How I Met Your Mother: 10 Storylines That Hurt The Show (And 10 That Saved It)

It can be argued that How I Met Your Mother is one of the most successful tv series of the early 2000s. Ted Mosby’s never-ending quest for the one hit the sympathetic nerve for much of the tv audience. The episodes were always building on the long arc, teaching viewers about modern love (at the time), or giving them something to laugh at after a hard day. The show captures a moment in American culture in the same way Friends and MASH did earlier. Still, that does not mean every storyline was perfect.

In fact, the writers just missed the mark occasionally, and viewers were left cringing or frustrated. It’s a shame too because those setbacks hurt the shows prestige. However, when the writers hit on storyline fans were left with their jaws on the floor or their stomach sore from laughing so much. Those big successful storylines are the reason fans still come back to the show today.

With this in mind, it is worth taking a walk down memory lane and going over the best and worst storylines of How I Met Your Mother. First, some rules need to be established. Storylines are defined as a plot within the series at any length. Some storylines have multiple episode arcs, while others only need one episode. A storyline hurts the series when it develops the character illogically or hinders the overall course of the show. A storyline saves the show when it does the exact opposite of the things mentioned above.

Here are 10 Storylines That Hurt The Show (And 10 That Saved It).

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Alyson Hannigan as Lily on How I Met Your Mother
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20 Hurt: Lily Leaves

Alyson Hannigan as Lily on How I Met Your Mother

This entry is a big one to start with, and it holds a special place in many fans heart. Lilypad and Marshmallow are the ideal couples. At least that is how the writers depicted the characters. The two do not always agree on things, but they always find a solution. That rule held true until this twist in the finale of season one.

The storyline only hurt the show, because it held under the surface for the majority of the show. Once Marshall and Lily get back together, the storyline remains under-discussed for the remainder of the series. This glaring oversight became a hindrance when fans go for a re-viewing. Sure, the storyline comes back up occasionally, but not like it should be.

19 Saved: The Pineapple

Some things are better left a mystery. For some viewers, it is frustrating watching how many of the little mysteries the writers created get resolved. On the one hand, fans want loose ends to get tied up. On the other hand, sometimes the answer is too silly to take seriously.

Luckily, the pineapple incident got justice in the grand scheme. When Ted goes out on a memorable night on the town, he wakes up to find he remembers nothing from that night. Most of the early episode goes about resolving the mystery of what happened that night, but one thing goes unanswered: how did Ted end up with a pineapple in his bed? The writers bring this mystery back up a few times in the series but never answer the question. That choice by the writers means this is one of the few loose ends fans can still speculate on to this day.

18 Hurt: Barney’s Mysterious Enemy

Sometimes the pay off is just not worth the build up. This idea is true for many television shows not just How I Met Your Mother. One of the biggest offenders is this storyline from the early seasons. The plot worked like this: Barney is trying to get with women like he always does, but every time he leaves for a second the women end up slapping him.

Barney discovers that one of his previous hookups is getting their revenge, so he sets out to discover their identity. There are many women that Barney has treated poorly, but none of them turn out to be the culprit. The reveal is it’s Stella’s secretary (played by Britney Spears), and her motives make no sense. They resolve their differences quickly and turn their vengeful focus on Ted instead. Making this a boring ending to a promising mystery.

17 Saved: Marvin Wait-for-it Eriksen

Lily and Marshall worked hard to have their first kid. It was a long storyline culminating in a masterful two-part finale. This storyline is the kind that kept the audience coming back for more. The storyline saw Barney take the reins and find a way to get Marshall back to New York in time for his son’s birth.

In return, Barney gets to pick the middle name for their first child. The storyline shows the camaraderie within the group. It made fans believe in the friendships the show developed and helped explain why they are all so close in the future. The plot became a cornerstone to the series and two must-watch episodes.

16 Hurt: The Playbook Lives

The playbook became an integral plot device throughout the series. The book of plays that Barney runs to get women started out as a gag. However, the writers quickly developed the playbook into the symbol for everything Robin could not trust about Barney.

Towards the end of the series, Barney destroys the playbook to show Robin his old ways of living are done. This thoughtful, romantic gesture culminated months of developing Barney into a new man. Sadly, in one silly moment before his wedding, Barney writes out the entire playbook, by memory, on cocktail napkins. He gives the napkins to two young guys and stumbles off into the distance.

15 Saved: Barney meets his Father

Barney Stinson is not a likable character and he is not meant to be. Barney is the player king of New York, whose one job is to sleep with all the single women in the city. The defining character trait boxed him into space many did not think he would recover from, and, for a while, that held true. Then, Barney discovered who his father was (spoiler: it is not Bob Parker).

