‘Slap Bet,’ ‘Ten Sessions’ & more: The 10 best ‘How I Met Your Mother’ episodes ever

“How I Met Your Mother” comes to an end on Monday night with a one-hour episode that will finally show us the eponymous meeting between Ted Mosby and his future wife, that will resolve the question of whether she's still alive in 2030 when he's telling his kids the story of that meeting, and no doubt tell us more of what's to come for Marshall, Lily, Robin and Barney.

Ordinarily a concluding show this successful, and that was at one point as good as “HIMYM” was at its peak, would invite some kind of retrospective essay from me. The problem is that I basically wrote that essay back in November, when I decided to stop doing full-length weekly reviews of the final season. (As it happens, I still wrote a few lines each week, and occasionally wrote more if an episode was notably good or bad.) Here's the intro to that:

Kids, let me tell you the story of a TV comedy I love called “How I Met Your Mother.”

“How I Met Your Mother” is the story of a young architect named Ted Mosby, who wants nothing more in life than to meet the woman of his dreams, settle down and start a family. And it's the story of his best friend Marshall, and Marshall's fiancée, then wife, Lily, who are a goofy, lovable, open-hearted pair who were made for each other. And it's the story of their friend Barney, a sleazy lothario with a catchphrase for every occasion, who's just amusing enough that the others keep him around, even as he annoys and/or disgusts them. And it's the story of Robin, who seems like she could be the woman of Ted's dreams, but who's destined to end up with someone else.

And kids, it's also the story of a Ted Mosby decades in the future, telling the story of his lonely wanderings as a single man to the two kids he'll create with the greatest woman he ever was lucky enough to meet. And that Ted Mosby tends to get distracted, or confused, so that he presents very skewed and personal versions of events, most of which have virtually nothing to do with how he met his wife.

And because of that crazy, time-bending structure, because the show features four exceedingly likable characters and one extremely funny one, because there is a creativity and energy and palpable sense of romance to the proceedings, “How I Met Your Mother” is one of my favorite comedies on television.

You can read the full thing here. And since that larger essay was already taken care of, I decided the best way to do a pre-finale retrospective was the tried-and-true method of making a list of the show's best episodes. So I started combing through the first season, and I wound up with a big list of contenders. And I went through the second season – unquestionably the show's best – and the list from that year was even bigger. And I looked at the third season – which was interrupted by the writers strike and also had some bumps as the show pivoted out of the Ted/Robin relationship – and again had a whole bunch. And even the fourth – which had Stella and Ted's relationship turn very, very sour – had a whole lot that I had to seriously consider. (And two of them made the final list.)

Seasons 5-9 were, unsurprisingly, spottier, but there were highlights there, too, like the “Nothing Suits Me Like a Suit” musical number from the 100th episode in season 5, or Marvin's funeral in season 6, or “The Ducky Tie” in season 7, or even “How Your Mother Met Me” in the otherwise very problematic final season.

Still, the “HIMYM” of the first four seasons was an excellent and at times genuinely great sitcom. That the next five seasons were less good, and at times lousy, doesn't change that. And as I tried to whittle a big list of candidates down to 10 (with some kibbitzing from HitFix's Josh Lasser, who wound up writing several of the blurbs in the final list), I was gripped by both frustration at the task and a desire to just spend the day (if not the week) on Netflix watching potential finalists like “Swarley” or “The Pineapple Incident” or “Murtaugh,” and to bask in the creativity and energy and sense of joy that was palpable throughout those early years.

These are the 10 we landed on. I'm sure many people's favorite (or second-favorite, since I would guess the great majority of “HIMYM” fans have the same #1 that we did) won't be on there, simply because there are so many great choices from the first four seasons, or from season 2 alone. But these were the ones that put the biggest smiles on our faces, or invited the most nostalgic laughter, as we thought back on them.

So go take a look and then, as all people on the internet must do whenever there is a top 10 list, please tell us of our failings and tell us which obvious bit of genius we left off.