Season One Episode Descriptions, Principles, and Writing Prompts

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1.1 Pilot


After his best friend Marshall proposes to his long-term girlfriend, Lily, Ted solicits help from his friend Barney to find 'The One' for his life. He manages to get a date with Robin, a girl he met at his usual neighborhood bar, but threatens to scare Robin away when he accidentally reveals his love for her on the very first date. Meanwhile, Marshall accidentally hits Lily in the eye with the champagne stopper after they get engaged, forcing her to wear an eyepatch.

The Principle: Character Flaws and Creating a Connection with the Characters

The Prompt: Go through the first chapter of your novel (or start it!) and look at your main character’s introduction. Pay special attention to what you’re promising about their arc. Where they start has a lot to do with where the reader will expect them to end up. Note how you’re going to fulfill that. 

1.2 Purple Giraffe


Episode Summary: In an attempt to repair his situation with Robin, Ted instead pursues a "casual" relationship with her by inviting her to a series of parties. Marshall tries to write an important 25-page law paper, but Ted's parties and Lily's post-engagement desire distracts him. Meanwhile, Barney tries to end a relationship he unknowingly started.


The Principle: Unreliable Narrators


Writing Prompt: Test your memories. Think of a significant memory in your past, one that involves someone you’re still in contact with. Write down exactly how you remember it happening. Use as much detail as you think is necessary to tell that particular story, no more, no less. Ask the other person involved to do the same and then compare and contrast them. Or, if you don’t think they’ll want to write it down, have them read your version and respond to it. 

1.3 Sweet Taste of Liberty


Episode Summary: Ted agrees to let Barney disrupt his routine by taking an impromptu trip to the airport with him that eventually leads the duo to Philadelphia and trouble with airport security. Meanwhile, Lily and Robin go out for drinks, but Lily becomes jealous when she is not as successful with men as Robin is, for which she blames her engagement ring. Marshall travels between both situations in an attempt to rectify the group's problems.

The Principle: Make Everything Go Wrong


Stuff to Track: This is one of the few continuity errors the show makes - Marshall says “I’ve never been in a fight before” and later on, he proudly proclaims he’s been in lots of fights and is able to back it up with action.

Writing Prompt: Pick your favorite book or story. Shorter will be easier for this. Write down what the main character’s ultimate goal is at the beginning of the story. Now write down what their ultimate triumph is at the end of the story, or where they are when it ends. Those two things might be the same, but are probably different in a meaningful way, if not entirely. Working backwards, starting at their moment of triumph, write down all the things that needed to happen in reverse order. In this case, Ted licked the liberty bell and discovered that his adventurous side wasn’t dead after all. In order for that to happen, he had to meet a guard for the bell, in order for that to happen he had to be in Philly with nothing to do, in order to get to Philly he had to be dragged by Barney, etc. By working backwards, the story seems to make perfect sense - of course he licked the liberty bell, why wouldn’t he? But starting at the beginning, it feels like everything goes wrong. Reconstruct your favorite story from the end, tracking all the necessary moments that looked like obstacles or problems as you read or watched the story from the beginning.

1.4 Return of the Shirt


Episode Summary: Ted's continuing search for 'The One' leads him to look into his past to rekindle old flames. Unfortunately, the woman he is thinking of is the same woman he broke up with years ago on her birthday, and she still holds a grudge. Meanwhile, Barney dares Robin, the anchor of Metro News One, to slip questionable words or phrases into her daily newscast in return for money. Despite this, Robin begins to appreciate the importance of her job more.

The Principle: The tease and reveal. 


Stuff to Track: Wendy the Waitress makes her first appearance!


Writing Prompt: I want you to take one of these opening lines, we’ll give them to you in a second, and then write a story using this as an opening line, but you have to tease out the information piece-by-piece. This is sort of the opposite of last weeks’ episode, where you started at the end and worked backward. Now we’re giving you the beginning and the end and you have to slowly unravel the story in a way that 1) makes sense and 2) gives only one reveal at a time, with the audience able to guess it *just* before it happens. 


