The consummation of a chemistry born over laser tag, the breakup of a legendary bromance and Britney Spears. How I Met Your Mother was one of the first series to return post-strike, and with an order of nine episodes — to be written and shot within ten and a half weeks — they were able to cover quite a bit of ground. With the craziness of last minute production over and the season three finale just 24 hours away, executive producer and co-creator, Craig Thomas — no doubt, the nicest show runner in Hollywood — took the time to talk with me about the awesomeness of the season ender, the possibility of a Lily-Marshall pregnancy and more Robin-Barney sex. Read on…
You’ve finally received the official pick up for season four. Congratulations! Although I’m sure you knew you would, no?
We felt pretty confident but we didn’t know for sure. We still needed to get that call.
And this is a big one because it could possibly mean syndication, right?
It could mean that. If we get a big enough order, we could get into the high 80s or low 90s. It’s kind of mind-blowing, actually. We’ve done 64 [episodes] already, which is crazy.
And the last few have been a lot of fun. Especially the Robin-Barney (or Robarn, as I like to call them) stuff. Last Fall when I was on your set, I mentioned the possibility of this pairing and everyone got a little quiet, so I assume it’s been part of the master plan for awhile?
[Laughs] Yeah. I think both us and fans of the show saw that they had great chemistry back in season one when Barney and Robin kind of wingman’ed each other one night in "Zip Zip Zip" — they played laser tag and smoked cigars and stuff and all the fans started speculating that clearly it has to go that way. We just didn’t want to rush towards it, so we held off for a while. But ultimately we knew we wanted to get to that because they’re great together and we thought we’d get a lot of funny and interesting stuff out of it. It’s probably one of the best parts of our back nine [episodes].
Did the strike sort of speed this storyline up, because you wanted to do something cool when you came back?
It definitely did. In the middle of the strike, we didn’t know what we were looking at. We didn’t know how many episodes, if any, would [be ordered]. So we had to sort of think, what’s the best thing we could give the fans? If all we get is three episodes in May sweeps, what would be the most exciting thing to write? And we realized it was the Barney and Robin stuff.
Now that you’ve seen Robarn together — as in, in bed together — how do you feel about the pairing? Is there more to come?
People will see in the finale that there’s definitely a hint of more to come. We love the two of them in teams together, we love the complication we’ve now added into their friendship. Most of the focus has been on patching up the relationship between Barney and Ted, but at some point we’re going to see that [Robin and Barney’s] experience has [other] repercussions and is definitely going to mean something moving forward.
Why is Ted so angry with Barney but totally cool with Robin?
[Laughs] It’s funny, everyone has a different opinion on this — everyone in the writers room, different executives, my wife — they all have a different idea of how they’d feel about this situation, which is what makes it ripe to explore. Our feeling, from a writing perspective and even from a viewer perspective, was that we’ve seen a lot of Ted and Robin angst already. Even this year, in one of our better episodes, "Slapsgiving," we saw Robin dating a new guy and Ted and Robin have a relapse and question their friendship, can they even be friends? Ultimately they work it out and realize they are friends, they have the same sense of humor and they want to keep being friends. We didn’t want to rip that asunder again. In terms of whether that’s realistic or not, there seems to be some debate. But in that episode, "The Goat," we see Robin apologize to Ted [for sleeping with Barney]. She comes forward and she’s honest in a way that Barney wasn’t. We thought that earned her a lot of points. And we also did a scene in the very next episode where Ted says that it wasn’t just about the fact that Robin and Barney hooked up. It was about him and Barney, something deeper in their friendship. He’s trying to move forward, he’s dating a single mom, he’s trying to grow up and Barney’s still busy being legendary every night.
Is this something that’s going to go on for a while, or might they rekindle their brosomeness in the finale?
The finale explores the Barney and Ted dynamic in a way that I hope will be satisfying to everybody. There are a lot of big life events and a lot of action. There’s literally… I’m trying to figure out how to say this without giving too much away. I guess I’ll say that there are some very big moments that remind you that this is a show told 25 years in the future. You will get why the narrator would remember this particular story. Some pretty huge things happen that we’ve never seen before on the show.
