Even in the era of Too Much TV, there are multiple good reasons to blow off the new and rewatch a TV show you’ve seen many times before. Sometimes it’s valuable to revisit something you watched when you were younger, giving you an opportunity to appreciate it from a more adult perspective. There’s also the comfort that comes from re-engaging with a familiar rhythm of storytelling, not to mention being reunited with all your old friends again. And there’s the joy of discovering a detail that you might have missed in previous rewatchings — a secret surprise that’s been waiting for years for you to discover it.
How I Met Your Mother is a fantastic example of the latter reason to rewatch, as over the course of nine seasons, the CBS sitcom’s sharp jokes and gags built up an increasingly dense mythology of in-jokes and references that only occasionally circled back to that central question: Who is the unseen mother that Ted (Josh Radnor) is taking his sweet damn time to meet?
The titular question, though, did hang over the entire show’s run, with clues as to the Mother’s identity dropped along the way well before Cristin Milioti finally made her first on-screen appearance at the end of Season 8. And it wasn’t until nearly the very very end of the series finale that we actually learned the character’s first name: Tracy.
Except, well, technically the writers did tell us what her name was before then. Way before then. In Season 1, actually.
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Season 1 Episode 9, “Belly Full of Turkey,” is the show’s first Thanksgiving story, though instead of Lily (Alyson Hannigan) hosting the big meal as she’d do in later seasons, the two plotlines feature her and Marshall (Jason Segel) celebrating the day in Minnesota, while Ted, Robin (Cobie Smulders), and Barney (Neil Patrick Harris) stay in New York. After shenanigans at a local soup kitchen lead to the latter three getting kicked out, they decide to enjoy the Thanksgiving buffet at the Lusty Leopard, where Ted meets a pretty stripper (Katie A. Keane).
The final bit of the episode plays out like this:
Stripper: I’m Amber.
Ted: Oh, I’m Ted.
They shake hands.
Stripper: Actually, I’m Tracy.
Ted: Still Ted.
Narrator (v.o.): And that, kids, is the true story of how I met your mother.
Cut to the year 2030 and Ted’s son and daughter screaming “What?!” and Future Ted (Bob Sagat) hastily following that up with “I’m kidding.” (Just one of many infuriating fakeouts delivered by this show over the course of 208 episodes.)
With hindsight, of course, it makes sense for Future Ted to have used his future wife’s real name as part of this gag — kids might not call their parents by their first names as a rule, but they at least know what those first names are by a certain age. But it’s the sort of thing that you might not notice the show doing until after many, many rewatches.
How I Met Your Mother had its flaws even while it was on the air, and certain elements have not aged well — there are the transphobic jokes, the painful absence of people of color, not to mention a solid percentage of most Barney stories, and let’s not get into the ending right now. Despite those issues, though, as a self-confessed apologist for this series I have rewatched every episode an unknowable number of times since its premiere in 2005, including “Belly Full of Turkey.” But I never once noticed this early mention of Tracy’s name until just recently, while once again rewatching the show from the beginning (instead of the many, many screeners I should be watching instead). Because not only is the best comfort TV the TV you’ve already seen before, but sometimes, even years later, it can still find a way to surprise you.
How I Met Your Mother is streaming now on Hulu and Amazon Prime.
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One Motor City legend becomes another.
Liz Shannon Miller is a Los Angeles-based writer and editor, and has been talking about television on the Internet since the very beginnings of the Internet. She is currently Senior TV Editor at Collider, and her work has also been published by Vulture, Variety, The AV Club, The Hollywood Reporter, IGN, The Verge, and Thought Catalog. She is also a produced playwright, a host of podcasts, and a repository of “X-Files” trivia. Follow her on Twitter at @lizlet.