Cover Story

How They Get Each Other

By Marc D. Allan
Special to The Washington Post
Sunday, April 13, 2008

The creators of "How I Met Your Mother" long maintained that once the promise of the title is met -- that is, once the character Ted Mosby encounters his future wife -- the show is over.

But not so fast. Co-creator Carter Bays says the series doesn't necessarily have to end that way.

"We've been coy about it, we've gone back and forth about it, but there is no reason why this story ends the moment he meets her," he said.

The series, scheduled to finish its third season May 19, is loosely based on the lives of Bays and co-creator Craig Thomas. It's narrated from more than 30 years in the future, with middle-aged Ted (voiced by Bob Saget) telling his teenage children how he and their mother first crossed paths.

The stories are told in flashbacks, so viewers mostly see 20-something Ted (Josh Radnor) and his pals -- ex-girlfriend Robin (Cobie Smulders); pickup artist Barney (Neil Patrick Harris); and the happily married Lily (D.C. native Alyson Hannigan) and Marshall (Jason Segel).

In the narration, Ted has referred to the lead female characters as Aunt Lily and Aunt Robin, making clear that neither is the future matriarch in question. Though the show has hinted at her identity a couple of times, it's not going to be revealed this season.

But Bays and Thomas have plenty of other stories to tell. This week, Marshall gets shouted down by his boss, "Artillery Arthur" (guest star Bob Odenkirk) -- or, as Segel put it, "The wheel of abuse finally lands on Marshall." The traumatic moment leads to the end of Marshall's brief career as a high-paid corporate lawyer and sets him back on course to become a do-gooding environmental lawyer.

Segel, whose movie "Forgetting Sarah Marshall" opens Friday, said he's happy to see his character on track again.

"Marshall has such a pure heart, so I like to see him achieve his goals," he said. "I'm happy he ends up turning his back on the corporate world. I'm very proud of him.

"And I'm glad we get to see me at work. You get to see Marshall in 'schlubby husband' mode most of the time. It's nice to see me in a suit. I'm finally suiting up."

Marshall's turnabout is one of several that "How I Met Your Mother" viewers will see as this season winds down. The overarching story will be that Ted, whose romantic relationship with Robin ended at the end of last season, comes out of his tailspin. In the process, he begins to question why he hangs around with a lothario like Barney.

"Ted had been turning into Barney, so we're putting him back on track as the nice guy we all fell in love with in the first place," Bays said. "The second half of the season will move him a little closer to what Marshall and Lily have, but as a result, it will make him question having a Barney in his life. Some big events will put that in motion."

Also coming up this season, Robin will revisit her teenage alter ego, '80s pop starlet Robin Sparkles, who starred last season in an upbeat, deliciously silly music video called "Let's Go to the Mall." This time, the "HIMYM" gang will discover another video -- but this one is a love ballad filled with teen angst.

"It's an episode about how when your first love comes back, someone you had a strong relationship with, you return to the person you were back then," Smulders said.

The Canadian-born Smulders said she relishes the chance to again wear Robin Sparkles's jelly bracelets and cool graffiti coat.

"I love getting to play Robin -- a Canadian pop star, an anchorwoman for a ridiculous news station and this girl who is more of a tomboy than anything," she said. "I feel very lucky."

As do many people connected with "How I Met Your Mother." The show's move to 8:30 p.m. in early March improved its ratings, and a March 24 guest appearance by Britney Spears gave the series its largest audience of the season, 10.6 million viewers -- a 35 percent spike.

Bays promised that "earthquakes are coming" in the story lines. But the mother stays out of the picture. For now.



8:30 p.m., CBS

What's Ahead

"HIMYM" airs six more new episodes before the end of the season.

Robin (Cobie Smulders, left) will reprise her Season 2 alter ego, Robin Sparkles. And Marshall (Jason Segel, above) reverts to an earlier career course.

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