The storyline saved Barney from a one-dimensional arc doomed to grow stale and creepy. Instead, Barney meeting his father gave him a new sense of family and what it means to care for somebody. The storyline allowed the character to grow and helped him work towards settling down and giving up his title as player king.

14 Hurt: Barney’s Fake Family

Barney Playbook - Best How I Met Your Mother Episodes

Barney’s momma’s boy persona is one of the few endearing qualities he has in the early seasons. Discovering how much he cared for his mother made him more sympathetic. However, the way fans discovered it backtracked that progress.

The writers worked their way out of this hole over many seasons but deciding to have Barney deceive his mother was a bad move. The gang discovers that Barney has a fake wife and child that he pays to pretend to be his family. Barney does this to deceive his mother so she will be happy with his life. It proves Barney is willing to lie to anyone including his mother. The plot point made it hard for fans ever to trust any genuine progress Barney made as a character and took many seasons of work to fix.

13 Saved: Marshall’s Father passes

This storyline will go down as one of the single greatest episodes of How I Met Your Mother. With that much emotional weight, this entry was an obvious choice for a storyline that saved the show.

The story builds off previous episodes were fans discover that Marshall calls his dad every day. The two share a ton of personal things, and the writers worked hard at building the importance of the relationship. The climax is told throughout an episode where every scene counts down to the final moment. As the number one lights up on the taxi, Lily steps out and tells Marshall his father had a heart attack and passed away. The moment hit fans like a train and put the series back on track by reminding viewers the emotional twist still possible in the show during the later seasons.

12 Hurt: Robin and Her Therapist

The characters on the show mention it, and the general public agrees: it’s weird to date your therapist. Now, Kevin and Robin were not the worst couples to ever date on the show, Scooby might top that list. However, the dynamics were never believable, and the storyline was flat.

Kevin ends up proposing to Robin even after she discovers she cannot have children, but they then break up when Robin confesses to not wanting children. Their relationship never felt serious. They lacked the real thump needed for audiences to believe in the longevity. The whole storyline became like a slow-moving train wreck, which is the worst kind of accident.

11 Saved: Victoria Comes Back In

How I Met Your Mother Ted and Victoria

Oh, Ted, will he ever learn? Victoria is an intriguing character, and the writers were smart to bring her back later. Ted and Victoria seemed like a promising relationship the first time they dated, and of all the “ones” she got Ted the best.

When the writers brought Victoria back, it seemed to save Ted’s love life. He gave up on finding his soulmate before she came back into his life. Their storyline rekindled his romantic side and reminded him of his happier memories. On top of that, Victoria brought the main conflict back to the forefront of the series. Her ultimatum that Ted picks between her and Robin proved that Ted is still in love with Robin and helped remind viewers why they invested in the series in the first place.  

10 Hurt: The 30th Birthday Goat

Missy is a goat that fans expected so much from when she was introduced. Future Ted explained to his kids that on his 30th birthday this goat would make a total mess of things. So, as anyone would expect, the hype became extreme as Ted’s 30th birthday got close.

Suddenly, the hype deflated like a two-week-old birthday balloon. Future Ted said that he mixed up the years and that Missy actually attacked him on his 31st birthday. The trick upset many fans and made them resent the goat story. Furthermore, the actual incident did not live up to the hype created all that time ago. The whole storyline caused distrust between the writers and the audience for a little bit of time.

9 Saved: Lily Reconnects with her Father

Lily missed out on some of the real emotional storylines that drove the series forward. A lot of her storylines were interconnected with Marshall. Lily did not often get the solo journeys that could help set her character apart from the group. This oversight frustrated many fans and left viewers clamoring for at least one personal arc for her.

Luckily, this multi-season storyline redeemed that partly. Lily and her father were estranged for years, then one Thanksgiving he tries to reconnect with her. The writers knew this story displayed some potential and they kept it slow moving because of that. The story saved Lily from relative emotional obscurity and for that fans are thankful.

8 Hurt: Breaking Up with Victoria

Kids, nothing good happens after 2 a.m., and that includes break-up storylines. This storyline initially paid off. It pushed Robin and Ted together. It showed how difficult long-distance can be and that Ted is not perfect.

The storyline pushed a lot of characters forward, but the finale of the series hurt this storyline on second-viewing. Ted breaks up with Victoria because he decides to go with Robin. During the time it seemed to make sense, but now that fans know what they know the whole thing feels rotten. Ted being unfaithful with Robin puts their relationship in murky waters and makes their full partnership feel built of dishonest beginnings. This does not bode well for the ending the writers went with.

