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5. 'Atlantic City' (Season 2, episode 8)
Is it a coincidence that the "HIMYM" season everyone considers the best is the one where Ted was dating Robin? It's not just that Josh Radnor and Cobie Smulders had great chemistry, but that, because we knew going in that the two of them would not end up together, the show didn't have to spend time playing games about whether Robin was the Mother, but could simply tell entertaining stories either about them as a happy couple or simply where their couplehood was a background element of someone else's story. "Atlantic City" came in the middle of perhaps the show's best three-episode stretch ever, between "Swarley" (which barely missed this list) and "Slap Bet" (which none of you will be surprised to find further on up the road), and among its many delights is the running gag about Ted becoming uncomfortably turned-on at the sight of Robin wearing the bikini t-shirt. That's not the dominant story of the episode, which is about whether Marshall and Lily should elope in Atlantic City on a smelly barge. Nor is it the most memorable gag in the episode, which involves Barney demonstrating his mastery at an inscrutable Chinese casino game. And yet the fact that Ted and Robin are just there, being a couple and supporting everybody else — and telling strange jokes about the t-shirt — was an element the show never really had before or after season 2, when Ted's romantic struggles inevitably took prominence.
- Alan Sepinwall