how I met your mother pilot

Third Thursday Throwback: Revisiting what made the ‘How I Met Your Mother’ pilot so legendary

How I Met Your Mother hit the ground running with a truly “awesome” pilot.

Warning: This article contains spoilers for all seasons of How I Met Your Mother. Proceed at your own risk!

It’s time for another installment of Subjectify Media’s Third Thursday Throwback. This is the column where we dive back into a property we’ve loved in the past, and examine all the reasons why we still love it. Whether it’s a movie, TV show, book, album, game, or anything else, this is our space to rave about the media that’s shaped our lives on the third Thursday of each month.

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Remember when “it was way back in 2005” was a comedic piece of dialogue because 2005 was not actually “way back?” Me neither. But that is how the grand How I Met Your Mother love story of Ted Mosby and Tracy McConnell began.

Of course, after the How I Met Your Mother finale, you could argue that it was actually the love story of Ted and Robin. Then again, you could also say it was the love story of the whole group: Ted, Marshall, Lily, Robin, and Barney. Furthermore, you wouldn’t be wrong to insist that the How I Met Your Mother pilot was the beginning of a love affair between an audience and a show that they would go on to cherish for nine seasons. Or at least eight.

The How I Met Your Mother pilot aired for the first time on September 19, 2005. Between then and its still-contentious finale in 2014, the series captured our hearts with its incredibly flawed yet lovable characters and its unique take on life in your 20s and 30s. Its relatable storylines surprisingly paired perfectly with the show’s ridiculous catch-phrases and wacky running gags, bringing the viewer inside all of the gang’s private jokes and making them feel like a true part of this awesome group.

Impressively, so much of this feeling can be traced back to the pilot of How I Met Your Mother. Revisiting the episode more than 15 years after its premiere, I was shocked by how established the tone, the characters, their friendship, and their humor already felt.

While so many pilots feel like a clunky and over-expository introduction to what will eventually become the show, the How I Met Your Mother pilot dropped you right into a story and a world that already knew exactly what it was. I truly feel that aside from the Ted and Robin meet cute, the pilot episode could be dropped anywhere in the first few seasons of the show and it wouldn’t feel out of place at all.

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Marshall, Lily, Ted and Barney are fully formed with their strengths and weaknesses on display in the first episode of How I Met Your Mother. The only character who doesn’t quite feel full is Robin, but that’s because we’re seeing her through Ted’s eyes for the first time, and she’ll soon be the newcomer in an incredibly established friend group. We get to know her as they do, while it immediately feels like we’ve known everyone else for years.

We instantly get that Ted is hopelessly optimistic and romantic when he tells the story of his first date with Robin as if it was a Nicholas Sparks novel. He seals the deal on this trait when he steals the legendary blue French horn without a care and races back to Robin’s apartment to get the girl before he ruins it with a premature “I love you.” A few times.

Ordinarily Ted is relatively measured, but when it comes to love, he’s willing to do whatever it takes. It’s epic and romantic while also being reckless and a huge red flag, and that’s Ted, in a nutshell. He’s exactly the kind of guy whose nine-season love story will keep you wanting to watch.

Outside of romance, we also see that Ted is way too involved in Marshall and Lily’s relationship as he recounts being there for their first…well, everything. Finally, we see that he’s kind of a good friend, but that he’s also kind of selfish. This group is really more codependent than friendly, if we’re being honest.

Next up is Marshall, who’s probably the most lovable How I Met Your Mother character, but also the one who has the most growing up to do. He’s the lovable goof. He can make everyone smile, but he can’t really cook or open a bottle of champagne. He’s kind of a good friend but also kind of selfish, having sex on the kitchen floor after Ted explicitly said not to, which was a pretty fair request. Also, and perhaps most importantly, he’s head over heels in love with Lily.

Speaking of Lily, I was previously under the impression that her biggest flaws revealed themselves slowly over the course of the series, but after revisiting the How I Met Your Mother pilot, I realized she wasn’t hiding them at all. Not even a little bit. And that’s kind of great.

Lily is probably the most confident and outspoken member of the group. You could even call her the alpha. She’s assertive, and she does what she wants, which proves itself as both an amazing and questionable trait throughout How I Met Your Mother. Right from the start, she’s a little judgmental, chastising Barney for everything he does (he may have deserved it), and she’s wildly meddling, getting the whole group to accompany Ted to Robin’s. She’s also kind of a good friend, but kind of selfish. And she’s also head over heels in love with Marshall. Their love is #goals from day one.

Then there’s Barney, who offers up pretty much all of the cringey, “this wouldn’t fly in 2022” moments. These include, but are not limited to, the first line Barney ever utters in the series: “So you know how I’ve always had a thing for half-Asian girls?” Barney is dialed to 100% all the time, whether its his depravity or his child-like love of laser tag. Surprisingly, even Barney is a pretty good friend, although he’s also kind of selfish. And of course, he’s great for a catchphrase.

The pilot is an amazing jumping off point for each of these character’s arcs. Ted is desperate for love, but he’s way too over-the-top and in his own head to actually find it. Marshall and Lily are in the idyllic, post-engagement phase of their relationship, setting them up for the rollercoaster they’re about to embark on. Barney is kind of terrible, with plenty of room to grow, however slowly, into the person that fans came to love intensely. Robin is standing on the periphery of the career she wants, which is going to take her on just as much of a rollercoaster as Marshall and Lily’s marriage.

I was also very pleasantly surprised to see how many of the iconic How I Met Your Mother catchphrases were said in the show’s very first episode! Ted was introduced to Robin with the classic, “Have you met Ted?” Also, Barney’s signature “suit up” gets a mention in almost every scene, which made me nostalgic for the amazing “Nothing Suits Me Like a Suit” musical number in the show’s 100th episode. Even the transcendent olive theory is revealed during Ted and Robin’s first date and then almost immediately debunked before the end of the episode.

How I Met Your Mother had their humor dialed in, with the cast having immediate chemistry and fitting flawlessly into their roles. I found myself laughing out loud just as much as the first time I watched the pilot, even if the laugh track was a little jarring. The show went on to be so unique, I honestly forgot about its relatively typical sitcom style.

All in all, the How I Met Your Mother pilot is a fantastic introduction to what became an unforgettable series. Luckily, Ted is telling the story in 2030, so you also have a few more years to watch it again before we have to feel really old. Good luck stopping with the pilot, though! Those nine seasons are calling…