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'How I Met Your Mother': 'A lot is going to change and get complicated,' says co-creator Craig Thomas

October 25, 2010 |  7:00 am

99506_FOX_0462b It's been a season of growing pains for CBS' “How I Met Your Mother,” but not in the way that you think. After an uneven fifth season, the show has rebounded with a stronger focus, returning to the emotional and romantic journeys that make “How I Met Your Mother” more than just a sitcom.

“We had a ton of fun in Season 5, and I think we definitely did some, in my mind, series classics that year,” says co-creator Craig Thomas. “But there was, without a doubt, less of an overarching story for the whole season.” Thomas says the writers wanted to get back to the “larger emotional arcs that make us care about these characters and love these characters and invest in their journeys.”

“We also wanted to sort of start to tweak the mother mythology in a new way,” he adds, referring to the wedding glimpsed in the season premiere. It turned out not to be Ted's wedding, but he would meet his future wife that day. “We really like kind of reframing that mystery and kind of creating a new mystery and a new way to get to it.”

Now that “Mother” is back on track, it's the characters who are going through growing pains as they get older and contemplate their careers, parenthood, love, marriage, etc. Recently, Thomas spoke with Show Tracker about how Barney's (Neil Patrick Harris) search for his dad -- are you there, John Slattery? It's me, Barney -- will play into his growth arc; Ted's (Josh Radnor) new nemesis, Zoey (Jennifer Morrison); Robin's (Cobie Smulders) career' Marshall (Jason Segel) and Lily's (Alyson Hannigan) trials and tribulations in getting pregnant, his favorite crazy fan theory and more. We also talked about that upcoming wedding and whether Barney and Robin could one day walk down the aisle.

Is the wedding something we’re going to see and get a sense about throughout the season?
We’re definitely going to go back to it and see some more hints and clues and tantalizing, interesting information that I, of course, cannot, annoyingly, speak about at all right now. 

Some people have been speculating since Ted’s the best man, it’s got to be Robin's and Barney’s wedding. One of them or both of them. Anything you'd like to say about that?
I love it. I love that people are speculating about that. I love it. I’ve had friends and family e-mail me and ask me that question. I’ll say to you what I say to them, which is, I can’t tell you. But I love it. I’m glad that people are interested in thinking that.

People just won’t give up on Barney and Robin.
People love Barney and Robin, dude! And those two actors have amazing chemistry. Breaking them up last season was always going to upset some people and please others no matter when we broke them up or not. To me, those two actors have such chemistry, and I did love those two characters together. I would never rule out something more sparking between them. And that’s what we said at the time when people were asking us, “Oh, did you break them up too early?” I just feel like...keep watching.

99749_D0023bWe have gotten some little scenes here and there this season that kind of imply there’s still some feelings there on Barney’s side maybe. He let Robin win the race.
I think Barney loves Robin. Whether or not Barney is ready to settle down, which he certainly didn’t -- it didn’t feel like Barney was ready to settle down in the early part of Season 5. That would have, to me, not been honest to who that character is. But I wouldn’t rule out -- I mean, to us, what’s really interesting this season is getting into the question of Barney and his father that he’s never met. ... We’re going to talk more about this new mystery of, “Who’s Barney’s father? And is Barney ready to begin that journey?” There's some great new stuff we’re going to play for Barney coming up in the next batch of episodes that will air in the first half of this season. It’s really interesting stuff, and it’s really different stuff for Barney. It’s not just Barney having schemes to meet ladies. We’re getting a little bit deeper into Barney’s backstory, and Barney growing up a little bit and deciding part of that journey is to go find his father. So that’s been a really interesting thing to begin, an interesting journey to begin for him. I think we’re going to see him come out of the season a little bit changed, a little bit grown up. And I wouldn’t rule out Barney starting, as he now gets in his mid 30s, to at least to think about what his future would be and would that include growing up enough to get married, or settle down, or anything like that. I think we’re going to see him start to think about those things.