7 Saved: The Slap Bet (with Robin Sparkles)

Sometimes the writers want to have a little fun with the show. To do that they will build a long-running gag that never seems to get old. Of all those episodes that created these long, laugh-out-loud scenarios, the slap bet has to be one of the best.

The storyline starts when Marshall and Barney bet on the secret that keeps Robin from going to malls. When it turns out Barney is wrong, Marshall gets to slap him five times at any point in their life. This bet last the entire series and fans are able to fist pump every time Barney gets slapped. Also, the episode introduced fans to Robin Sparkles which makes it totally worth it.

6 Hurt: Barney Gets Robin

This entry is a big-time hindsight pick. Now, Robin and Barney ending up together is not a terrible idea in concept. The frustrating part is the way writers constructed the storyline

To be clear, the writers spent a lot of time developing Barney and Robin. The development worked. Fans believed Barney could be capable of settling down and that Robin would finally choose love over work. This is gets destroyed in the end. The two divorce and all that work gets tossed in the trash. With that ending, it feels like a storyline that writers were basically telling the audience to forget about at the end. Ultimately, it’s not worth investing in their relationship if the writers just destroy the progress later.

5 Saved: The Ducky Tie Bet

Things were getting heavier in the later seasons. All the characters were growing older, and their perspectives on life were changing. The group was losing the youthful hijinks that fans adored in the early years.

The ducky tie bet revived some of that lost magic. The storyline played out similarly to the slap bet. Marshall and Lily battled against Barney’s shinjitsu cooking techniques. The couple bet that Barney could not do the entire routine and when Barney fails (thanks Lily) he is forced to wear a tacky tie with rubber duck illustrations. This plot point then shows up for many episodes and helped remind fans that the show still had some comedic moments left in it.

4 Hurt: Zoey and Ted

How I Met Your Mother Jennifer Morrison

Man, this entry is an exhaustive one, kind of like the relationship that it is about. Look, Zoey and Ted never worked. The relationship is built off poor foundations and the writers continually signal to the audience that it's not going to work out. So, when the final nail finally struck the coffin, fans gladly said goodbye to this couple.

Zoey never fit Ted’s life goals, and Ted never fit Zoey’s life goals. The whole storyline felt like a lazy storyline. What hurts the series the most was the fact it only hindered Ted’s development. Zoey felt like a blatant stop gap with uninspired writing that hurt any chance of this being a believable couple.

3 Saved: Ted Gets Left at the Altar

Ted makes plenty of mistakes throughout the series. Many of his relationships end due to his inability to give up on his dreams. He is a hopeless romantic in the early seasons, and his rose-tinted glasses hurt any chances of him finding real love.

So, when Stella leaves Ted at the altar, it signaled a real change in the protagonist direction. Stella takes the rose-tinted glasses off Ted. His perspective on love changes, and it gives him a more empathetic role. The heartbreak in the storyline resonates with the viewers, and its shockwave reverberates through many seasons. The writers made a gamble, but this plot paid off big time.

2 Hurt: Tracy’s End

How I Met Your Mother The Mother

Oh man, fans waited for it for so long. The patience that it took to get through that many episodes just to meet Ted’s wife is worth noting. Fans deserve a medal for that patience, and then the writers tossed it out a window. It is a shame that Tracy barely got that much screen time.

Having Tracy pass away is unfortunate. The worst part is the build-up was accelerated. The whole series built towards finding out who the mother is, and, when fans actually got to the reveal, they did not get to savor it. Tracy and Ted have a wonderful time together, but the way viewers saw it felt rushed. Then, bam, it was all over. The decision left a sour taste in viewers mouths after the finale. The whole storyline became a risk that never worked out. It’s a shame too because the series needed that pay off to solidify itself an iconic sitcom.

1 Saved: Marshall Quits GNB

When the writers showed viewers Marshall’s dream job, fans could not help but become invested in it. Marshall wanted to save the environment. He toiled away at a law school in the early seasons and then just gave up on his dreams due to the financial strains his marriage introduced.

Love takes sacrifice, and Marshall was working at Goliath National Bank proved he was willing to make those sacrifices. Finally, after years of selling out, Marshall had a crisis of conscience. He quit GNB and began to go after his dream. It solidified him as an honest, well-meaning character. The decision also bolstered Lily as a perfect support system. Overall, this storyline finally solidified some longtime dreams fans invested in.


What other storylines do you think hurt and saved How I Met Your Mother? Let us know in the comments!

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