It’s been exactly one year now that Carter Bays and Craig Thomas broke all our hearts with the How I Met Your Mother series finale. I won’t go into my feelings about that
now again* (still not over it, and last weekend I cried when I watched “The One With The Proposal” so no, probably not getting over it anytime soon) BUT I have still been faithfully watching reruns on (frequent) occasion and sometime over the last year, I really started to appreciate just how much Bays and Thomas, et al played with conventional sitcom storytelling techniques.
What in hell? you’re saying. Duh, the entire series was a flashback. And accomplished with varying degrees of success, yes, and yet in several episodes they played with telling a story in nontraditional, non-linear fashion even more. Allow me to give you a few (of many) examples…
(Just note, these aren’t necessarily my “favorite” episodes, or even what I would list as their “best overall” episodes. They’re the ones that I’ve noticed play with traditional sitcom storytelling the most/best.)
The Pineapple Incident (Season 1, Episode 10)
Ah, didn’t this one start it all? If memory serves, this was the first episode to play with flashbacks-within-flashbacks as Ted — and his friends — piece together Drunk Ted’s night.
Lucky Penny (Season 2, Episode 15)
Somehow a single clip from this episode doesn’t exist…
Here, the story unfolds backwards. We start with Ted and Robin missing their flight and watch as they work their way back several months, trying to figure out whose fault it was that…Ted had to go to court that morning because he jumped a subway turnstile to rescue Barney who couldn’t walk about running the New York Marathon, which he ran because Marshall had signed up but sprained his ankle because he slipped when Robin walked in on him…affirming himself in the bathroom…because she didn’t want to go all the way back to her place because she had spent the previous night waiting in line with Lily at one of the wedding gown discount stores, which she and Ted discovered when they were sharing a hot dog from the cheapest vendor in New York because Ted had promised to take her to dinner…with the lucky penny he’d found on the subway.
Not gonna lie, prettttty proud I didn’t have to refer to an episode summary for that. NOT ONCE. THAT is what you do with a BA in English, kids.
Honorable mentions from Season 2: Brunch (Episode 3) and Ted Mosby Architect (Episode 4).
The Platinum Rule (Season 3, Episode 11)
Oh, the Platinum Rule. Here we get three parallel stories, each happening, oh, at least a year apart (you can tell by Lily’s hair) but told simultaneously. None of which convince Ted that pursuing a relationship with Stella is not a good idea.
Duckie Tie (Season 7, Episode 3)
This is the episode that actually got me thinking about this. I was watching it some months ago and texted my brother to say it was one of their “most underrated” episodes. I love how quickly and seamlessly they go back and forth between Ted telling his story about meeting Victoria and Marshall and Barney’s bet over the duckie tie.
Disaster Averted (Season 7, Episode 9)
And six episodes later, the duckie tie gag had played out and the writers found a way to get Barney out of it…by having the gang flashback a few months ago to Hurricane Irene. And I suddenly had an urge to do something that would result a “NO” sign somewhere (hasn’t happened yet…). (Now that I think of it, the episode where Robin meets Kevin is a pretty great example of flashback-within-a-flashback too.)
The Burning Beekeeper (Season 7, Episode 15)
I totally didn’t realize most of these were from Season 7 when I started making this list. Sorry?
This one might be my favorite example. How brilliant is telling the same story, three times, from three different perspectives, with random lines and call-outs that make no sense until you’ve seen all three?