Opening lines to choose from: 


“Some stories end with people getting hurt, and none of it would have happened if it weren’t for that shirt.” - the line from this episode


“If it weren’t for my horse, I never would have spent that year in college” - from a Lewis Black standup special


“I went from the throne room to a courtroom, all thanks to Meatloaf.” - adapted from Cards Against Humanity


“I never would have gone vegan if I had seen the spray-painted sign.” - adapted from a random tweet


“If I hadn’t picked up that penny on the subway four months ago, I never would have missed my flight this morning.” - adapted from a later episode of HIMYM

Episode 1.5 - Okay, Awesome

Episode Summary: Robin invites the group to a nightclub, but Marshall and Lily decide to host a wine and cheese party in an attempt to act more mature. Marshall and Lily quickly grow bored, however, and escape their own party in order to join the rest of the group at the nightclub, where they discover Robin outside, unable to gain re-entry into the club. Meanwhile, Ted and Barney experience unforeseen events while dancing.

The Principle: Good Stuff Comes Back Around

Stuff to Track: NYE and the Super Bowl both prove to be huge letdowns in future episodes, Coat Check girl comes back around eventually


Writing Prompt: This episode is pretty forgettable. It’s standard sitcom fare, and the “best” moments are pretty tropey, not really indicative of the show’s overall brilliance. But! A bunch of stuff from this episode comes back around: NYE, Super Bowl, Coat Check Girl, Marshall & Lily trying to force themselves to grow up, even the club and the bouncer come back next season. So what I want you to do is go to your cut file, or your old drafts, or whatever you’ve got, and I want you to resurrect a dead idea. Pick up a darling that you were brave enough to cut and figure out a way to make it new and shiny. If you have notes on why it didn’t work, great! Fix it. If you loved it, but it just didn’t fit, great! Put it in a new story. It won’t look exactly the same, but that’s because you’re a better writer now. All these bits and pieces of this episode that come back around, they’re in episodes that are much better than this one. That’s the whole point. We grow as writers, maybe now you’re ready to polish up that killed-off darling and make it shine again. 



1.6 Slutty Pumpkin


Episode Summary: Marshall and Lily are excited to participate in the couples costume competition at their usual bar. On the other hand, Robin's refusal to dress in a couple costume with her boyfriend puts stress on their new relationship. Meanwhile, Ted makes his annual visit to the rooftop Halloween party in search of a girl that he met three years ago.


The Principle: Personality Details


Stuff to Track: The Barnacle, another continuity error: Robin says she never played team sports, but we see her on a hockey team later on


Writing Prompt: Your character is wearing t-shirt, jeans, and sneakers. Write up two different descriptions with those details in place that demonstrate who your character really is.

1.7 Matchmaker


Episode Summary: Robin directs a skeptical Ted to an online matchmaking service with a 100% success rate. When the service gives Ted zero matches, Ted sneaks information out of the matchmaker's computer to visit an engaged dermatologist in an effort to debunk the prediction that there are no women out there for him. Meanwhile, Marshall and Lily become obsessed with chasing a strange and unusual critter out of their apartment.


The Principle: Foils


Stuff to Track: The Matchmaker says there are 8 fish in the sea for Ted. He has around 30 sexual partners over the course of the show, but 8 women have multi-episode arcs as his girlfriend


Writing Prompt: Take one of the pairs we listed. Choose one of those characters to be your Main Character (even if they aren’t considered the main character of their story already). Then list all the qualities in the other character that foil this Main Character. So, if you’re looking at Rachel and Monica, list all the ways that Rachel’s traits emphasize Monica’s star status. 


Here are the pairs again: Barney & Ted, Gamora & Starlord, Draco & Harry, Rachel & Monica, Boromir & Faramir, Valjean & Javert

1.8 The Duel


Episode Summary: When Lily decides to formally move into Marshall and Ted's apartment, Barney warns a skeptical Ted that the couple will eventually force him out. When Ted discovers that Lily replaced his beloved, but beat-up, coffee pot with a brand new one, he begins to think that Barney is right. Meanwhile, Barney invents a new dating law and tries to convince others to use it.