I can’t wait to see who you cast as his father. Somebody on Twitter suggested John Slattery from “Mad Men,” and I was like, “Well, he does suit up very well.”
You know what’s funny? Someone here pitched that too, and we looked him up and John Slattery is about 11 years older than Neil [Patrick Harris]. [Laughs] John Slattery is ridiculously not that much older than Neil is. He’s one of those guys who has the gray hair and he looks very distinguished. He's not much older than Neil, but as soon as someone pitched it, we were like, “That’s an amazingly great idea.” Then we looked up how old he is and were like, “Hmmm. That’s not going to work.” But he is phenomenal. We’d make it work if he wanted to do it. [Laughs]

We’ve also seen Robin get more serious about her relationships. Do you think her position on marriage and children has changed?
Robin's kind of in a place, for the first half of this season, of having been burned in the season finale last year, having been a bit hurt. She’s kind of going to dive back into more career stuff and start to have more and more insecurities about, “Where is my career going?” And -- I think I can say, but I don’t want to sort of give anything away -- in the middle of the season we’re going to see Robin do a very big shift in her career and kind of take a new leap and go in a different direction, which is really exciting. 

There’s going to be a lot happening for all the characters in the middle of this season. There’s going to be some pretty big shakeups, and we’re going to do some stuff on the show we’ve never done before. ... All the characters are going to spin off on to some pretty juicy new tracks. It’s very hard not to be horribly vague about this. [Laughs] But the middle of the season, a lot is going to sort of change and get complicated for all of the characters. And Robin's track isn’t, at that point, a romantic one, but she’s going to take a pretty big career leap in the middle. We’re going to see Robin get a little more legit. She’s definitely struggled in the minor leagues for many years now sort of doing like crappy local news and now a crappy local morning show with this horrible host that she hates, her co-host, Becky (Laura Bell Bundy). We’re going to see a little more of Becky this season. Robin is just going to be really driven to question where the hell her career is going. We’re going to see sort of a big shift happen off of that, which will be fun.

Last week, we met Zoey, who, it turns out, is married. How is that going to affect the relationship with Ted?
What we really liked is Ted is this romantic at heart, and he really is out there, putting himself out there, trying to find the magical, perfect person. We like the idea of him, not only does he not find her in this woman, but he actually creates this enemy that he now has as he’s trying to go about this huge opportunity of a lifetime project of building a skyscraper in Manhattan. For a little while, he’s going to have this enemy sort of making his life pretty complicated. Like this crunchy, activist girl who won’t let him get away with what she perceives to be kind of crime against the history and architecture of New York. ... A couple of episodes from right now is kind of a great episode where Ted runs into her at this big party he goes to. We learn more about her and suddenly see her in a completely different way. She kind of turns out to be a pretty different person from who Ted thought and who we, the audience, thought. So you’re going to learn some new information about her that complicates her a little bit. Ted gets more and more intrigued by, “Who the hell is this girl?” But yes, she is married. She’s off-limits to Ted, and she’s his enemy, so that’s a lot of obstacles for Ted having any kind of friendship or more with this girl. I would say the next batch of episodes, Ted has made an enemy. This girl’s messing with him and it’s actually really fun to write poor Ted getting kind of heckled and terrorized by this girl.

Is there any chance that Zoey's lying about being married? Something about her struck me as something's off a little bit.
That’s good because she’s definitely not quite whom she seems to be in “Architect of Destruction,” and it’s kind of good. At first, she’s kind of terrorizing Ted and coming after him with all of her ideals and what she thinks is right. Then Ted kind of finds out a little more about her in a few episodes and kind of turns the tables on her a little bit. And now, Ted gets to give her some crap back, which is really fun. It’s a nice sort of sparing relationship that develops between the two of them and it’s fun.

