How I Met Your Mother's Best Episode: Slap Bet

Once again, we're tackling another show in TV Blend's weekly series "___'s Best Episode." Each week a different writer will pick out a different episode of a TV show and argue why it is definitively, absolutely the best thing the show ever did. Arguments will be started, tears may be shed, but we're here to start some conversations and make some arguments for really, really good TV. This week Eric makes a case for How I Met Your Mother’s “Slap Bet.” Read below, argue with us in the comments.

It’s hard writing a “Best Episode” feature about a show that is still in production. Though we might think that we’ve seen the greatest that a program has had to offer, the truth is that the next installment we see could blow our choice clear out of the water. In the case of How I Met Your Mother, however, it’s hard to imagine that anything they produce from now on will be better than the ninth episode of the second season, “Slap Bet.”

In addition to having the best, funniest, most surprising ending that the series has ever had, “Slap Bet” rises to the top of the heap thanks to hilarious, intelligent writing, a wonderful impact on the show at large and one of the best TV-created pop songs of all time.

The episode begins when Barney tries to rally everyone to go to the mall, but Robin stoutly refuses and won’t reveal why. Mystified by the situation, the group begins to speculate as to why their Canadian friend doesn’t like shopping complexes. Marshall ends up guessing that Robin was previously married there, and Barney theorizes that she once made a porno at the mall. The deal is that whoever wins the bet will be allowed to slap the other as hard as they want. But while multiple slaps are exchanged over the course of the episode, the truth is far stranger than anyone anticipates.

The highlight of “Slap Bet” is the use of misdirection. From the very start the episode has us believing that either Marshall or Barney is correct. Thanks to the stakes of the game, the audience immediately believes that whatever the answer is, it has to end with someone being slapped – as Anton Chekhov once said, “One must not put a loaded rifle on the stage if no one is thinking of firing it.” As a result of the misdirection, the viewer is just as flabbergasted as the other friends when its revealed that Robin was, in fact, a pop star in Canada. We also have the joy of seeing Chekhov’s rifle being fired, thanks to Barney suffering from “premature slapulation,” and the result was the birth of How I Met Your Mother’s greatest running joke: Marshall’s free five slaps.

But the episode’s impact on the series at large isn’t just limited to Marshall’s slaps, but also the adventures of Robin Sparkles. Both major elements at play in “Slap Bet” have gone on to have effects seen in multiple episodes throughout the program and have provided some of Mother’s greatest gags (I still laugh whenever I think of Marshall getting on stage and slapping Barney to the ground in “Stuff”). Running jokes like these are great because they not only display the intelligence of the writers, but also serve as rewards to the astute and loyal viewers who have spent years caring about the characters. They may just be random bits, but they do show how significant the second season episode is on the series as a whole.

As great as the mechanics of reveal are, we can’t ignore the reveal itself – the “Let’s Go To The Mall” music video. In addition to it being bathed in nostalgia, with bedazzled jean jackets, jelly bracelets, star swipes and robots, the song itself is perfect. Robin’s valley girl pitch is both maddening and hilarious, while the occasional drops of Canadian accent give it its own amazing flavor. Also, I just can’t get enough of Cobie Smulders rapping.

“Slap Bet” was originally going to be released with the title “Robin Sparkles,” and thank god they decided against it as the episode’s surprise is simply too amazing to risk spoilers. Some might see it as a bad thing that How I Met Your Mother peaked in its second season, but the truth is that “Slap Bet” is so damn good that it doesn’t really matter.

Eric Eisenberg
Assistant Managing Editor

Eric Eisenberg is the Assistant Managing Editor at CinemaBlend. After graduating Boston University and earning a bachelor’s degree in journalism, he took a part-time job as a staff writer for CinemaBlend, and after six months was offered the opportunity to move to Los Angeles and take on a newly created West Coast Editor position. Over a decade later, he's continuing to advance his interests and expertise. In addition to conducting filmmaker interviews and contributing to the news and feature content of the site, Eric also oversees the Movie Reviews section, writes the the weekend box office report (published Sundays), and is the site's resident Stephen King expert. He has two King-related columns.