How to explain ‘How I Met Your Mother’ to someone who has never seen an episode


Ted, Robin, Marshall, Lily, Barney on “HIMYM.” (Ron P. Jaffe/Fox)

(Note: This is not one of those cutesy, pre-fabricated exercises where a writer has a conversation with herself. These are real questions, from a real person, who has never seen an episode of “How I Met Your Mother” because he’s been too busy watching “Monday Night Raw” all these years.)

A week before “How I Met Your Mother” wraps up forever, here are some answers.

So when exactly does the show take place?

Technically? “How I Met Your Mother” takes place in 2030. Yeah, not what you were expecting! It’s true, though. The very first scene of the pilot takes place in 2030 as the narrator, Ted, explains to his son and daughter via voiceover that he’s going to tell them the story of how he met their mother. Then, he says this glorious story starts 25 years ago, all the way back in 2005 when he was just 27.

Cut to the show’s very first flashback, where we first meet the gang: Ted, Robin, Barney, Marshall and Lily. (The first episode of the show aired on Sept. 19, 2005.) The tale has proceeded on from 2005 ever since. But if we’re being extremely literal, the whole show has been one long flashback, and Ted has been telling his kids a story as they all live in 2030.

More complex than you thought? That’s right: A CBS Monday night sitcom takes place in the FUTURE.


Ted’s kids. See? Teenagers in 2030 are just like those in 2014, right down to the bored expressions. (CBS)

So the voiceovers are from the future?

Yep. Every episode starts with that scene in 2030, with voiceover Ted (voiced by Bob Saget) explaining to his kids what shenanigans are about to happen this week. Usually at the end of the half-hour, voiceover Ted from 2030 re-emerges with a moral of the episode. It’s very Dad-like.

The Mother. (CBS)
The Mother. (CBS)

When did The Mother actually make her first appearance on the show?

The audience first saw the Mother’s ankle in the 100th episode. That’s not as creepy as it sounds — it’s just one of the many times the audience came soooo close to seeing the mysterious character, and it was regarded as a very significant clue. (Seriously.)

As an actual person? We didn’t see her until the final scene in the Season 8 finale, when it was revealed she was played by Broadway actress Cristin Milioti: A character no one had ever seen before, so every theory about who she might be (based on 1,000 hints the writers threw our way) was completely false. That’s pretty much “How I Met Your Mother” in a nutshell. And no, we still don’t know her name.

So that time you wrote about the “Mother” possibly dying, you mentioned a flash forward – that’s an additional flash forward to the usual flash forward?

Oh yeah, we haven’t even talked about the flash forwards yet. During the main timeline of the show, “present day” if you will, the series frequently jumps ahead. In the current Season 9, which has been taking place over one weekend in 2013, the show has flashed forward to the year 2024, when Ted and The Mother are having a romantic weekend. During other seasons, we’ve leaped ahead to see Marshall and Lily having a baby; Ted, Marshall and Lily at their college reunion, etc.

So there are at least  THREE timelines we have to keep straight on this show?

Impressive, right? Don’t forget, given that the whole show is a flashback, there are frequently flashbacks within flashbacks within other flashbacks. And you thought this was just a random sitcom with Neil Patrick Harris.

Is there a mysterious hatch and/or a disappearing island involved?

We wouldn’t be surprised if in the finale next week, it’s revealed that everyone has been dead the whole time. (Isn’t that what happened on “Lost”?) Apparently, the similarities between the crazy “HIMYM” and “Lost” timelines aren’t lost on anyone: Jorge Garcia (Hurley!) was a pretty great guest star back in Season 6 where he made”Lost” jokes about an island and magic numbers.

The “Mother” won’t actually die, will she?

Um…not sure. It’s possible — after all, the audience just met The Mother (Ted’s wife) this season, so viewers aren’t really that attached to her. Plus, the writers have been dropping hints lately that the show is going to come to a very sad conclusion on March 31 after nine seasons.

A lot of people say this recent speech (an imaginary flashback where Ted tells his future wife how much he loves her) has morbid undertones. Then there was the episode a few weeks ago where Ted broke down in tears during a future scene when his wife said “What mother is going to miss her daughter’s wedding?” — possibly implying she won’t live long enough to see her own daughter’s wedding.

While the writers love throwing crazy twists,  it seems like they wouldn’t want to enrage loyal fans. Then again, it’s possible they’re just sadistic enough to rile up the Internet with a very controversial finale.

Bet “Monday Night Raw” doesn’t have this kind of drama!

Emily Yahr covers pop culture and entertainment for the Post. Follow her on Twitter @EmilyYahr.
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Emily Yahr · March 25