Post Mortems

How I Met Your Father Finale Shocker: Inside HIMYM Star's Top-Secret Return

The following contains spoilers from the Season 1 finale of How I Met Your Father.

Hulu’s How I Met Your Father returns to its roots with its Season 1 finale, as Hilary Duff’s Sophie Tompkins wanders into MacLaren’s Pub from How I Met Your Mother and crosses paths with none other than Canada’s greatest export, Robin Scherbatsky (played, of course, by Cobie Smulders). The famed news reporter buys Sophie a scotch — hi, Carl the Bartender! — then offers the young woman some sage relationship advice while seated at her favorite booth:

“Do not waste your time being scared,” she tells her. “Fear can make you run away from things that could be good — great, even! Things that are supposed to be a part of your story…. I have been married, I have been single, I have been everything in between, and the only decisions I regret making are the ones I made out of fear.”

The advice speaks not only to Sophie’s current predicament involving Jesse, but also to Robin’s own love story, which remains a work in progress. In the year 2022, she is six years removed from her marriage to Barney and eight years away from rekindling her relationship with Ted.

In separate interviews, TVLine spoke with HIMYF creators Isaac Aptaker and Elizabeth Berger, as well as HIMYM director/exec producer Pam Fryman, who continues in both of those roles on HIMYF and directed Smulders’ return, about the top-secret homecoming.

TVLINE | Ahead of air, you all stressed how important it was to distinguish Father from Mother. With that in mind, I imagine there was quite a bit of discussion about when it would be appropriate to have original cast members back and how you wanted to incorporate them into this new show, right?
FRYMAN | We certainly had those discussions about who we should have come back, when should that happen, all of that kind of stuff. We hope to be on for a while and we hope to see a lot of old friends, but we didn’t want to front-load anything. Cobie just fit so seamlessly into the story that we were telling.

TVLINE | How early into the writing of Season 1 did you come up with the idea to have Robin appear in the finale?
BERGER | That was something we started hoping for and wishing for pretty early on. As she’s navigating her romantic journey and attempting to come into her own, we loved the idea of Sophie crossing paths with someone who is so pivotal and such a presence from the original. The idea that she would actually get advice and feedback from Robin just seemed so tremendously exciting.

How I Met Your FatherTVLINE | Who picked up the phone and called Cobie?
FRYMAN | [Original series co-creator] Craig [Thomas] reached out to Cobie first, and she was like, “When do you need me?” She said yes immediately. She couldn’t wait.
APTAKER | She had no sort of hesitation. She has so much love for Robin. We had that idea that she would be, sort of… passing the torch and giving some wisdom to the next generation, and I think she really loved the idea of that dynamic with Hilary.

TVLINE | Of HIMYM‘s core five, I was positive Cobie would be toughest to nail down, if only due to her Marvel commitments.
FRYMAN | It’s impressive, too. We had to shoot it early…

TVLINE | How early?
FRYMAN | Maybe after the first few episodes? It was definitely early… because she was going to London to shoot Marvel stuff. So we shot it quite some time ago, and we managed to keep it a secret.

TVLINE | You took additional measures to conceal the returns of Kyle MacLachlan (The Captain) and Laura Bell Bundy (Becky), including turning off the live feeds for those working from home and redacting script pages. I imagine those same measures were implemented to keep Cobie’s homecoming under wraps?
How I Met Your FatherBERGER | We definitely turned off the feeds…
APTAKER | We took out the scenes from the finale script that went out to the studio and to the network, so it was, like, half length, then [those pages featuring Cobie as Robin] went to a very limited group.

TVLINE | Did you have a table read, virtual or in person, where you first got to hear Cobie back in character as Robin?
FRYMAN | No, we sent the script to her. Craig and [fellow HIMYM co-creator] Carter [Bays] handled that. They really were quite present during that. We waited until she showed up [on set], and I sat down with Cobie and Hilary to hear [the scenes]. For Cobie, it took her four-to-five seconds to be totally back in it.

