Someone once called How I Met Your Mother “the Lost of sitcoms.” That’s exactly it. Like the cult drama that drove us all crazy (a polar bear?!) HIMYM revolves around a series-long mystery, constant use of flashback and flashforwards, a comprehensive mythology, polarizing seasons towards the end of its run, and even time travel.
For diehards of the show, staying abreast of everything that happens to Ted and the gang is moderately difficult. For those who tune in for the first time to the series finale, is damn near impossible.
Herewith, we present a handy cheat sheet to prepare you for tonight’s monster episode.
If the title wasn’t a dead giveaway, HIMYM is about how one man, Ted Mosby (Josh Radnor), met the mother of his children. The story is narrated by Future Ted (voiced by Bob Saget), who, in the year 2030, tells his children about how he met their mother. With us so far? The narrative follows Ted’s quest to find the love of his life, and the lives of his best friends Marshall, Lily, Barney, and Robin.
While Friends had Central Perk and Community has the Study Room, HIMYM has MacLaren’s Bar. It is at MacLaren’s where most of the gang’s adventures begin and end. It is every bit of a character in the series as the actual human ones.
Ted Mosby (Josh Radnor/Bob Saget)
Ted Mosby is essentially the Katherine Heigl character of this nine-year long romantic comedy. Our story’s hopeless romantic is a 27-year-old aspiring architect trying to find love in New York City. After Lily and Marshall, his roommates and best friends from college, get engaged, Ted becomes determined to find his soulmate. This renewed desire to find the love of his life pushes Ted to ask out and instantly fall in love with Robin Scherbatsky, the first girl he sees in the bar after asking the universe where the love of his life is. On their first date, Ted foolishly tells Robin that he loves her. Is she the mother!?
Well, no. But it’s Ted’s relationship with Robin that informs much of Ted’s evolution over the course of the series. Even after they break up at the end of Season 2 after having dated for a year, we see Ted constantly return to the idea that Robin is the girl he is going to marry. Thankfully, over the course of Robin and Barney’s (Neil Patrick Harris) wedding weekend, Ted begins to let her go. This is great because it’s not only a nice for those of annoyed with Ted and Robin’s love story, but it’s at that wedding that Ted meets his future wife.
When Ted wasn’t pining for Robin, he dated many women. His strongest relationship that wasn’t with Robin or “The Mother” was with Victoria, a baker who he dated in the first season and who he got back together with briefly at the beginning of the eighth season. She tells him that the reason he hasn’t found the love of his life is because he is still hung up on Robin. (Obviously.) In the third season, Ted starts dating Stella, his dermatologist, and they eventually get engaged—though she leaves him at the altar and runs away with her ex-husband. After this, Ted doubts that he’ll ever find “The One.”
Ted is a quirky guy that loves esoteric topics like Teddy Roosevelt trivia and the history of belts. Over the course of the series, we also get to see his professional triumphs and failures. He decides to go out on his own and start his own architecture firm named Mosbius Designs, which ultimately fails. He eventually takes up a job as a professor of architecture at Columbia University. In the sixth season, he achieves his dream of adding a building to the New York skyline and achieves brief fame, appearing on the cover of New York Magazine.
Marshall and Lily Eriksen (Jason Segel and Alyson Hannigan)
Marshall and Lilly are Ted’s best friends, and disprove the television rule that happy couples are boring. The show only broke them up once, and this was at the end of the first season when Lily decides to move to San Francisco to pursue her dream of being an artist. For the longest time, the two have had a bet on who Ted would end up with—Marshall foolishly thought it would be Robin.
Here’s the backstory: Marshall is an optimist from Minnesota, and at the beginning of the series, in studying law at Columbia University. He was Ted’s roommate at Wesleyan University. He does eventually graduate law school and pass the bar. Growing up, Marshall’s dream was to become to an environmental lawyer, but it soon becomes apparent that he won’t be able to support his family and this dream so he takes a job at the Goliath National Bank (henceforth GNB), where Barney works. After the tragic death of his father in the sixth season, Marshall’s desire to become an environmental protection lawyer is renewed, and he quits his job at GNB and is hired by an environmental law firm. At the end of the eighth season, Marshall is offered judgeship and impulsively accepts before talking to Lily.
