other seasons, the show focused on telling the best possible stories. The show was at its peak writing power, so almost every outing was a winner. It’s hard to go more than a few episodes without running into a classic. A few favorites: “Ted Mosby: Architect” for the great twist ending; “Lucky Penny” for telling its story in reverse order; “Arrividerci, Fiero” for giving us the funniest ‘flashback’ episode the show ever did; “Swarley” for, well, everything (especially Barney’s nickname and “crazy eyes”); and, of course, “Slap Bet,” HIMYM‘s general consensus best episode.

Dan S.

Dan is the editor of Earn This. He co-founded the site in 2009.

6 thoughts on “Ranking The Seasons of How I Met Your Mother

  1. S3 is probably my favorite. Plusses of Season 3 (not mentioned here): The introduction of the Vicky-Mendoza diagonal (which Barney totally messes up, visually, but he is drawing an invisible graph backwards, so I’ll allow it.); the ‘Spoiler Alert’ episode where everyone starts noticing flaws in another person they hadn’t seen before (one of my favorites); Barney’s bracket of 64 women; Britney Spears.

    Negatives of Season 3: Stella. So maybe your ranking is appropriate.

  2. Solid analysis. But how are you going to call the exploding meatball sub a fart of an episode. Agreeing with you that by season 6 true hilarious moments were few and far between, this one brought you back to classic Barney ( I.e him being a caricature of himself). If you freeze the screen when he’s plotting how to get revenge and see what’s written on the chalkboard that alone makes the episode worth a watch. I don’t know maybe I just don’t know comedy – but I was dying laughing and certainly would rather see that side of Barney than chasing Nora.

  3. I’m really impressed with this list. I’ve long told people that season 5 was the beginning of the end. The appeal of seasons 1-4 was that its flashbacks and “swoosh” moments usually anchored the jokes in goofy but realistically plausible payoffs. Season 5 was where the more fantastical elements took over. This led to the “ugh” moments of Barney’s season 7 “ducky tie” explanation (kid dangling off roof) or Marshall’s season 9 reminder that Robin owes him a “no questions asked” (Robin as a ninja of some sort?).

    I especially appreciate your respect for season 6, clearly the most emotional and dramatic season, for trying to redeem the downward trend with a different approach.

    Great list.

  4. Season 7 isn’t actually that bad. When I first watched it, it appeared to be boring and not as funny compared to the previous seasons. However, after watching several episodes a few more times, I realized it has a lot more to offer than I though. While it may not have been as consistently good as other seasons I think it did still have some of the best overall episodes. “tick, tick, tick” – Barney Robin having to come clean on cheating and how funny was ted and Marshall adventure after “eating a marinated sandwich.” “46 minutes” – Marshall and Lilly adjusting to their new place and the rest of the gang hanging out with Russians, “The drunk train” had some big laughs and a unique concept,and “now we’re even” has to be one of the best episodes in the whole series with Ted and Barney trying to make every night Legendary.

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