'How I Met Your Mother': Robin Sparkles makes a 'racy' return
When it comes to CBS' “How I Met Your Mother,” there are two things guaranteed to get fans in a tizzy. The first involves clues about the identity of the mother. The second is Robin Sparkles, the failed Canadian pop star alter-ego of Cobie Smulders' character, Robin Scherbatsky, who made her first appearance in the ridiculously catchy, '80s-esque music video “Let's Go to the Mall.” With her “cool graffiti coat,” jelly bracelets and a robot at her side, Robin Sparkles promised to “rock your body 'til Canada Day.”
“I love that it caught on,” says executive producer Craig Thomas. “When we were first writing that, we’re like, 'Have we lost our minds? Is this just insane?'”
In this case, insanity -- and the simple question, “What if Alanis Morissette had those songs in Canada and was just a complete failure after that?” says Thomas -- bred genius. Robin Sparkles returned in Season 3 with the ballad “Sandcastles in the Sand,” the video for which featured cameos from Alan Thicke and Tiffany.
“That feels like an honest arc of, like, a very short-lived pop career,” says Thomas. “Like the big, catchy hit single, the failed attempt at a ballad, and then who knows where the hell they went.”
Viewers know where Robin ended up, but in tonight's episode, “Glitter,” they'll discover the start of Robin Sparkles' journey. After teasing a variety show last season, featuring the pop star and Thicke, Robin Sparkles makes her much anticipated return thanks to the doing of –- who else? -– Barney Stinson (Neil Patrick Harris).
It turns out Robin Sparkles got her start in a kids' variety show called “Space Teens” about “Canadian teens in outer space using math to solve problems.” But Robin's friends find that the show -- which features a song that Thomas describes as “annoyingly catchy,” “not a little bit disturbing” and most closely resembling “Sweet Caroline” by Neil Diamond -- is maybe a little too racy for children.
“The big question in the episode is, 'Is this song racy and disturbing? Or is it completely innocent and sweet?' ” teases Thomas, adding, “It’s a sweet song about friendship that can be pretty easily construed as also sort of disgusting and wrong.... The rest of the group are pretty horrified when they watch it.” Robin, meanwhile, is in denial about the show's raciness, according to Smulders. “The whole thing is like a play on sexual innuendos. It's just very racy,” she says. “I don't believe it is. I feel like it's a kids show about education, but in fact, it's very dirty.” Thomas plans to “let the viewers decide for themselves and see how many angry letters we get or not.”
Robin Sparkles' partner in crime in the double entendre fest is Jessica Glitter (the Pussycat Dolls' Nicole Scherzinger). Scherzinger was cast in the part after impressing the producers and Smulders in a production of “Rent,” directed by Neil Patrick Harris, at the Hollywood Bowl this past summer. “We’re like in our mid-30s and all we do is work, so we didn’t know who she was,” says Thomas. “I mean, we were like, 'Who is that girl? She’s going to be a star.' ”
Glitter and Sparkles were once costars and best friends, but not so anymore. “[The episode] explores how and why they stopped being best friends, and why Robin hasn’t seen Glitter the last five years,” says Thomas. For Smulders, a sidekick was a welcome addition. “It was really cool having Nicole Scherzinger onboard because I'd never had, like, a partner,” she says. “You could be in it with someone else, having fun, coming up with different bits with each other.”
Thicke also appears on “Space Teens” as the captain of the ship, who “is sometimes in hologram, sometimes there in real life, sometimes on the screen behind us,” says Smulders. “They did a really good job of making it seem very budget, which it was.”
“We built this space ship set with, like, two stories and, like, a bat-pole-type thing that they slide down,” describes Thomas. “It’s one of the coolest sets, I think, that we’ve ever built on the show. It looks like a space coach. Or it looks like this cheesy '80s show, even though it was shot in the early '90s in Canada.”
For Smulders, putting on the familiar Robin Sparkles clothes and blond wig -– “It makes me look very young. Once I hit, like, 40, I'm going to go blond,” she says –- for this third installment “just felt right.” “I always love it when we do Robin Sparkles stuff because you get to play like a cartoon version of yourself, I feel, or of your character,” she says. And Smulders isn't worried about the fact that between the Sparkles videos and her recent adult diapers commercial, Robin's got quite the embarrassing clip reel. “I think that she has the ability, like all Canadians, I should say, to laugh at ourselves and to not take ourselves too seriously,” she says.
Smulders' and Thomas' enthusiasm and affection for the character –- “The Robin Sparkles stuff is some of our favorite stuff we’ve ever done in the series,” says Thomas –- leads to the question: Are there more chapters in the saga?
“I don’t want to promise another Robin Sparkles, and I don’t want to rule it out either because we’ve had a couple of little ideas here or there of other ways to go back in it,” says Thomas. “But I will say this: We wouldn’t ever dare go back to Robin Sparkles after this unless we had a really new and different way of doing it because, to us, that’s the bar we’ve set. Each one of them has to be different from the other in some important way and worth doing.”
Until then, let's go to the mall, everybody!
Don't forget to come back to Show Tracker after tonight's episode to check out my recap of “Glitter.”
— Vlada Gelman (follow my TV musings on Twitter at @stayingin)
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Photos: Robin Sparkles (Cobie Smulders) on “Space Teens"; Robin is joined by Jessica Glitter (Nicole Scherzinger) and Alan Thicke as himself on the variety show. Credit: Ron P. Jaffe / Fox.