Kids, in the spring of 2014,
See, the genius behind the CBS comedy wasn't just the nonlinear storytelling, but the writers' way of weaving inside jokes and recurring story lines to sometimes deliver a humorous slap to the face stronger than Marshall's storied slap of a thousand suns.
With "How I Met Your Mother" having come to a close Monday and Ted (
Here's a look back at some of the favorites (beware of the "cockamouse," er, spoilers):
"Sandwiches": This gag usually wafts its way into the series in the flashbacks within a flashback that introduced the college versions of Ted, Lily and Marshall: Ted was frizzy-haired, bespectacled and pretentious; Lily (Alyson Hannigan) was a goth kid and Marshall (Jason Segel) was a wide-eyed slob. And they all got high quite a bit. However, since future Ted is recounting the tale to his children, any time he mentions smoking weed, he refers to it as "eating sandwiches." Because of that editorial decision, scenes of the trio in college usually have some sort of decadent submarine in the frame to stand-in for marijuana.
Interventions: What begins as an intervention to help a friend address his drinking problem turns into a running gag. The gang hangs up the handmade "intervention" banner for a variety of reasons -- both frivolous and life-changing -- throughout the series, including to convince Marshall to take off a ridiculous hat, to persuade Lily to stop using a fake British accent, to end Robin's (Cobie Smulders) obsession with spray tans, to confront Barney (Neil Patrick Harris) about his pyromaniac magic tricks and to question one another's relationships. There's even an intervention to end the interventions.
Saluting: Sometimes couples can be adorable, but often they're the only ones who think they're adorable. Ted and Robin prove that to their friends by giving a military-style salute any time a word is preceded by the words "major," "general," "kernel" or anything else that sounds as if it could double as a military rank (e.g. "major baggage," "kernel stuck in my teeth" and "general knowledge"). Though it is a major irritation (salute!) to the gang, it's an inside joke that recurs during both the best and worst times in Ted and Robin's relationship.
Robin Sparkles: As a result of Robin's boyish upbringing, she rebels and becomes the star of "Space Teens," a Canadian TV show about "two average teenagers who solved crimes in space using math." Little by little, the gang discovers Robin's secret pop star background, which was first revealed by her irrational fear of shopping malls. How do we learn this? Barney discovers her catchy smash single, "Let's Go to the Mall."
Throughout the series Barney comes across more Robin Sparkles singles, and we meet her former friends and flames -- notable Canadians played by Nicole Scherzinger, Alan Thicke and James Van Der Beek. But in an "Underneath the Tunes" special, it's revealed that things go downhill for the pop star at a huge Canadian sporting event when she transforms into Robin Daggers, a grungy Alanis Morissette-like version of her former persona. The gang's distaste of Canada is also a long-running gag until Barney learns he's part Canadian.
The slap bet: One of the best ongoing jokes in the series began as a bet between Marshall and Barney about a secret from Robin's past (see "Robin Sparkles"). After Barney loses, Marshall is awarded five slaps (he gets to slap Barney in the face as hard as he can), to be doled out at any point in the future. Lily serves as the arbiter of the bet (the "Slap Bet Commissioner"), and Barney begins to live in a state of fear -- compounded when Marshall's slaps are upped by three in another bet involving a Ducky Tie. Marshall's slaps are served over the span of several years, sometimes on Thanksgiving (ahem, "Slapsgiving"). The final slap occurs in the penultimate episode -- Marshall slaps some sense into Barney moments before his wedding to Robin.
Doppelgangers: Scattered throughout the series are encounters with doppelgangers for each member of the gang -- "Lesbian Robin," "Mustache Marshall," "Mexican Wrestler Ted" and "Stripper Lily." When Marshall wants to start a family and Lily isn't sure if she's ready, they agree to wait for a sign from the universe – a sighting of Barney's elusive doppelganger. After Barney tries in vain to appear as his own look-alike, Lily sees a pretzel vendor whom she decides looks like Barney. The rest of the gang sees no resemblance, but they decide to play along since Lily obviously wants to have a baby after all. The decision leads to an encounter with Barney's real doppelganger -- Marshall and Lily's fertility doctor. Lily is convinced that Dr. John Stangel is Barney in disguise until she sees both men in the room at the same time. During her physical examination, Lily makes Barney wear the Sensory Deprivator 5000 – a whole other recurring gag.
The yellow umbrella: OK, maybe this one isn't necessarily a joke, not even a sight gag, but it's essential to future Ted's account of the "short story" of how he met the mother. The brightly colored rainy-day accessory is perhaps Ted's (and the audience's) only link to the mother for much of the series.
It was first introduced about midway through Season 3 when the audience learns that it belongs to his future wife, eventually portrayed by Cristin Milioti. However, Ted just happens upon it as he leaves a terrible St. Patrick's Day party and has no idea who it belongs to. He inadvertently leaves it in the mother's apartment years later (he was dating her roommate at the time). The writers continued to conceal the mother's identity behind the umbrella, using it to tease the audience up until their meeting in final episode. "Funny how sometimes you just find things," the Mother tells Ted on the train platform.
"The Wedding Bride"
is written by Tony Grafanello (Jason Jones), a deadbeat karate instructor we meet just before Ted's wedding to Stella Zinman (
). Stella leaves Ted at the altar for Tony, the father of her child. Adding insult to injury, Tony bases the "The Wedding Bride" on their love triangle but rewrites the story to make Ted the villain, a pathetic scumbag named Jed Mosley (played by
). The rom-com and its sequel become box-office hits, beloved by everyone but Ted. (Well, it later fell out of favor for Marshall when its sequel featured a caricature of him named Narshall.)
