How I Met Your Mother |


(Monty Brinton)

8-8:30 PM · CBS · Returns Sept. 24

Good news, kids: For season 3, ”We’re really, actually starting the story now of How I Met Your Mother,” co-creator Carter Bays announces. ”This could be the pilot of a new show.” And sure enough, there in the season premiere, we’ll meet the woman of Ted’s dreams.

Okay, fine. We see her umbrella. But it’s a start.

In May’s season finale, Ted Mosby (Josh Radnor) had just broken up with the supposed love of his life, Robin (Cobie Smulders). Apparently, he’ll be going through something of a dark phase this year. ”Basically, this is Ted’s lost weekend,” says Mother’s other creator, Craig Thomas. And who can blame the guy for acting out? Since they’ve established Robin is not the mother (no matter how many the kids are adopted/Robin has a twin-style loopholes you think you’ve figured out), we’ve witnessed their breakup — for good. This advances the story line, but it won’t be easy to finesse. ”We like the writing gymnastics that are now required,” Bays says semi-sarcastically of the struggle to justify why Robin would stick around. ”We had that debate over the summer,” admits Thomas, ”and then we realized they’ve been friends for two years. You don’t have to explain why they hang out. They just all love each other.”

More importantly, Robin’s presence should guarantee another appearance from Robin Sparkles — her ’90s Canadian teen-pop-star alter ego — and possibly a touching breakup ballad shot in black and white on a beach. The fact that so much effort has gone into the backstory of a so-called supporting role isn’t lost on Smulders. ”I think that’s a testament to our show,” she says. ”It’s about [Ted] trying to find this woman — but at the same time, it’s become about this ensemble.” To that end, newlyweds Marshall (Knocked Up’s Jason Segel) and Lily (Buffy’s Alyson Hannigan) will take tentative steps toward adulthood — including a disastrous experience with buying an apartment. And we’ll learn more about fifth-wheel Barney (played with panache by Neil Patrick Harris, who received his first-ever Emmy nomination this year) and his sordid hippie past, plus he may land a girlfriend of his own. And all the characters will face what Bays calls a ”life-changing moment,” playing into ”the ideas of this show, about destiny and free will and how little control we have over our own lives.”

Destiny, schmestiny: There’s also the continuation of the Slap Bet, a running gag from the Robin Sparkles episode in which Marshall retains permission to slap Barney three more times (out of an original five). Bays and Thomas have even installed a ”Slap Countdown” on the CBS website that’s ticking down to the last moment of the Nov. 19 episode. It’s these sorts of gags that make HIMYM so endearing — and addictive. ”We always wanted to just dork out and milk things dry,” explains Thomas. ”As is evidenced by our tendency toward catchphrases and twists on the catchphrases and building catchphrase houses of cards where ‘Penguin suit up!’ has to suddenly make sense.”

Two fabulously unexpected guest stars have signed on for the season premiere: Enrique Iglesias as Robin’s Argentinean boyfriend, and Mandy Moore as a tattooed one-night stand for Ted. ”This time last year, Mandy Moore would have been like, No,” says Bays. ”And now, people are actually taking our calls, which is cool.”

”I don’t know any sitcom on TV [these days] that can actually exhale,” Thomas says. ”We all kind of sleep with one eye open to make sure the bad men aren’t coming. Everyone says the sitcom is dead? I think the crappy sitcom is dead.” And folks on the HIMYM set seem increasingly certain they’re not one of those. ”We all love it so much, but that’s why we get sort of protective. Like ‘Guys, catch on, because we do want to keep doing this,”’ says Hannigan, one of only two cast members who’s experienced a third season before. The other, Harris, says, ”I know that CBS has high hopes. We certainly do.” Then he adds, somewhat poignantly, ”Deal or No Deal moved away.” —Whitney Pastorek

This is an online-only excerpt from the EW Fall TV Preview issue