My interest is definitely piqued. I won’t try to pry too many spoilers out of you, but let me ask you this: At the end of the episode in which Ted finds out about Robin and Barney’s hook up, there was a great little cliffhanger moment where the narrator says, oh wait, Aunt Robin wasn’t living in my apartment on my 30th birthday, that was the year after. Can you shed any more light on this tease?
That was playing around with the fact that this is a guy who is telling the story so many years in the future, and he jumbles it up in his memory a little bit. He can be an unreliable narrator. I can say that [that tease] is exactly what it sounds like. Robin and Ted will live together at some point in the future. He’s misremembering the chronology of the story, but it’s pretty explicitly stated there. That was sort of a sneak peek. I don’t want to say how or why or under what circumstances it happens, but we like the idea that our show can do things like that, have this [narrator] kind of get the chronology wrong and accidentally tease forward to new dynamics that we plan to get to in the future. We’re happy to have a season four to be able to execute all these plans.
Will we learn more about Ted and Robin living together in the finale?
That specific thing, you’ll have to watch next season to learn more about. People will enjoy the finale in terms of the Barney and Ted and the Barney and Robin stuff. That’s the main focus and a lot of events shift around in their lives quite a bit. I’m very glad we have a pickup because we’re going to be weaving a lot of interesting questions into the finale and it would have really sucked to not be able to pick up on that.
So it’s cliffhanger-ish?
Yeah. It’s probably our cliffhangeriest episode ever.
We must chat about Sarah Chalke, because she’s been so awesome as Ted’s new girlfriend, Stella. I know she’s back for the finale, but will we definitely see her next year?
We don’t have anything in writing, but we’re working on it right now. We have a few different thoughts in mind moving forward, depending on her availability and logistics. Our plan and our desire is to see quite a bit more of her. We thought she was fantastic on the show and definitely part of why our back nine sort of elevated the whole season.
I’m happy about the Scrubs pickup, but it probably screwed up your plans a little bit, no?
Actually, it’s not as big of an obstacle as you might think, because Scrubs is shooting straight through the Summer, so they’re going to finish all their episodes right about the time we would start back up.
That’s good to hear. Tell me, do you have the whole mother thing mapped out at this point, or are you still debating in the writers room?
We know what we’d like to do. We’ve had a plan since the pilot and we actually shot a little piece of it at the beginning of season two, using the kids, because we knew if we waited until the finale of the series, the kids would have aged like six years. So yeah, part of our plan for how we want to end it all has already been done.
Are you aware that some people still talk about Ted’s old girlfriend Victoria being the mother? Is there any chance we’ll ever see her again?
We loved Ashley Williams on the show, we thought she was great. The nice thing about How I Met Your Mother is that you don’t ever know if the killer is really dead. You know, we never fully close the door on anybody on this show. This whole series is essentially a mystery and you need to have a lot of choices to keep that mystery alive. We’ve actually talked about bringing Victoria back a couple of times. We haven’t done it yet, but yeah, we could see her again.
And of course the door is open for Miss Britney Spears to return, too?
Last Monday’s episode definitely ended in a way where we feel like she’s still obsessed with Ted, so our only question is, is there a good story reason to [have her return]. We liked that, in this last episode, Britney’s role actually had a story purpose. It picked up on a loose end with who was stalking Barney, so there was a good reason to make it happen. If we don’t feel like there’s another opportunity like that, we won’t [bring her back], but if there’s a good story way to do it, we’d love to have her. We like her as Ted’s adorable stalker.
As you said, the finale will focus heavily on Ted, Barney and Robin, but can you tease to anything Lily and Marshall-related? I heard Marshall may be begging for his job back. And how about the crooked apartment? Will they ever move in?
We’re going to see more about that in season four. Marshall and Lily will start to think about their future, and potential parenthood. We’ll see how that’s complicated by the financial hold they’re in. They’re obsessed with making this doomed apartment work so they can start their next chapter there.
Has there been any talk about the next time Marshall is going to slap Barney?
[Laughs] It’s funny, we’ve got like a million different ideas of how to do that. The writers were joking that it would be great if there was no buildup to it whatsoever, the scene is totally about something else and Marshall just slaps him out of nowhere and then just moves past it like it’s nothing. I don’t know that we’ll definitely do that, but I like the idea that it could happen at any point.