Red cowboy boots: Ted discovers a pair of red cowboy boots while shopping with Robin and falls in love. However, he's the only one who believes he can actually pull them off. The flashy footwear meets its demise when Jeanette (Abby Elliott) burns down his apartment. The boots also become a wardrobe staple for Jed Mosley (see "The Wedding Bride").
Challenge Accepted!: Barney is perhaps one of the most quotable characters, thanks to the various iterations of his catchphrases. He says "challenge accepted" to tasks he was never challenged to in the first place, just because he knows they will make for a good story (especially if he can execute them in an "AWESOME" way). He had a "No. 1 rule" for everything, and whether he's trying to hook up with women wearing a ducky tie, overalls or dressed as a woman, the Barnacle even manages to make his failures sound "legen -- wait for it -- dary, legendary!"
The suit-loving magician is also a bit of an author: He creates "Barney's blog," a real blog on CBS.com, is an astute enforcer of his "Bro Code" and user of the word "bro," and he enacts numerous entries of "The Playbook," which was an integral part of his proposal to Robin. They all help the "high-functioning sociopath" get sex, and Barney brings them up to the gang ad nauseam.
High-fives: Every group of friends has its congratulatory gesture, and the characters of "How I Met Your Mother" definitely brought the high-five back to a respectable level of cool. Whether Lily and Marshall delivered an especially poignant zinger about Ted's love life, Barney nailed another conquest, or Robin and Barney bonded over something only they could appreciate (prayer five!), the high-five came back with a vengeance. And Barney, being the trendsetter he believes himself to be, always had to take them one step further with the "self-five," "condolence five," "phone five" or "door five" among numerous others. Even the characters knew how important high-fiving was: Ted enlisted Barney to partake in a hand-withering "high-five to echo throughout eternity" -- or a "high infinity" -- to properly bid adieu to the gang.
Telepathic talking: When you're friends as long as these guys are, you can communicate non-verbally. The gang adopts telepathic talking to communicate with one another, especially in cases that require keeping a certain character out of the loop.
"I'm Gonna Be (500 miles)": The Proclaimers' "cassingle" is the only track that plays in Marshall's Pontiac Fiero and becomes the signature soundtrack to nearly any and all road trips taken by the gang. That's thanks to its repetition on college Marshall and college Ted's journey to Gazzola's. Think it'd get annoying? Sure, but it always comes back around. "I am never going to get sick of this song!" proclaims teen Marshall. "Never ever never never ever!"
Lily's girl crush on Robin: Maybe Lily's early romantic link to Marshall deprived her from experimenting in college. Maybe it didn't. But Robin Scherbatsky's magnetism is at its most hilarious when Lily repeatedly expresses sexual desires for her beautiful best friend. The relationship comes to its climax in the last season when Lily's shares a long-awaited kiss with Robin in order to get Barney out of an alcohol-induced stupor. Hannigan and Smulders also share a kiss in character during an appearance on Bravo's "Inside the Actor's Studio."
"Weekend at Barney's": One of Barney's many dreams is for Ted and Marshall to reenact "Weekend at Bernie's" with Barney as the corpse. References to the film recur throughout the series, but one night Barney dreams that the guys actually do it and that he should write it down in "The Playbook." In the final season, the cast performs their own version of the film in an elaborate ploy to convince Barney that he didn't miss wedding weekend landmarks.
And these long-running jokes deserve an honorable mention:
The mystery (and even better revelation) of Barney's job and his meaningless motivational posters, his ducky tie, pick-up lines, penchant for suits and sixth sense about crazy eyes, nerdy leanings and love of laser tag, philandering mom and Ted and Barney's dream of opening a bar and calling it "Puzzles."
Ted's fun facts and grammar corrections (it's encyclopaedia!), that whole thing with the goat, his "tramp stamp" and how butterfly tattoos came full circle thanks to Lily and Gary Blauman, the blue French horn cameos, the mystery of the pineapple incident and his invention of the Sensory Deprivator 5000.
Marshall and Lily's bet about Ted and Robin's relationship, their TMI sexual exploits, their fight "pauses," Lily's full-size "Marshpillow," her incinerationg "you're dead to me" look, her dad's terrible ideas for board games, her menacing kindergarten students, her over-spending issues, insistence on calling herself "mama" and varying wigs depending on her hairstyle in the flashbacks.
As for Marshall, there's his need to say "lawyered," make up songs, his jerky older brothers' and his family's penchant for mayonnaise and his mom's need to eavesdrop on phone calls, his obsession with Minnesota and hatred of Wisconsin, his awful fish jokes and his insistence that he'll always prevail in a battle of Marshall vs. the machine.
Robin's repeated use of "But, umm...," her drunken Canadian accent, obsession with hockey, her terrible TV gigs that no one watches, all those dogs from her ex-boyfriends, volatile relationship with Patrice and her mounting concern over the "ring bear" and "flower gorilla" at her wedding.
Other miscellaneous picks: the gang's knack for spot-on Halloween costumes, the inexplicable "cockamouse," Ranjit always being the chauffeur, the Captain's use of boat puns, the road trip game Zitch Dog, woo girls, robots vs. wrestlers and even the kids' growing exasperation with Ted's prolonged storytelling.
Did we miss any major gags? (Salute!) Tell us in comments along with your favorites.
Times staff writer Noelene Clark contributed to this report.