99506_FOX_1107b With Marshall and Lily, is there a need to be realistic and push this relationship forward while also trying to postpone the inevitable in dealing with a baby in the bar? It seems like a little bit of a push and pull.
Right. I mean, yeah. This is a couple that’s been together since they were 18 years old, so it feels definitely right and honest that they would be talking about this. We didn’t want to make them have a baby by episode three of Season 6 or anything. We’re sort of just exploring that they’re in this process, that they’ve decided to take the leap and it’s just not happening right away for them. And then, like I said, in the middle of the season, some bigger stuff is going to happen that kind of complicates whether they are really going to still try or whether they’re quite ready. And it's great because we’re going to see them go through some emotional stuff that makes them kind of question how soon or not to have a kid. Marshal and Lily are not imminently about to get pregnant, but it definitely felt very honest to have them trying. I don’t want to rule anything out because we have said on the show, and the future narrator has said, that they end up having kids. Keep watching. They’re definitely trying and we will get to see them get to the point of saying, “Hey, what’s up?” and go kind of look into it a little bit. Why is this taking a little while? And all that kind of stuff. It’s going to remain on their minds. It’s definitely their main journey of the next few episodes that will air.

I think this is one of the few sitcoms, probably the only sitcom, that can say it has “Lost” levels of mythology and speculation. What’s been your favorite crazy fan theory that you’ve heard?
Oh my gosh. There have been a lot of theories that I’ve heard that I’ve enjoyed. One that I like a lot, but I can’t tell if it’s a fan theory or just something that we joke around about in the writers room. I think I’ve actually heard fans joke about it, and we’ve also joked about it, which is that in the series finale, you reveal that Ted’s telling the kids this story miles and miles below the Earth's crust because the environment has been destroyed and mankind cannot survive in the air quality upstairs anymore. Or that you just look out the window and there is just like this crazy apocalyptic battle happening between machines versus man or something. [Laughs] Some like horrifying apocalyptic version of in the year 2030 and that would be the ultimate final reveal of the show. It would be a pretty dark way to go out. I don’t think we’re leaning in that direction. But I do enjoy that theory a lot. There’s also a theory that the future Ted voiced by Bob Saget is like an escaped mental patient. He’s just holding these two kids hostage in some house in the suburbs. They’ve never seen him before. He’s just making up these stories. They are sort of playing along, but they’re really afraid for their lives. That one's an interesting theory too.

Do you guys ever talk about bringing Victoria (Ashley Williams) back? A lot of people still love her and want to know what happened to her.
She was great on the show. It was very fun for Ted to have her as a serious relationship in Season 1 and it ended kind of dark. Ted had feelings for Robin and sort of behaved in a bad way. That’s something I like about the show. The narrator can look back on it and just say, “I was an idiot. That was terrible.” [Laughs] I sort of like the honesty of we all do stupid stuff sometimes. And when you’re in your 50s, telling your kids these stories, you can go a little dark every now and again and say, “Oh, that wasn’t a good moment of my life at all. That was a terrible choice that I made.” So, yes, Victoria, we didn’t wrap that up in a neat little bow for that reason. It was just a chapter that ended badly for Ted in his late 20s, acting stupid, but ultimately led to him and Robin getting together, which was a great thing in his life. So our stupid mistakes can lead to something great. We often think about bringing Victoria back. We liked the actress a lot. And, yes, like I said, I just can’t rule anything out. But I also don’t like giving too much away.

Reader, are you excited by Thomas' teases for the rest of this season? Looking forward to seeing Robin get a legit job and Barney maturing? Share your thoughts in the comments, and don't forget to come back after watching this week's episode to check out my recap.

-- Vlada Gelman (follow my TV musings on Twitter at @stayingin)

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Photos: Marshall (Jason Segel), Lily (Alyson Hannigan) and Barney (Neil Patrick Harris) hang out at the bar; Robin (Cobie Smulders) and Barney; Lily and Marshall talk babies. Credit: Eric McCandless / FOX; Monty Brinton / CBS; Eric McCandless / FOX