Saturday, July 27, 2013

Jenn's Pick: Top 5 Most Emotional Moments in "How I Met Your Mother"

I’m a huge fan of comedies and television comedies are no exception. Throughout the years, I’ve fallen in love with my fair share of television shows – Community, New Girl, The Office, Ben and Kate, Go On, etc. – and each of these series, as you may know, is a comedy. But the beauty of each of these shows is that they are distinct in the way that they make us laugh or connect with us emotionally. New Girl and Community are both typified as “comedy” but both approach all that entails – the punch lines, the emotional heart, etc. – differently. Similarly, shows like The Big Bang Theory and Girls are classified as “comedies,” and yet both are entirely different TYPES of comedies. It would be difficult to compare them, to note which is “better” but alas, that is what the Emmys do year after year.

One comedy I always admired and loved throughout college was Scrubs. The show was witty and quirky, but also relatable. The characters were completely unique and distinct in personality and in humor (Elliot had a specific brand of ditzy, fast-talking humor while Dr. Cox was dry and sarcastic). It was a long-running series, too, where viewers felt emotionally invested in the journeys of each of these characters, where they grew alongside J.D. as he navigated his career as a doctor. But there was one element of Scrubs that consistently impressed me and still does to this day – its emotional steamroller.

What IS an emotional steamroller, you ask? This is something that is – strikingly – very rare in comedies today. It’s this secret power that writers and showrunners have, and because of that, choose to release infrequently so as to not diminish its prowess or drive the show into the drama category. And there’s nothing wrong when shows do not possess this emotional steamroller. I love Community and New Girl, but these series don’t pack the powerful punch that could classify them in “steamroller” territory. There are only two series that I (personally) believe possess these powerful weapons: Scrubs and How I Met Your Mother.

Now, I’ve contemplated the presence of the “emotional steamroller” in both of these series and realize why this weapon exists in the series’ arsenals: it launches the show into uncharted territory. Scrubs was always a very quirky show – the entire series was narrated by J.D. as he went about his daily life at Sacred Heart. A typical episode’s desire was to extract laughter from the audience (it was a single-camera show, so there were no laugh tracks or live audience) by utilizing dry humor, pratfalls, or flashes into the weird and insane reality of J.D.’s thoughts. Similarly, How I Met Your Mother’s goals from episode-to-episode are similar: extract laughter from the audience (which is deceptively not a multi-camera sitcom even though it looks and sounds like one with the utilization of a laugh track/live audience) by utilizing its quirky characters and placing them into weird or awkward situations that require them to do something insane and/or hilarious to get out of them.

Both of these series were and are good at what they strive to accomplish comedically. But what takes them to the next level – what makes them stand out above all of the other comedies I mentioned at the start of this article – is the utilization of the “emotional steamroller.” Because just when the audience feels like they’re wading through territory cultivated by The Big Bang Theory or Modern Family or Friends, the writers and creators release the emotional steamroller, throwing the audience from their feet and into a sobbing mess on the floor.

Scrubs and How I Met Your Mother are the only two series that I’ve found myself literally SOBBING during. And these moments are completely unsuspecting (hence the “steamroller” part of my analogy) because we, as the audience, anticipate comedy and slapstick and general absurdity from characters like Doctor Cox and Marshall Eriksen. But just as we become comfortable in these generalizations of these people, right at the moment we’ve decided that they are snarky or hilarious and nothing much more, we are hit with the emotional weight of what these people can and will suffer – what we, the audience, so often ignore or are not shown. So when Doctor Cox loses his organ transplant patients and walks out of the door, blaming himself for their deaths, we grab the nearest box of tissues and cry until our eyes are rimmed red because the fact of the matter is that we never think of Doctor Cox as a dimensional character until we are forcefully hit with that reality. And Scrubs was never more profound, more relatable, and more beautiful than when viewers were hit with these truths.

My relationship with How I Met Your Mother began in high school (yes, high school, because that is how long this show has been around in conjunction with how old I am) when my male friends began watching it and would obsessively quote the show to one another at lunch. Seizing the opportunity to join in on conversations (and what they informed me was a hilarious series), I began watching. Somewhere, years down the road, I fell off the HIMYM bandwagon, jumped back on, fell off again, and then began to ride the wagon with one foot dragging on the ground.