TVLINE | Was it a quick shoot?
BERGER | We did shoot it all in one day. It was pretty fast. I mean, everyone involved is such a pro. Pam moves so swiftly, and Cobie seemed to fall back into her old rhythms in absolutely no time. Hilary was having the time of her life and was so locked in, so it was a really swift, wonderful day. And then she was out of there.
APTAKER | Cobie’s been doing bigger things — single-cam, movies, action stuff — and she was like, “Why did I ever leave this? I get to be home and feed my kids dinner. This is crazy!” [Laughs]

TVLINE | Pam, I can’t begin to imagine what it must have been like for you, to be back on that set in particular, with Cobie, all these years later…
FRYMAN | I was in New York [four years ago] shooting the Murphy Brown reboot, and I got to watch Candice Bergen and all of them come in and see her house again, and all of those sets — but I wasn’t a part of the original; I was a fly on the wall. I thought, “Oh my God, what an emotional time. I can’t imagine what that must be like.” Cut to being back in MacLaren’s. It’s a really special thing. And you never think that’s going to happen. I never would have thought that I would be doing this show at this time. It’s so different, yet there’s so much connective tissue that is such a part of my heart that makes it so specifically wonderful for me. Even more than that, there was something about watching Cobie walk into MacLaren’s. It was just such a great moment to be a part of.

How I Met Your FatherTVLINE | Did you and Cobie have a moment to reflect on the experience — not only of being back inside MacLaren’s, but being a part of this sequel series and the roles you’ve played in establishing what is now a franchise?
FRYMAN | Absolutely — and by the way, not just with her. I’ve had that conversation with other members of the cast, as well. That’s the beauty of the relationships we all have now. I include Carter and Craig in this. Everybody is rooting for everybody, always, in such a big way, so when this [sequel series] happened in such a promising way, everybody was just thrilled. I mean, I keep texting them and going, “Season 10! We could do it guys!” Jason [Segel] is always the first one to go “I’m in, just tell me where to show up.” But yes, Cobie and I have talked about that a bunch. It’s kind of unbelievable, just unreal.

TVLINE | Isaac and Elizabeth, while neither of you were involved with the original series, surely you must have felt that this was a special day. What was this experience like for the two of you?
BERGER | It was very emotional [for us], and I think very emotional and surreal for Cobie as well, just to be back on that set, to be directed by Pam, to see crew members that she knows and loves… and for us, it was cool to just take a step back and watch these reunions, and also get to be a part of it and bring these people back together.
APTAKER | It was really cool to see Pam directing Cobie again. You could tell these were people who worked together for nine seasons, because they just have this shorthand, where Pam would barely get out half a sentence and Cobie would know exactly what the note was. And then afterwards, all of our crew from How I Met Your Father who worked on the original all got together on the MacLaren’s set and took a picture.
FRYMAN | There are enough of us on stage, behind the scenes [from the original series that it was] like a high school reunion…. The other thing that’s so special is that Isaac and Elizabeth had never met Cobie before she came to the set; they’d literally never seen each other in person. She came in and she was so happy to meet them, and so excited for what they had created. And in as much as she knows Robin backward and forward, she was like, “Tell me what you want,” so we all got to talk about it and it didn’t take long. Hilary was delighted, and I left them alone for a little bit so that they could have time together. Because in as much as Robin was giving Sophie advice, I felt that Cobie could talk to Hilary about this process, and everything that had happened.

How I Met Your FatherTVLINE | Was that the original MacLaren’s set, or did you have to rebuild it from scratch?
APTAKER | That was the original set… but our production design and set decoration team had to do a pretty heroic job, because the bigger elements were all that was there. It was really just the walls and the booths. They had all these archived photos of the original set [to work off of], and that set is pretty complicated — there’s murals and photos everywhere — and they had to go about recreating everything that wasn’t just the the bones.

