There were nine seasons of How I Met Your Mother in total, so the framing device of older Ted telling the story to his kids started to get a little tedious. But no matter how thin they wore the premise over the years, the show itself never stopped being a funny, heartfelt, inventively told study of modern relationships. The show is often compared to Friends, but for the creativity of the humor and episode structure and on an emotional level, it could be argued that How I Met Your Mother is the superior show. Sure, it had its ups and downs – every show that goes on for nine seasons does. Here are those nine seasons, ranked from worst to best.
9. Season 8
How I Met Your Mother always had ups and downs and weak spots here and there, but there’s no doubt that the eight season of the show was the worst. The Patrice/Barney storyline felt totally weird and uncharacteristic until it’s revealed that it was all a big ruse to woo Robin, and in a way, that’s even worse, because it’s actually kind of messed up. All the parenting scenes with Marshall and Lily and their baby should, in theory, be some of the sweetest moments of the whole show, since they’d been waiting to start a family for years and talking about how amazing it was going to be, but then all of the jokes and storylines revolving around their baby in this season are so played out and hackneyed and cliched. And the writing feels so uninspired, like they were just filling in baby scenes to show that Marshall and Lily have a baby now, so ultimately, sadly, all of those moments fall completely flat. The first episode with Jeanette, the stalker who Ted dates, is hilarious, as she keeps revealing how far back she’s been following him and it starts going back months and months, but as soon as it becomes a multi-episode arc is when the joke gets old. The only saving grace with season 8 was having the season finale end with the first ever on screen appearance of the mother, played by Cristin Milioti.
8. Season 9
The ninth and final season of How I Met Your Mother felt more like a season of 24 than a season of HIMYM, because they dragged out one weekend for 24 episodes, because the writers wrote themselves into a corner, so we spend a whole season waiting for Barney and Robin to get married and getting to know the mother, only for the season finale to (SPOILER ALERT!) kill her off and divorce Barney and Robin immediately. The writers basically took the show all the way up to where the series finale should feasibly begin by getting us to the wedding of Barney and Robin that had been teased for years and revealing who the mother is, but then they decided to give themselves an entire season to fill before getting to that finale. So, it seems like they really struggling to fill that quota. Still, there are some fun moments here. Marshall’s quest to make it to the wedding, despite having his flight cancelled, brings a lot of hilarious moments, including a follow-up to “Marshall vs the Machines.” Guest turns by Tracey Ullman as Robin’s mother and Rhys Darby and Lin Manuel Miranda are a lot of fun. It’s not terrible, but it’s also not at all necessary.
7. Season 3
The third season of How I Met Your Mother starts off with an interesting storyline as Robin comes back from Argentina with her new boyfriend Enrique Iglesias, but then later in the season, Ted starts to date Stella and the whole show goes down the toilet. Stella is just the worst. Some fans, when they’re rewatching the show on Netflix or something, will just skip right past the whole Stella arc – they’ll skip right from the moment Ted arrives at her office to the moment that she leaves him at the altar. And aside from the questionable story arc and romantic interest, some of the standalone or throwaway ideas in this season, sadly, just don’t work. The episode “Little Boys,” in which Robin bonds with her boyfriend’s son and she breaks up with him and finds out that her boyfriend has been cheating on her through the lens of the son cheating on her, is a lot weirder than it was intended to be. So is John Cho’s hotshot law executive using all of Barney’s seduction techniques to woo Marshall to take a job working with him. Still, “Sandcastles in the Sand” and “The Chain of Screaming” and “Dowisetrepla” are solid episodes.
6. Season 7
That moment that comes when Barney has just broken up with Nora after he cheated on her with Robin and he’s waiting for them to be reunited at the bar after she has supposedly done the same thing, but then she comes in with Kevin and tells Barney that their arrangement is off with nothing more than a tiny shake of the head and we see his entire heart smash into a million pieces is one of the most devastating moments in the history of television. And the season 7 finale episode, in which Marshall desperately tries to get from Atlantic City back to New York in a drunken state so that he can be there for the birth of his son, is a brilliant episode with high stakes and an engaging plot. Those are the bookends of this season, and in theory, that should make it a good season. But a lot of tired stuff drags down the middle. Anything can become a running gag if it will help to pad out the season and pander to the studio audience. Jokes like the “Ducky Tie” become played out and old. In its seventh season, How I Met Your Mother was simply not as sharp and cleverly crafted as it once was.