The Principle: Logical Continuity 


Writing Prompt: Write a scenario that makes this episode make sense. We want Ted to freak out about things changing in his life, which leads to the sword fight. We want Lily to find her stuff in a tiny Chinese restaurant. Come up with a scenario that makes this make sense.


1.9 Belly Full of Turkey


Episode Summary: Marshall and Lily visit the former's family in Minnesota for Thanksgiving, but Lily feels out of place with the large, loud, and rambunctious family. Meanwhile, Robin and Ted are surprised to find Barney as the Volunteer of the Year at a local soup kitchen. Ted is even more surprised as he begins to uncover unethical acts taking place behind the scenes of the charity.


The Principle: Secondary Characters


Stuff to Track: HUGE SPOILER. (get in touch with Gina if you didn't catch it)


Writing Prompt: Pick your favorite secondary character, write a short story, or outline a couple scenes for them if you don’t want to commit to the whole story. It needs four things: 

  1. They’re in a setting that they don’t fit into

  2. They’ve got a couple of naysayers 

  3. They’ve got an ally; 

  4. In the end, they stay who they are, But now we know what makes them uncomfortable. When it comes time for them to change, we know what’s going to hurt and we know how they’re going to be squeezed. 

  5. BONUS: have them pee in an alley

1.10 The Pineapple Incident

Episode Summary: After Ted passes out after an especially wild night in town, he wakes up the next morning with a sprained ankle, a burnt jacket, a girl in his bed, and a pineapple in his room. Unable to recall everything that transpired over the course of the evening, he asks his friends and the girl in his bed, Trudy, to fill him in on the night's misadventures.


The Principle: The Sequence of the Reveal


Writing Prompt: Look at your main character (or do this with a favorite story of yours, as a diagnostic tool).  Use this worksheet as a template. You’re going to have two columns. Column A is “problems/mysteries” and Column B is “solutions/answers”. List out all the problems your MC  has to face during the course of the story, in order, in Column A. List out the solutions to those problems in Column B, but place them in the order they are solved or revealed. If you’ve got each problem being solved as it comes up, you’ve probably got an episodic story that isn’t very engaging. A story that wraps up each problem as it arrives is very put-down-able. If you’ve got everything revealed with no solutions at the midpoint, then you’ve probably got a frustrating or confusing story. Try to mix things up and move them around to make it more engaging.

1.11 The Limo


Episode Summary: For New Year's Eve, Ted surprises his friends by hiring a limo to take them on an excursion through New York City's nightlife. Robin brings her new boyfriend, and the rest of the group each has a favored party that they each want to attend before the night is over. As the night progresses, the group picks up and loses people as the limo travels through the city. As the clock ticks closer to midnight, the limo gets stuck in traffic on the way to the last party.

The Principle: The Bottle Episode


Stuff to Track: Ranjit is back! We’re fulfilling the promise of, “NYE is supposed to be awesome, but it actually sucks”


Writing Prompt: Put your characters in one room for an extended period of time. A sitcom episode is 22 minutes, and usually you’re looking at one page of script per one minute of screen time, so let’s try for 20 pages of prose. Keep your characters in one place and use the tools we pointed out in this episode to keep the momentum and tension moving in the right direction. Those tools, again are: Put a time clock on it, have characters cycle in and out believably, establish a runner and break it (or break a previously-established runner), fall back on one easy ploy to hold it together.

1.12 The Wedding


Episode Summary: Ted's decision to bring Robin as his date to a friend's wedding leads to an argument between the bride and the groom that abruptly ends the wedding. Ted and Marshall comfort the bride and groom and urge them to resume the wedding. They agree, but a last-minute opportunity at work leads Robin to unexpectedly cancel, leaving Ted to go alone.