(Basically I started and stopped watching the show in spurts throughout the years, in case the metaphor isn’t sticking.)

I am never more in awe of this show than when it sends its emotional steamroller barreling toward its audience. And I am convinced that the actors always shine their brightest when placed into these emotional situations.

So in the spirit of making lists, I decided to compile the top five most emotional moments in How I Met Your Mother’s history thus far. You all tweeted some wonderful suggestions (and Audrey nearly matched my list exactly!), and really four out of these five were winners without any contest. If you’re ready, then, click below the cut and we will discuss some of the saddest, most heart-wrenching emotional steamrolling moments in this comedy’s history.

(You might want to find some tissues as well.)

#5: Lily’s Rooftop Confession (“Band or DJ?”) 

I inadvertently chose five moments that showcased each of the five different characters on the series experiencing an intensely emotional moment, so I’ll just pretend that I meant to do that and explain why Lily’s rooftop confession to Ted hit me like an emotional steamroller.

Alyson Hannigan is great at comedy – she’s fantastic at playing the funny, silly, better half of Marshall and Lily. Rarely does she get the chance to shine as an emotional, vulnerable character but this rooftop scene from “Band or DJ?” was one that blew me away. The audience was blindsided to hear Lily confess that she sometimes wishes that she wasn’t a mother and desires to pack up her bags in the middle of the night and leave.

Did you feel the impact from that emotional steamroller as it crushed over you?

I think that in television shows, we always find labels for the characters – Lily is the devoted mother, Marshall the goofy lawyer, Barney the ladies’ man, Ted the sap, Robin the tough-as-nails reporter – and when these characters are taken out of those boxes, we come to blows with the idea of who they truly are and who we only THOUGHT they were. Lily is broken, just like every other character on the series and on television (and in life, for that matter). It’s just difficult for us to remember this. Until she breaks our heart with this confession. Alyson has done some great emotional work over the last few years on this series, and this scene especially was just so absolutely flawless and believable that it makes my top five.

#4: Barney’s Never-Ending Second (“Tick Tick Tick”)

When I’m making and eating dinner, I enjoy watching How I Met Your Mother re-runs on the CW. This episode re-aired recently and is actually the catalyst that propelled me into creating a top five post in the first place. In “Tick Tick Tick,” Robin and Barney cheat on their respective partners with each other. While attempting to navigate exactly what it meant to both of them, Barney confessed to Robin that he wants to be with her because she’s messed up just like he is.

Later, Barney realizes that he cannot pretend their night together was meaningless and ends up breaking up with Nora. He anticipates Robin breaking up with Kevin also, but while the pair is at the hospital, Kevin explains that the reason why he loves Robin and wants to be with her is not because she is messed up but because there are so many wonderful qualities that she possesses. This visibly touches Robin and when she shows up at MacLaren’s, Barney’s face lights up at the sight of her… until Kevin walks in right behind Robin. Neil Patrick Harris has always done an amazing job at portraying Barney in a comedic light but the moment that he sees Kevin walk through the door behind Robin, his facial expression punched me in the gut. And then, future!Ted narrated this:

“Sometimes hours can feel like minutes. And sometimes a single second can last a lifetime. For Barney, the second that would never end was this one.”

The editing of this scene was just SO utterly amazing and heartbreaking as well – there’s a ticking in the background that slows and stops right as Robin shakes her head, indicating her decision to stay with Kevin and not be with Barney. And then something quite rare happens: all noise halts. The ticking stops, the scene around Barney is completely frozen, and the audience feels like Barney does in that moment – paralyzed. He says absolutely nothing in that silence, but sets down his drink and leans back against the bar to steady himself under the weight of Robin’s revelation. He pinches the bridge of his nose and you can tell he’s fighting back tears. But the second isn’t REALLY paused, and soon the noise of the bar picks back up and Barney excuses himself.

Did you feel the emotional steamroller?

Back at the apartment Ted – unbeknownst to Barney – comes home to find his friend scooping rose petals off Robin’s bed into a trash bag and blowing out candles, utterly heartbroken.

And there’s the surprise second emotional steamroller, y’all!