5. Season 4
This season opens with the unbearable Stella accepting a doomed marriage proposal from Ted, so the first half of the season lags with the rushed planning of a wedding that will definitely fail and then the fallout from Ted getting left at the altar. All the stuff with Stella feels so forced and unnecessary. Ted had no reason to be in love with her, he had no reason to propose to her, he would never agree to leave New York for New Jersey, and none of the arrangement matched any of his planned destiny that he’s always going on about. This whole storyline would only prove that it needed to happen when Tony made the movie version of it and it became a huge hit in the terrific episode “The Wedding Bride,” but that episode didn’t happen until the far superior fifth season came along. But once Ted has moved on from Stella leaving him at the altar, this season really starts to pick up. Ted opens his own architecture firm, Mosbius Designs, with lofty ambitions and then fails almost instantly. Marshall and Barney mess with Ted by replacing a girl’s number in his phone with their number and then texting him exactly what he wants to hear. These are the kinds of episodes that make How I Met Your Mother a great show. This is what we want Ted Mosby to be.
4. Season 2
The breakup storyline with Marshall and Lily marred the first few episodes of this season. We knew that they would inevitably get back together in order to maintain the world order of the show’s ensemble cast. You can’t have a sitcom about five friends when two of them are desperate to avoid each other at all costs. And this was only the second season – they couldn’t keep that up for seven more years. So, all the hoops that they jump through to get us there seem unnecessary. And every time there is a hint that they might be having second thoughts about their reunion, we just roll our eyes and say, “Get back together already!” But they do eventually get back together and the season redeems itself with the planning of their wedding and ends with that brilliant wedding episode where everything imaginable goes wrong. It’s a good season arc, to be fair. Season 2 begins with Marshall and Lily broken up and Ted and Robin getting together, and then ends with Marshall and Lily getting married and Ted and Robin breaking up. Everything comes full circle. All in all, this is a strong sophomore outing for How I Met Your Mother.
3. Season 6
The story arc in the sixth season of How I Met Your Mother about the fate of the Arcadian, with Zoey fighting to preserve it and hiring Marshall as her lawyer, and all the while Ted is dating her, but also the architect of the building that will replace it, is all very interesting. It’s like a Tom Hanks/Meg Ryan romantic comedy. This season gave us two of the most heartbreaking moments in the whole show – there’s the one where the whole episode counts down to Lily telling Marshall that his dad died, which never fails to bring you to tears, and then there’s the one where Marshall spends the whole episode thinking he’s going to get sick like Lily from some food they ate, but then he sleeps through the entire night and wakes up to the discovery that Lily is pregnant! And that’s a moment that brings you to tears, too, but they’re tears of joy. The season lags a bit in the middle as Marshall moves back in with his mom when he’s reeling from his dad’s death, but other than that, this is a solid season. It also has classic standalone episodes like “Oh Honey” and “Subway Wars.”
2. Season 1
The first season of How I Met Your Mother was a very strong start for the show. The critics weren’t sure what to think, and initially called it a rip-off of Friends. But if you look back on season 1 now, with the knowledge of what the show went on to become, it’s actually a very solid start to the show. “The Pineapple Incident” was a really early episode, and 200 episodes later, it would still be counted among the show’s best by its fans. “The Limo” is a great episode, “The Wedding” is a great episode – on the whole, it’s a great season. And you know what, it showed potential. That’s what the first season of a show is supposed to be, and that’s what this is. The season’s ending, with Marshall and Lily breaking up, comes completely out of the blue. That’s one of the heaviest moments in TV history. That stacks up next to the discovery of the hatch on Lost. It’s so unexpected, and certainly inspires you to come back next year, which is the basic purpose of the first season of a show.
1. Season 5
Right in the middle of the show’s run, they really hit their stride. Working as a teacher of architecture is what Ted Mosby was made to do. It was so obvious! All he does is lecture his friends about architecture and yet he struggles to get architecture jobs of his own, so of course teaching was the way to go. And with his professional life finally on track, we could focus on Ted’s personal life. “The Window” is such a phenomenal episode. It walks that fine line between sweet and hilarious as Ted chases a girl who he’s wanted to date for years, but always gets into another relationship right after the previous one ends. That whole ending sequence, as the new boyfriend comes in and we get the backstory of the two of them (as well as that overalls Easter egg – Google it) and their future together. That is the quintessential How I Met Your Mother episode. Oh, and also, this season has that awesome 100th episode of the show, “Girls vs Suits,” which teases the mother in the most major way yet and ends with that incredible musical number. There’s no doubt that this is the greatest season of How I Met Your Mother – it just keeps going from strength to strength, it’s amazing!