Critic’s NotesHow 'How I Met Your Mother' dealt with 2 pregnant stars,and what's coming next on the comedy
By Maureen Ryan, Chicago Tribune
TV critic, in her blog “The Watcher”
This season, “How I Met Your Mother
” (7:30 p.m. Central, Monday, CBS) could have been called “How We Tried to Hide Two Pregnancies.”
Last year, after production had begun on the fourth season of the CBS comedy, Alyson Hannigan, who plays Lily, announced she was pregnant. Weeks later, Cobie Smulders, who plays Robin, shared the same news. Hannigan gave birth to a daughter in March, and Smulders is due soon.
“We were expecting it with Alyson at some point. With Cobie, it was much more unexpected, but it was delightful,” said Craig Thomas, executive producer and co-creator of the show, which also stars Neil Patrick Harris, Jason Segel and Josh Radnor. “After the shock wore off, we found a way to write around it or have fun with it.”
The actresses have been carrying large handbags, wearing loose clothing and using all the usual midriff-hiding tricks, given that their characters are not pregnant on the show. But, as Thomas says, “HIMYM” has also been “winking at the audience” by “hiding” Hannigan’s pregnancy in ways that actually drew attention to it, for those in the know.
In recent scenes, the shape of Hannigan’s mid-section was intentionally echoed by a globe or by the rack of basketballs she stood behind. And at one point, after winning an eating contest, Lily showed off her bulging tummy (which many viewers knew had a baby inside it, not an excess of food).
The writers’ attitude was “why be subtle about it—let’s make an extra joke out of it,” Thomas said.
And despite a few challenges presented by the real-life pregnancies, "HIMYM" has been on a roll lately. The much-improved "Big Bang Theory" and "HIMYM" make for a dependably pleasing comedy block on Mondays.
Still, Thomas said it has been the “weirdest” season of “HIMYM.” Episodes were shot out of order and Hannigan only appears in three of the five “HIMYM” episodes that close out the show’s season—her scenes in Monday’s outing, in the May 11 episode and in the May 18 season finale were shot months ago.
“Quite honestly, this show is about these five people,” said Pamela Fryman, who has directed almost every episode of “HIMYM.” “Those five people needed to be there.”
Other adjustments had to be made as well. Some ideas for "Lily stories" were put on the back burner, and the writers came up with the story line for an episode with a complicated timeline -- the kind of episode that has become a hallmark of "HIMYM." But that story ended up being too too ambitious to shoot this season, and it too went into a file of ideas for Season 5 (though no official announcement has been made yet, CBS is expected to renew the show, thank goodness).
Fryman said she tried to shoot the women from the front whenever possible, but certain scenes had to be re-arranged to hide the pregnancies. For example, in the May 4 episode, Robin talks to another character through the pass-through window in the kitchen of Ted's apartment, which wasn't the original plan for that scene.
"Tuesday at the run-though it was fine, but then on Wednesday, Cobie was, like, astronomically more pregnant," Thomas said. "I don't think we've ever done a scene through the pass-through before, but even that wasn't enough. We had to put a bowl of fruit" in front of her.
But the desire to hide those expanding midsections also led to some inspired moments. "The Front Porch," an episode in which the gang wore pajamas and bathrobes as they attempted to stay awake to watch Robin's morning show on TV, featured Marshall's amusing defense of the wearing of old-fashioned nightshirts and the debut of Barney's pajama "suit."
Still, that episode also ended up presenting challenges of its own, especially in a scene in which Lily and Ted (Radnor) have a big argument and ignore the chaos that is erupting on the TV behind them.
Smulders had a quite a few physical scenes in "The Front Porch" -- "She was almost at the point where she could not do those bits anymore," Thomas said -- and shooting Hannigan in front of the television proved to be a complicated affair.
"It was a long, technical shot and she was getting sick that week," Thomas said. "She was a amazing and she went as long as she could. But there were moments when she was like, 'I must sit down now.'"
Given that there are often dozens of scenes in one episode of "HIMYM," "this is just not an easy job all the time," Fryman said. "They were incredibly good sports."
And it was fun to come up with comedic ways to “hide” the pregnancy, Fryman said.
“Why not,” she said with a laugh. “We are a comedy. We’re not doing a documentary or a one-hour drama.”
"A lot of that was not written or planned," Thomas said. "They were Pam's ideas."
Still, “HIMYM” did try to keep the pregnancies from being too obvious. “For Alyson, it was a lot of winter coats. Cobie’s getting stuck with the warmer months, so she gets the dry cleaning, She takes everyone’s clothes to the cleaners,” said Fryman. “And we have the biggest purses of any show on the air.”
Though Thomas said it was crucial to have Hannigan in the finale, he added that the absence of Lily for a couple of upcoming episodes allowed the writers to explore Marshall and Barney’s friendship. And Barney’s secret love for Robin, which viewers learned about late in Season 3, will get more screen time in coming weeks.
