Even in the age of “Too Much TV,” there are many good reasons to skip the news and watch an old TV show again. Sometimes it’s good to watch something again that you saw when you were younger. This gives you a chance to appreciate it more as an adult. There’s also the comfort of getting back into a story with a familiar rhythm and seeing all your old friends again. And it’s fun to find something you might have missed the first time, like a secret surprise waiting for you to see for years.
How I Met, Your Mother is an excellent example of the second reason to rewatch. Throughout nine seasons, the sharp jokes and gags on the CBS sitcom built up a mythology of in-jokes and references that only occasionally circled back to the show’s central question: Who is the Mother? Ted (Josh Radnor) is taking his sweet damn time to meet?
The title question did, however, linger over the show’s whole run, and hints about who the Mother was were dropped along the way long before Cristin Milioti made her first appearance at the end of Season 8. We didn’t find out the character’s first name until almost the very end of the last episode of the series. That name is Tracy.
Except, well, the writers had already told us what her name was. Earlier than that. In Season 1, to be exact.
In Season 1, Episode 9, “Belly Full of Turkey,” the show’s first Thanksgiving story. Lily (Alyson Hannigan) doesn’t host the big meal like she would in later seasons. Instead, she and Marshall (Jason Segel) celebrate the holiday in Minnesota, while Ted, Robin (Cobie Smulders), and Barney (Neil Patrick Harris) stay in New York. After three of them get kicked out of a local soup kitchen for mischief, they go to the Lusty Leopard for the Thanksgiving buffet. There, Ted meets a pretty stripper (Katie A. Keane).
Here’s how the last part of the episode goes:
Stripper: I’m Amber.
Ted: My name is Ted.
My name is Tracy.
The handshake. Ted: No change.
In the year 2030, Ted’s son and daughter are yelling “What?” and Future Ted (Bob Sagat) quickly says, “I’m kidding.” (This is just one of the many times this show has tricked people in 208 episodes, making them angry.) And that, kids, is the real story of how your Mother and I met.
Kids don’t usually call their parents by their first names. But they know what those first names are by a certain age. In retrospect, it makes sense that Future Ted would have used his future wife’s real name in this joke. But it’s the kind of thing you might not notice until you’ve seen the show many times.
How I Met, Your Mother had problems even when it was on the air. And some of them have worsened over time. There were transphobic jokes and a painful lack of people of color. And a good number of Barney stories, and let’s not even talk about the ending. Despite these problems, I’m a self-proclaimed defender of this show and have watched every episode. Including “Belly Full of Turkey” several times since its debut in 2005. But I never noticed that Tracy’s name was mentioned so early on until I started watching the show from the beginning again (instead of the many, many screeners I should be watching instead). Because the most comforting TV is the TV you’ve already seen, and sometimes it can still surprise you even after years.
You can watch How I Met Your Mother’s episodes on Hulu and Amazon Prime.