#3: Ted’s 45 Days Speech (“The Time Travelers”)

On Monday nights I like to watch The Voice (I’ve become really quite invested in this series), which airs from 8-10 and means I usually miss out on watching How I Met Your Mother live. One night, for whatever reason, I was not watching the singing competition and had How I Met Your Mother’s live episode on in the background while I worked on my internship. I glanced up from my laptop every few moments to gauge my investment in the episode – it was an absurd concept, it appeared – which was titled “The Time Travelers.” In it, Future!Ted and Future!Barney attempt to convince present!Ted to go see Robots vs. Wrestlers. It was an interesting concept for an episode, certainly, how you can re-write your future based on one decision in the present. (I argue that “Remedial Chaos Theory” is essentially a similar story). I wasn’t really invested in the episode until the last few minutes.

Suddenly, I looked up from my laptop to find this shocking revelation: Ted had been alone the entire time at the bar, sitting with a pair of tickets but no one to go with. It’s the same punch to the gut that “Symphony of Illumination” delivered: this startling realization that everything the audience assumed to be real was actually a carefully constructed imaginary scenario. And then the painful reality hits us that these people we have come to presume are independent and self-sufficient and have their lives somewhat together are actually extremely vulnerable and intensely lonely in their darkest moments.

Future!Ted explains that he did end up going to Robots vs. Wrestlers, but notes that if he had to do it all over again, he’d choose to be around his friends. Moreover, he explains to his children that if he could turn back time, he would go to their mother’s apartment and tell her how much he is going to love her in the future. Even though he would meet her 45 days from the night of Robots vs. Wrestlers, he would still want more time.

I watched the final few minutes of this episode and sobbed. I literally had NO idea what the rest of the episode had been about but that moment steamrolled me to the point where I just couldn’t hold back the tears. Because there’s a bit of Ted Mosby in all of us. There’s this part that yearns for romance and lasting love and would do anything to keep it once we had it. He wants those 45 days, because he wants EVERYTHING.

And, well, if you managed somehow to watch Ted’s “45 days” speech without at least tearing up, I’m convinced you’re actually one of the robots that Ted went to watch that night.

(As an aside, I mentioned in our recent Hot Switch podcast that I would like to throw all the awards at Josh Radnor for this scene. He was completely and totally brilliant and heartbreaking.)

#2: AC/DC Christmas Show (“Symphony of Illumination”)

Few episodes truly showcase Robin Scherbatsky as a vulnerable character, but no episode of How I Met Your Mother even comes close in this regard to “Symphony of Illumination.” The episode is deceptive – in it, we hear future!Robin narrate to her children the story of how she told their father that she was pregnant. In the present, however, Robin finds out that she actually is NOT pregnant with Barney’s child and the two could not be more elated. Robin has never wanted children, after all, and she was relieved not only to discover that she wouldn’t be having one with the man who isn’t her boyfriend but also that she isn’t having them period.

But then, Robin receives harrowing news from her doctor: she cannot be pregnant with Barney’s child because she’s unable to have children, period. This news floors Robin and us as well. She never wanted to have children until that option was taken away from her. As she explains to Lily later on, it’s one thing to not want something; it’s another to be told you can’t have it.

In spite of this heartbreaking news, Robin pretends like everything is okay because she knows exactly how her friends will respond. Instead, she conceals the actual information from them, claiming that she discovered she can never be a “pole-vaulter.” As the episode draws to a close, viewers are left reeling from an emotional steamroller that crushes the very air out of their lungs when Robin reveals that the children she has been talking to the entire episode, the children that the audience has seen multiple times on-screen, do not exist. Instead, they are figments of Robin’s imagination as she sits alone on a park bench while snow falls down around her. Moments like this one and the one I noted in “The Time Travelers” are especially heart wrenching because they isolate our favorite characters from the protection of the rest of the group. Barney, Marshall, Lily, Ted, and Robin need one another for support. And we are devastated when these characters are forced to remain in anguish by themselves.

Robin returns to the apartment where Ted, who does not know what Robin’s true secret is, created a fantastic Christmas light spectacular set to AC/DC (something Robin mentioned earlier in the episode). The weight of everything presses down on Robin in that moment and she begins to sob while Ted comforts her to the best of his ability.

(Are you getting misty-eyed yet? You should be. Cobie absolutely and positively owned this episode. I have never felt more utter heartbreak for Robin than I did as Ted held her and I just... please someone give this woman some awards for portraying Robin in an intensely emotional situation without being oversentimental or cliche.)

