TL;DR – “How I Met Your Mother”

A week ago, I found out my senior editor at Comic Book Resources had begun watching the CBS show “How I Met Your Mother,” a sitcom where the premise is essentially a father telling a long, roundabout story of how he met their mother. I’ve been watching the show since its first season, due to the producers, Carter Bays and Craig Thomas, being alumni of Wesleyan University.

WARNING: Spoilers for the plot of “How I Met Your Mother” follow. Continue at your own risk. To skip the spoilers and just see the list, head here.

The show is approaching the endgame, when the main character Ted Mosby (played by Josh Radnor) meets the mother of his children at the wedding of his friends Barney Stinson (Neil Patrick Harris) and Robin Scherbatsky (Cobie Smulders). The other day, I spoke with a good friend and fellow Wesleyan graduate, who was behind on the show, and realized that so many of the episodes leading to the endgame are not required viewing when it comes to the long-form story.

After some thinking, I decided to put together this list of “required” viewing based on what viewers currently know about the who, what, when, where and why of Ted’s meeting the mother and the events that lead to that meeting.

Prepare for a ridiculous amount of decompression.

THE MOTHER

We know the mother is the roommate of Cindy, a graduate student that Ted met in his role as a professor of architecture. Taking that fact and tracing the lines through, we get:

- Ted got back on good terms with Cindy (Rachel Bilson) in “Big Days” (Season 6, Episode 1), where he reconciled with Cindy, discovered she was a lesbian and wanted Cindy to set him up with her cool roommate.

- Ted had to reconcile with Cindy because he broke up with her in “Girls Versus Suits” (Season 5, Episode 12). He began dating her in that episode when meeting her as an architecture professor at Columbia University. Both Cindy and her roommate (Ted’s future wife) were in the first class he taught in “Definitions” (Season 5, Episode 1).

- Ted became a professor because the job was offered to him by Tony Grafanello in “As Fast As She Can” (Season 4, Episode 23), which only occurred because Ted was on a street corner in “Right Place, Right Time” (Season 4, Episode 22). Ted accepted the job in “The Leap” (Season 4, Episode 24). Tony offered Ted the job because he felt guilty stealing Stella Zinman away on Ted and Stella’s wedding day in “Happily Ever After” (Season 4, Episode 6).

- Ted proposed to Stella after getting hit by a car in “Miracles” (Season 3, Episode 20). He romanced her during a speed date in “Ten Sessions” (Season 3, Episode 13) — named for ten sessions he needed to remove a butterfly tattoo he got while drunk in “Wait For It” (Season 3, Episode 1).

- Ted was drunk in “Wait For It” because, following his break-up with Robin in “Something Blue” (Season 2, Episode 22), he was trying to “win the break-up” when Robin brought back a new Argentinian boyfriend, Gael (Enrique Iglesias), to New York.

- Ted and Robin started dating in “Come On” (Season 1, Episode 22). This was the season finale of the first season, which was the culmination of Ted chasing Robin during the entire season.

- Ted first fell in love with Robin during “Pilot” (Season 1, Episode 1) and became friends with her in “Purple Giraffe” (Season 1, Episode 2).

BARNEY AND ROBIN

- Barney and Robin’s wedding takes place in an as-yet unannounced episode — presumable this season’s finale. Barney and Robin got engaged in “The Final Page” (Season 8, Episodes 11 & 12), which explained all the developments of the last ten episodes in one fell swoop. “The Final Page” refers to the final page of Barney’s Playbook, first revealed in “The Playbook” (Season 5, Episode 8).

- The couple previously dated, but realized neither were happy in “The Rough Patch” (Season 5, Episode 7). They officially started dating in “Definitions” (Season 5, Episode 1), but shared a kiss in “The Leap.”

- Barney being in love with Robin was apparent from “Miracles,” but was explicitly stated in “Do I Know You?” (Season 4, Episode 1)

- Barney and Robin first met in “Purple Giraffe.”