TVLINE | We’ve mentioned Carter and Craig already. How much of a hand did they have in shaping Robin’s scenes and dialogue?
BERGER | Carter and Craig weighed in on these scenes heavily. It was very important to them, and we were in total agreement, that even though Robin is between romances at this moment in time, she doesn’t seem sad, she doesn’t seem depressed. This is a woman that is extremely comfortable with her choices that she’s made in life. She takes each stage of life and kicks its ass.

TVLINE | At the same time, Robin appears to be in a very reflective state of mind. A part of what she says — about how “timing is everything” — feels like it speaks to the ending of HIMYM, and her relationship with Ted. Perhaps she has some regrets about letting him get away because of bad timing?
FRYMAN | I agree. More than anything, I think when when she walks into that bar, there are ghosts of her past. She’s sitting at the bar, and she takes that glance over to that booth… and she talks about how somebody said that he loved her on their first date. It’s all of that. We all walk into places where we’ve been in different times of our lives and say “What if I went this way? What if I went that way? Should I call that person?” That’s life, and that’s what is so special about this to me. We get to see Sophie on this new journey and we get to see somebody that we’ve known and loved for so long reflecting on hers — and she’s not done yet. I mean, clearly! She’s getting together with Katie Couric and Savannah Guthrie! [Laughs]

How I Met Your MotherTVLINE | When Robin leaves MacLaren’s, she has a limo waiting outside for her. Was there any talk of having Marshall Manesh reprise his role as Ranjit?
BERGER | There was not. [Laughs] We did want people to know that she’s very successful and that she’s killing it, but no, that was not the intention.
APTAKER | He is someone that comes up a lot, though! Ranjit’s a fan favorite. Whenever we ask people who they’d love to see from the original, he’s one of the most common names mentioned.

TVLINE | Robin stops short of referring to any of her old friends — Ted, Marshall, Lily or Barney — by name. Was there ever a version of the script that included more specific references to those HIMYM characters?
APTAKER | Not really. We wanted to only give out exactly enough information that was necessary and made sense for this scene. I mean, we’re making a lot more of these, with this double-sized Season 2 order, so we have a lot more opportunity to learn about what our How I Met Your Mother characters are up to. We didn’t want to give too much away in this one episode.

TVLINE | What has bringing Robin back taught you about how you’d like to approach bringing other HIMYM characters into the HIMYF fold? Will they always be used to impart wisdom onto the next generation?
APTAKER | I don’t think they always necessarily have to come back to teach a lesson or impart wisdom. What worked really well about Robin’s return is that she was essential to the story, and was key in Sophie’s decision making and what happened next in Sophie’s life. So I think whenever we would bring someone back from the original, the hope would be that they would play an essential role in our story and not just feel like they’re there to say “hey” and see what whoever is up to.

How I Met Your FatherTVLINE | What does the timing of Robin’s return accomplish, in terms of curbing fans’ expectations for additional Easter eggs in Season 2 (and potentially beyond)?
FRYMAN | We got to reveal the apartment in the pilot, which was… I mean, you can imagine when I first read the pilot and I’m like, “New show, totally respect that, this is fantastic,” and then “Oh my God!” But I do think it’s important — look, as much as Carter and Craig were a part of this, and I’m a part of this, this is Isaac and Elizabeth’s baby. They are very talented and have their own stories to tell… and there’s nothing more important to me than establishing that and giving them the show they have conceived and deserve. But for those of us who are fans of the old show, there is nothing more delightful than a line here or there, whether it’s about a couple from Wesleyan or whatever, and you go, “Oh, I get it.” But if we did anything earlier, anything big like bring Cobie on, then you’re always waiting for the next thing and it takes away [from the experience]. This show is worthy of standing on its own without that. To get through this first season and have so many people watch and so many people enjoy it, you go, “You know what, you guys have been so wonderful. Here’s a little something you didn’t see coming.” I mean, come on! How great is that? It’s a gift instead of a promise.

What did you think of Smulders’ surprise return as Robin? And the HIMYF finale overall? Grade the episode (and Season 1 as a whole), then drop a comment with your full review.