The Principle: Yes, But… No, And… 


Writing Prompt: I want you to write down what your character wants at the beginning of the novel, just a single sentence. In this case, Ted wants a date at the wedding. Play Yes, But… No, And…  with the character. How does Ted try to fulfill his want? He asks a woman to be his date. She says YES BUT… Claudia says he can’t bring a date. See if your plot follows the Yes, But… No, And… formula. Bonus points if you can have it alternate perfectly between Yes and No.

1.13 Drumroll Please


Episode Summary: Ted finds himself attracted to a mysterious woman whom he meets at the wedding. Unable to find her the next morning, Ted enlists the help of Barney in an effort to track her down. Meanwhile, Robin reveals that she left work early and saw Ted and the mysterious girl together the previous night, and has to confront her own feelings for Ted.


The Principle: Cascading Climaxes


Stuff to Track: Marshall eats like a symphony is happening in his mouth


Writing Prompt: Pull out one of your favorite stories. Identify the A-plot and the B-plot (Ted searching for a girl, Marshall searching for a cake). Flag where the A-plot resolves and where the B-plot resolves. How close together are they? What could have been cut from the intervening pages to make them come closer together? (Bonus: do this on more than one story to compare and contrast)

1.14 Zip Zip Zip


Episode Summary: After initially agreeing to take things slowly, Ted and Victoria abruptly change course when they discover that Victoria will be out of town for their one-month anniversary. As they experience a series of milestones, Marshall and Lily wonder if their long relationship is out of milestones. Meanwhile, Robin decides to be Barney's "bro" for a guy's night out together.


The Principle: Braid Around the Big Stuff


Stuff to Track: This is the first time we talk about The Bro Code


Writing Prompt: Take three stories that you often tell and mash them up into one mega story

1.15 Game Night


Episode Summary: When Lily chances upon Barney's first girlfriend, Shannon, the gang all relive their most embarrassing moments in order to persuade Barney to finish talking about his first relationship. Back when Barney was dating Shannon, he was a devoted boyfriend. However, when Shannon fabricates a story in order to leave Barney for a wealthier, better-dressed man, Barney changes his outlook on life to become who he is today.


The Principle: Unlikeable Characters


Stuff to Track: Marshall’s gaming. This is the first of five really embarrassing videos we will see: one for each of the main characters. 


Writing Prompt: Pick a character that you really, really dislike. Bonus points if it’s from a sitcom and double bonus points if it’s a female in a sitcom. Write down all the things this person did on the show that rubbed you the wrong way. If you can identify a pattern, great. Is it looking like selfishness? Greed? Immaturity? Lack of communication/social skills? Now that you’ve identified what it is you dislike about this person, write a backstory that justifies that behavior in their mind. Barney becomes a suit-wearing jerk because he believes this will protect him from ever being hurt the way he was when Shannon dumped him.


1.16 Cupcake


Episode Summary: Just as things are going well between Ted and Victoria, the latter is offered a surprising but incredible opportunity to be a fellow at a culinary institute in Germany. As the couple discuss the viability of long-distance relationships, Marshall and Lily reminisce about the time when Lily was studying art in Paris, but in telling their story, they discover that neither knew the whole truth.


The Principle: Pushing the Right Buttons 


Writing Prompt: Look at what your main character really, really wants. What are they willing to sacrifice to get it, make a good, long list of things they’re willing to give up. Then come up with the one thing that would make them change their mind.

1.17 Life Among the Gorillas


Episode Summary: Marshall and Lily have an argument over Marshall's new job at Barney's firm, which Lily alleges is having a negative effect on his values. Meanwhile, Ted feels guilty for not sending Victoria as many care packages as she has, and asks Robin for advice on maintaining his long-distance relationship. That evening, as Ted worries that Victoria is going to break up with him, he receives a call from Robin, asking to hang out.


The Principle: The Fish Adapting to Being Out of Water


Stuff to Track: What does Barney do for a living? Please. This is the first appearance of Blauman, who makes a bunch of random appearances throughout the series.