And as Season 4 comes to a close, the show will revisit the idea of the unplanned "pivot points" in life that bring people to their destinies. That theme will play out with most prominently with Ted, who will be more idealistic and "sweet" in those final episodes. "HIMYM" has had great fun mocking Ted's pompous tendencies this season, but Thomas said that side of Ted would be dialed back, especially in the last three episodes of the season.
"We do get concerned about that," Thomas said. "Sometimes it's fun to write fussy, pretentious Ted. But that kind of joke can stack up and can maybe go too far. What rescues it is that we'll see a different side of Ted" -- the romantic, optimistic Ted of the first season.
And what about Ted's love life? The title of the show does mention of it, after all.
"Something happens that places him closer to the mother than he has ever been," Thomas said.Below are fun extra facts about "HIMYM." The first section does not contain plot information about upcoming episodes. The second part does have some plot info. Enjoy!FUN EXTRA FACTS (NO PLOT INFO)·
Here's the rundown of episodes for the final stretch of the season: Monday -- a new episode (with Hannigan); April 20 -- no new episode; April 27 -- a new episode (without Hannigan); May 4 -- a new episode (without Hannigan); May 11 -- a new episode (with Hannigan); May 18 -- season finale (with Hannigan).·
The episode that revolves around the gang having to guess which Canadian celebrity propositioned Robin with a bizarre sex act was actually based on a real incident that happened to a friend of the show's writers. Having been told the story -- about a real (American) celebrity with a strange collection and also a strange sex proposition -- the writers spent days using a white board trying to figure out who it was, what the person collected and what the sex act was. "After not getting work done for all this time, it was like, 'Wait, why don't we do this?'" as an episode of the show, Thomas said.·
The reason that Lily and Marshall had a "psychic conversation" in the episode "Murtaugh" was because Hannigan had laryngitis and couldn't talk.·
The story of Marshall's devotion to nightshirts came from staff writer Chuck Tatham, who casually mentioned that he liked to wear them sometimes. "He had no shame about it. He was zero percent embarrassed," Thomas said. "We made him show us the Web site where he orders them. It was just dudes in nightshirts. It was such a funny visual. And he was like, 'Look how many testimonials there are!' But none of them came from people under 65. We were like, 'You're not helping your case here.'"·
Thomas on finding the balance between sweet Ted and slightly d-baggy Ted: "We find college Ted so funny and even at 31, he is already kind of a dad. He's telling cheesy dad jokes and it's like he's almost skipped ahead in life. But life tells you you don't get to skip ahead. I think in the next few episodes, you see more of the optimist side of Ted. He's a dreamer, like Lloyd Dobler [from 'Say Anything'] or Jimmy Stewart. He dreams big and has big aspirations. He's more the guy we met in the pilot -- likable and sweet."FUN EXTRA FACTS (WITH SOME FAIRLY VAGUE PLOT INFORMATION)·
The April 13 episode delves further into Ted's career crisis and his attempt to establish his own company (perhaps he and Michael Scott should join forces?).·
We'll see more on the Robin and Barney front soon. "Lily was the only one who really knew about Barney's feelings for Robin. Ted maybe had a hint of it in 'Benefits' but not much [actual information. Soon] we'll see Barney's feelings for Robin come out in an interesting way, to someone other than Lily," Thomas said.·
In an upcoming episode, Barney is about to hit his 200th conquest, a "huge milestone" in his life. But "that's actually kind of unimpressive given how many swings that guy takes. He's kind of like a crappy relief pitcher, in terms of his batting average," Thomas said.·
In that episode, Marshall, who has become obsessed with charts, has Goliath National Bank's graphics department come up with visual proof of Barney's weak overall performance with women. One of "HIMYM's" writers, Chris Harris, also used to work on David Letterman's show with Thomas and co-creator Carter Bays, and in the "HIMYM" episode, Harris got to use a bit written for Letterman's "Charts and Graphs" segment that was never used on that show.·
There's a debate in an upcoming episode over the "don't call a woman until three days later" rule, which Barney contends has a Biblical basis.·
The final episodes of the season will take the show "back to this idea of destiny -- all the little random things that weren't in your plan but looking back," you realize they brought your life to a certain crucial point. There's a "pivot point" late in the season that leads Ted to the place he needs to go in order to meet mother of the show's title, Thomas said.·
The episode that had to be shelved until Season 5 revolves around Ted, who recalls during a "tense" date, that he dated the same woman once seven years ago and neither one of them remembers it. "It's very HIMYM-y' and plays with time and you see them in 2002 and in 2009. But you'll have to wait until Season 5 to see it," Thomas said.http://featuresblogs.chicagotribune.com/