How I Met Your Mother may have had its fair share of weak outings, but season nine’s seventeenth episode ‘Sunrise’ is the show’s worst episode
HIMYM had more than its fair share of weak outings over the show’s run, but season nine’s seventeenth episode ‘Sunrise’ is the show’s worst episode. Debuting in 2005, How I Met Your Mother immediately set itself out as a hangout sitcom with a difference. Where Friends simply followed a group of twenty-somethings as they attempted to navigate their messy professional and love lives, How I Met Your Mother‘s gimmick was that the series was narrated by the now-older protagonist as he explained to his kids how he first encountered the titular love interest.
This clever setup allowed the show to pull off all sorts of ambitious storytelling tricks as the narrator’s memory failed him, some stories were told in real-time, and many more pieces of narrative sleight of hand ensured that proceedings were kept fresh for viewers. However, by HIMYMs ninth season not all the show’s experiments were successful. The series weakest episode ‘Sunrise’ saw the writers try their usual bag of tricks but to no avail. Yes, it’s the one with the infamous Balloon Robin, but that’s not all that’s wrong with this installment.
Like any series that manages to reach nine seasons, How I Met Your Mother inevitably had a handful of weaker episodes over the years. Some entire season-long subplots were hated by longtime fans and some characters were roundly reviled as pointless or sometimes even actively annoying additions to the cast. But the series hit its nadir with ‘Sunrise’, an episode whose failure encapsulates everything that went wrong with How I Met Your Mother as a series throughout its later seasons. The show became over-reliant on its once-fun gimmicky story structure, as well as guest stars who outshone the main cast and a refusal to stick with simple set-ups that ended up dooming its attempts at serious character work. A lot of season nine was critically maligned due to its choppy, weird structure, and these issues are never more obvious than in the action of ‘Sunrise’.
The Guest Stars Were Wasted
While the A-plot of this episode was always going to be sticky territory as it saw Ted reminiscing about the many women he dated with Robin even though he was still enamored with her, the potentially promising B-story is a disappointment for entirely different reasons. To lighten the elegiac mood of Barney and Robin’s conversation, the episode’s subplot sees Barney teaching a pair of random twentysomethings (played by then-Youtube famous sketch duo BriTANick) the art of wooing women and how to follow the Playbook. The set-up could have led to a lot of laughs if the pair were played as over-the-top awkward nerds in desperate need of a beleaguered Barney’s advice, or if they played the self-serious straight man to the drunken Barney and he was the source of the scene’s laugh. The second approach could have been a big comic success, as later seasons revealed him to be a more sensitive figure than his caddish persona and the series could have sent up Barneys over the top original person in these scenes.
Instead, it’s a wasted opportunity for a potentially funny subplot since the episode can never decide whether the two lovelorn nerds or Barney is supposed to be the straight man. The duo does need Barney’s advice, but neither they nor Barney are ever zany enough to warrant more than a stray chuckle. Meanwhile, the show’s infatuation with constant guest stars reaches ludicrous levels when, before the pair of kids that Barney is teaching the ways of the world to have even been properly established, the episode moves on to a superfluous cameo from Say Yes To The Dress’ Tim Gunn. The fashion adviser is as charming as ever, but he has no place in an episode that struggled to fit in one set of guest stars, let alone two. With neither guest having the impact of Regis philbin or Britney Spears, the show’s late-season quantity over quality issues become impossible to ignore in a subplot that could have been great but instead ends up overstuffed and unfunny.
The Balloon Robin Scene
If you’ve seen this episode, you probably knew this was coming. The sight of Robin floating away into the sunrise like a human balloon is an all-time cringeworthy moment and one which was rightly derided as absurd by the How I Met Your Mother fandom. But it’s not just the silly special effects that make this moment a failure (although they really don’t help). It’s also the fact that the show was once skilled at setting up clever call-backs long in advance, with HIMYM explaining parts of its finale way back in season two. So it’s egregious that the show attempted to hurriedly introduce Ted’s balloon friend in the same episode that the flashback pays off in. It’s an embarrassingly sentimental scene in a series infamous for schmaltz, but this one is particularly egregious because of both the shoddy effects and the fact that referencing Ted’s balloon friend story in an early episode (or even an earlier season) could easily have made this moment feel less silly and out-of-nowhere.
The Ending Is Retconned Immediately
For all its faults, the closing moments of ‘Sunrise’ do finally see Ted grow up and move on from Robin and his regrets, even if it is in the form of the aforementioned corny visual metaphor. After running the gauntlet of his exes in doomed search of Robin’s lost locket, Ted is finally able to let go of Robin like his dearly-beloved unintentionally funny balloon, and he can accept that she loves someone else and they are simply not meant to end up together. Only, Ted then ends up with Robin just a few episodes later at the much maligned series finale of himym.
It’s a particularly galling twist because the episode foreshadows this ending in the closing moments of ‘Sunrise’. Just after Ted says he can finally accept that he and Robin are over and he needs to move on, he lets go of his balloon to the tune of ‘Eternal Flame’… And then he admits he regrets not kissing her at the end of their first date and ponders what might have been. What should be a harmless punchline instead becomes proof that, even after nine seasons, the character is still unable to grow up and move on, a frustrating decision which put many fans off the show’s deeply divisive finale.
The Episode Could Have Been Great
Like these ambitious-but-deeply-flawed episodes, ‘Sunrise’ has the germ of a good idea behind it. The installment could have been an intimate two-hander where Robin and Ted have a bittersweet talk about regrets before the wedding and the entire episode follows their conversation. Such a simple but effective set-up could have brought out the best in both characters and avoided the final season’s obsession with guest stars and ambitious experiments, but instead, it embodied the worst of both. Much like the return of the Slutty Pumpkin in HIMYMs halloween episode brought in a big name guest star when all fans wanted was the original episode’s sweet Robin-Ted chemistry, ‘Sunrise’ attempted to cram three divergent stories and a goofy sentimental moment into what could have been a simple, bittersweet-but-funny bit of classic How I Met Your Mother