Writing Prompt: Put your main character in a new, unfamiliar setting. Pretend you’re writing a fish-out-of-water story with them, and then show how they work to adapt to the setting. Not just survive, but actively become part of their setting. Track what traits stay and which ones have to go. Which parts of your character are more important than the others, more important to them than survival in this new environment? 



1.18 Nothing Good Happens After 2 AM


Episode Summary: When Ted receives an ominous message from Victoria asking saying she wants "to talk", Ted becomes convinced that he is about to be dumped. That evening, Robin invites Ted to her flat to hang out. Lily and Marshall try to dissuade Ted from going, but inadvertently give him more reason to go. Meanwhile, Barney tries to persuade Lily and Marshall to join him in a "legendary night out".


The Principle: The Darkest Moment

Stuff to Track: This is the first appearance of Sandy Rivers and the second guest appearance by one of the principal stars’ spouses (they all make an appearance over the course of the series) 


Writing Prompt: Have your character talk themselves into a really bad decision. 




1.19 Mary the Paralegal

Episode Summary: Robin invites the group to an awards banquet in which she is being honored for her newscasts. At the banquet, Barney convinces Ted that his date is actually a prostitute that he hired, while Ted also struggles with seeing Robin with her co-worker.


The Principle: What would you do if you knew you couldn’t fail? 


Stuff to Track: “Lawyered” makes its first appearance, as do telepathic conversations


Writing Prompt: Make a list of your writing goals. Not the dreams, the things that you have zero control over. The goals. The things that you could control. Write them all down. When you get to the biggest goal on your list, that you have control over, imagine what the next step is. Make a goal for that. Keep going until there absolutely is no room for you to get any bigger or longer term. Now, write down what you need to do to reach those goals. The tangible, actionable steps you need to take in order to move forward.

1.20 Best Prom Ever


Episode Summary: When Lily and Marshall's dream wedding venue has a sudden opening two months earlier than their planned wedding date, the couple scramble to decide on wedding arrangements. In order to preview a band that they are considering hiring, the group sneak into a high school prom where the band is performing. As they dance to the band, Ted and Robin decide to try to repair their friendship.


The Principle: Flashbacks


Stuff to Track: The 88, Scooter, Lily’s bisexuality


Writing Prompt: Write the one scene that explains your character's motivation, the thing that happens before your story starts but actually affects your character's behavior and motivation


1.21 Milk


Episode Summary: The matchmaking service finally returns with a match for Ted, but he puts his date with his "perfect woman" on hold as he decides whether or not he still has feelings for Robin. At the office, Barney enlists Marshall's help to prank a man who works in the building across the street. Meanwhile, Lily applies for an art fellowship in San Francisco without telling Marshall, even though it could ruin their wedding plans.

The Principle: Narrative structure


Stuff to Track: The Goat in the Bathroom, the paramedics are actually Bays and Thomas - the creators of the series, Ted’s “list” of characteristics of a perfect woman actually gets 100% fulfilled, Nicholson Hewitt and West is a law firm that Marshall eventually works for


Writing Prompt: Plug your story into a beat sheet. You can find one on our website, 



1.22 Come on! 


Episode Summary: Ted ultimately decides that he wants to pursue Robin instead of the woman at the matchmaking service, and ultimately tries to win her heart by going to great lengths to romance her. Meanwhile, Marshall worries about his relationship with Lily when he learns of her acceptance to the art fellowship in San Francisco. As Ted tries to learn a rain dance in order to impress Robin, Marshall discovers that Lily left him for the fellowship.


The Principle: Consistency, not just in your plot, but in your characters, your imagery, your tone, your setting, everything.


Stuff to Track: The hook mirrors the close (Marshall showing Ted the ring), this is step two in Ted meeting the mother: he had to date Robin, The Universe, Barney supposedly has a car again


Writing Prompt: The yellow umbrella, the blue French horn, HIMYM is full of legen-dary props, and these are often made memorable by making a basic item a unique color. Come up with your own poem or short story about something you see every day, but in a color you might not expect.