Lily, meanwhile, is often the show’s voice of reason. She’s the person that usually talks Ted out of doing something stupid in his romantic life (for example declaring his love for Robin at her wedding), and she was the first person who Barney told about his crush on Robin. Throughout most of the series, she has worked as kindergarten teacher. In the show’s eighth season, Lily starts working as art consultant for The Captain (Kyle MacLachlan), who asks Lily to move to Rome for a year and work for him. After a terrible fight and finding out that Lily is pregnant with their second child, Marshall decides that Rome is where they should go.
Barney Stinson is probably the most well-known character from the show and contributed so much to the pop culture lexicon, such as: “legen—…wait for it…—dary!”, “Suit up!”, and the first comprehensive listing of the “Bro Code.” In the pilot, Barney was introduced as the stock womanising sitcom character and a lover of suits and laser tag. He prides himself on being able to convince almost any woman to sleep with him. (He’s allegedly been with more than 200 women.) His success with the ladies is due in large part to “The Playbook,” which contains every “scam, con, gambit, flim-flam, stratagem and bamboozle” that he’s ever used to “pick up chicks and give them the biz.”
Throughout most of the series Barney works for GNB. However, it is revealed in the final season that he’s actually working with the federal government to bring down the bank and the men that run it.
Ted and Barney’s friendship began after Barney met Ted at a urinal, where Ted’s appearance convinced Barney that he needed to teach Ted how to live, and decided to become his wingman. Barney’s favorite game to play with Ted is “Hi, have you met Ted?” which is Barney’s way of introducing Ted to women.
Over the course of the series, however, we see Barney go from being a skirt-chaser to someone ready for a committed relationship. This really started after he accidentally sleeps with Robin and realizes that he has feelings for her. Robin and Barney date and breakup, and Barney returns to his womanizing ways. He dates Robin’s co-worker Nora, only to cheat on her with Robin, and then dates a stripper named Quinn (Becki Newton), to whom he is engaged for a short period of time. Barney realizes that Robin is the one he wants to spend the rest of his life with and sets out on the biggest play of his life, convincing Robin to marry him.
Hailing from Canada, Robin is an aspiring on air-news reporter who moves to New York in 2005. She’s fiercely independent and, for most of the series, says she doesn’t want to get married and have kids. This is why she and Ted didn’t work out in the first place. In an unfortunate and unexpected turn of events, Robin finds out that she can’t have kids. Kevin (Kal Penn), her boyfriend at the time, breaks up with her.
Robin loves guns, hockey and all things Canada. She becomes friends with the gang after her failed first date with Ted. It is revealed that in her youth, Robin was a Canadian pop star named Robin Sparkles.
Robin goes from a woman solely focused on a career to someone who indeed wants to get married someday. As to be expected, she had plenty doubts after accepting Barney’s proposal because of his past. On the day of the wedding, her doubts grow as she realizes that all of Barney’s big romantic gestures (the proposal and rehearsal dinner) have been based on lies. After Barney vows to always be honest with her, Robin goes ahead with the marriage.
The Mother (Cristin Milioti)
In the eighth season finale “Something New,” we finally see the face of The Mother as she is buying a train ticket for Farhampton, where Robin and Barney’s wedding is being held. (She’s in the band playing at the wedding.) The Mother is every bit as dorky as Ted (she too loves driving gloves).
In the show 200th episode “How Your Mother Met Me,” we’re finally given a in-depth look at what she has been up the past nine years and see all the missed connections between her and Ted (this show can really be fatalistic at times). After her boyfriend Max dies, The Mother swears off love because she believes that you only get one chance at true love. The first time she sees Ted is when Ted walks into the wrong classroom on his first day. Coincidentally, Ted goes out with her roommate Lou (Rachel Bilson), but never meets The Mother.
Everyone in the gang met The Mother before Ted. Lily met the Mother on the train to Farhampton. Barney meets The Mother sometime after his breakup with Quinn, she convinces him to go after Robin. Marshall foolishly decides to walk the five miles from the train station to the Farhampton Inn, and it is the Mother that gives him and little Marvin a ride to the inn. Ted’s first encounter with The Mother comes after The Mother declines her boyfriend’s proposal, goes out onto her balcony at the inn and starts playing “La Vie en Rose.” Ted hears it in the next room.
And there you have it. Almost everything you need to know before going into the series finale, which is sure to legen—wait for it—dary!