#1: Marshall’s Father Passes Away (“Bad News”)

I was on the treadmill at the YMCA a few months ago and had the television turned to FX, where a re-run of How I Met Your Mother was playing. Concentrating on my workout, I barely had time to register the fact that the episode was close to ending and… oh gosh, I RECOGNIZED that ending: it was “Bad News.” But I couldn’t make myself turn the channel, and instead forced back tears as I watched Marshall and Lily’s scene together.

Television deaths hit us hard – whenever we lose a beloved character, we feel a part of us leaves with them on the show. Often, we mourn with the characters who mourn and cry when they cry (or is that just me?) but for whatever reason, the death of Marshall’s father hit me quite hard and is a testament to Jason Segel’s terrific performance as an actor (and Alyson Hannigan’s for that matter) in this scene.

What I did not know before Kim and the Internet at large recently informed me is this: Jason Segel was told to react to Alyson Hannigan’s line, the final word of which would be “it.” He had no idea what would be said before that line, just that he would have to react accordingly. In fact, the only individuals who knew that Marvin Eriksen Sr. would be killed off were Alyson, the writers and Bill, who played the father. Jason’s reactions in this scene are heartbreaking and startling, especially in light of the fact that the episode seemingly built up to Marshall and Lily discovering they could not have children. When it was revealed that the couple could, in fact, have children, we rejoiced as viewers.

And then the emotional steamroller barreled through the streets and crushed us where we stood. Lily approaches Marshall on the street, barely able to form her words, and informs him that his father suffered a heart attack and did not make it. What followed was improvised by Jason Segel and was executed so brilliantly, so powerfully, and so flawlessly that the thought of the scene still makes me teary. As he hugs Lily through his tears, he explains: “I’m not ready for this” (an improvised line by Jason which breaks my heart into itty bitty pieces).

There was so much palpable emotion in this one scene that it, without hesitation, landed the top spot on my list of most emotional moments. It was not wrought with oversentimentality or excessive dialogue. The writers allowed Jason Segel the opportunity to tap into Marshall’s true emotions and mannerisms without forcing words into his mouth. And what resulted was the startling and gut-wrenching revelation that he and Lily were ready to have a child, but he wasn’t prepared at all to live without his father.

(Sorry if I flattened you all with THAT emotional steamroller, but if it’s any consolation, I’m sniffing back tears as well.)

So there you have it, friends: I have chosen what I believe to be the top five most emotional moments in How I Met Your Mother’s history. Did your favorite emotional moments make the cut? What would your top five consist of? Hit the comments below and let me know! (Or just use the comments section to wail and sob into a pile of tissues. That is acceptable as well.)

Until next time, folks! :)


  1. I've been watching HIMYM for years now and it is also one of my favorite shows to binge watch. Last week, I was catching up on the end of the 8th season and one of the episode was "The Time Travelers." I found the end of that episode to be incredibly emotional; quite possibly the most meaningful part of the entire show for Ted's character. Thank you for posting this.

  2. I found the end of season one heart-wrenching. Ted is all happy about the fact that he and Robin got together and then he finds Marshall sitting on the steps with the ring in his hand. I sobbed hard at that one!

  3. Your no. 2 is probably my top emotional moment of the show. It was not so much of Robin but more of Ted being there. I felt the love.

  4. I love all these... but my favorite of all time is at Marshall's dad's funeral when they are outside and he plays the voicemail... Im a 6'6" 350 lb guy but that scene had me ballin like a baby!

  5. I wonder now that "Vesuvius" has aired, if there is one more moment from that episode that would have made this list...

  6. What made your number one pick even more heartwrenching was the countdown throughout the episode leading to the final reveal. Not simply because there was a countdown, but for me it was because I was trying my absolute hardest to find the different numbers of the countdown, almost distracting me from the show itself. It was fun, i had a laugh doing it, expecting something crazy and typically HIMYM, but instead i was greeted with the news that Marshall's dad was dead, sending me from laddish joy to heartbreak.

  7. Bad news gets me Every. Single. Time. I thought the end of s2 with Marshall on the stoop was really emotional too. And i found the heated exchange between Barney and his father in Legendaddy (when Barney is trying to take down the hoop) was heartbreaking.