- So far, teases about the wedding are contained in “Big Days” (Season 6, Episode 1), “Challenge Accepted” (Season 6, Episode 24), “The Best Man” (Season 7, Episode 1), “The Magician’s Code” (Season 7, Episodes 23 & 24), “Farhampton” (Season 8, Episode 1) and “Band or DJ?”

WHAT WE KNOW ABOUT THE MOTHER

- Most of what we know so far about the mother comes from “Girls Vs. Suits.” However, there are also smaller teases in other episodes.

- Ted’s meeting of the mother involves a yellow umbrella, which he first references in “Wait for It.” Ted acquires the yellow umbrella in “No Tomorrow” (Season 3, Episode 12), implying the mother was at the St. Patrick’s Day party. He inadvertently returned it in “Girls Vs. Suits.” The umbrella made another appearance in “Farhampton.”

- This is more of a theory, but it’s also possible the mother is the girl Ted was scheduled to meet in “Milk” (Season 1, Episode 21). This was a result of him signing up for Love Solutions dating service in “Matchmaker” (Season 1, Episode 7).


EDIT 02/13/2013 10:09 PM ET: A good friend mentioned on Facebook an important element of the show’s endgame that I’ll call “The Lily Factor.” Lily Aldrin (Alyson Hannigan) has a penchant for breaking up Ted’s terrible relationships, or just relationships she doesn’t feel will go anywhere. This is demonstrated in “The Front Porch” (Season 4, Episode 14). Thanks, Holly!


THE FULL LIST (In Chronological Order)

Thus, from that analysis, here are the required viewing episodes for “How I Met Your Mother” for those only interested in the story of how Ted actually met the mother of his children.

Season 1, Episode 1 – “Pilot”
Season 1, Episode 2 – “Purple Giraffe”
(Optional) Season 1, Episode 7 – “Matchmaker”
(Optional) Season 1, Episode 21 – “Milk”
Season 1, Episode 22 – “Come On”
Season 2, Episode 1 – “Where Were We?”
Season 2, Episode 22 – “Something Blue”
Season 3, Episode 1 – “Wait For It”
Season 3, Episode 12 – “No Tomorrow”
Season 3, Episode 13 – “Ten Sessions”
Season 3, Episode 20 – “Miracles”
Season 4, Episode 1 – “Do I Know You?”
Season 4, Episode 6 – “Happily Ever After”
Season 4, Episode 17 – “The Front Porch”
Season 4, Episode 22 – “Right Place, Right Time”
Season 4, Episode 23 – “As Fast as She Can”
Season 4, Episode 24 – “The Leap”
Season 5, Episode 1 – “Definitions”
Season 5, Episode 7 – “The Rough Patch”
Season 5, Episode 8 – “The Playbook”
Season 5, Episode 12 – “Girls Versus Suits”
Season 6, Episode 1 – “Big Days”
Season 6, Episode 24 – “Challenge Accepted”
Season 7, Episode 1 – “The Best Man” (Wedding Scene Only)
Season 7, Episodes 23 & 24 – “The Magician’s Code” (Wedding Scene Only)
Season 8, Episode 1 – “Farhampton” (Platform Scene Only)
Season 8, Episodes 11 & 12 – “The Final Page”
Season 8, Episode 13 – “Band or DJ?”

Basically, Marshall Erikson (Jason Segal) and Lily Aldrin (Alyson Hannigan) don’t enter into this story much, if at all. Their most important role so far has been to make Ted want to get married by getting engaged. Most of Barney and Robin’s other relationships can be swept under the rug. Really, the most important seasons in the context of the story are actually seasons 4 and 5.

Pretty crazy, huh?

It’s probably worth noting that these aren’t what I consider to be the best episodes of the series, merely the most relevant to the show’s endgame. Anybody who knows and loves sitcoms should realize most of the best episodes are the ones that have little or nothing to do with the over-lying story.

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