9 Seasons (2005-2014)
Like Friends, this series has already started to diminish. Most of this has to do with what occurs in the final episode (more on this later).
But for now, let me take the time to explain why How I Met Your Mother is so high on this list.
First of all it had some fantastically sharp and funny writing. It shot out jokes with a frenetic energy that multiplied laughs on top of laughs. The witty use of words was one of my particular delights (eg "revertigo," "Slapsgiving," "trilling it up," etc.)
The directing was also incredibly dynamic for a 4-camera show. Director Pamela Fryman was not shy about jumping around radically in space and time to set up and then slam dunk a joke (as they did with Ted's mustache)
The cast also had a fantastic chemistry. While some of the performances were uneven throughout the series, the connections the characters had to each other was always believable.
Now, I cannot continue without addressing the major flaw with the series. It is the reason that it is not higher on the list and why it may fade further down the list with more reflection:
I did a more comprehensive analysis of the final episode soon after it aired. I will not rehash all of that here.
And having a bad ending doesn't necessarily diminish the rest of the televising series. But in this case it does.
The reason why is because the entire trajectory if the series built to the ending. The title of the show points to the final episode. With that kind of a buildup, a show must deliver or at the very least maintain the integrity if what has come before.
SPOILERS IN THE NEXT PARAGRAPH
But the final episode undermines a lot of the emotional investment of the series. Barney and Robin are broomed, Tracy the mother is doomed, and Ted's grief time just zoomed. I originally wrote that "Sunrise" was the best episode of the series (9x17), because it so poetically showed the end of the Ted/Robin romance. But the finale takes all of that away. In fact, the finale takes a lot of that away. The entire series was about reaching the moment where Ted met Tracy. It was what we were waiting for. Everything in the series depended on that payoff. And unfortunately, they got more wrong than right.
The shows other 2 detriments, as I've mentioned before on this blog, are that it sometimes went too broad with the comedy (especially with Marshall and Lilly) and it swam too much in its immorality (especially with Barney). I gritted my teeth through a lot of the Barney ick and the like, because I thought they were moving to redeem the characters through growing up. But even though there was some measure of growth, there wasn't enough to close the door on their old sins.
But even through all of this, How I Met Your Mother could still use comedy for great effect, especially in drama. Not only could they set up a joke and get a big laugh, they could set up a joke and then break your heart. Think of the countdown in "Bad News" or Robin talking to her kids on Christmas Eve. And it did it better than most show's I've seen.
This is one of the rare shows where I went all in with the pilot. As I wrote before on this blog: "This was the episode that set the precedent. It set up the tone and the flashbacks and the wit and the humor. It still holds up along with the rest of the series. But the best part was the last 30 seconds: the hook. All of the promotions implied that Robin was the eponymous mother. But with the words, “And that’s how I met your aunt Robin,” I realized that this show was much more than it seemed. I was hooked. And I was in until the end."
JUMP THE SHARK
This is not a particularly bad episode, but it was the first time that one of the shows running gags felt stale. In the episode, it brings up the idea that if Marshall and Lilly see a doppleganger of someone in their group then they will decide to have a baby. The main problem is that the end of this season felt so much like treading water. As they years dragged on, we wanted the journey to find its destination. But this felt like the upcoming seasons would be a lot of waiting around until the main storyline pushed forward. And that was true for the next 2 years.
Slap Bet (2x09)
(from an earlier post)
"Not only is this episode incredibly funny and has long term ramifications all the way until the final season, but Robin’s secret was something that took me by absolute surprise and made me laugh so hard. Not only did they capture the absolute cheesiness of 80’s teen pop stars and their videos, but they made sure to make her anthem “Let’s Go to the Mall” horribly catchy."
But the other thing about this episode is that it encapsulated the show.
What I mean by that last sentence is this: How I Met Your Mother, at heart, was a mystery set in a sitcom universe. Part of the joy was discovering the secrets of the future and the past that could delight or depress, but always it had the power to make you feel.
(BONUS: How I Met Your Mother Alternate Fan Ending. DO NOT WATCH if you haven't seen the actually final episode)