The following contains spoilers from the Season 2 premiere of How I Met Your Father.
And you thought Cobie Smulders’ return as Robin Scherbatsky was the biggest surprise How I Met Your Father had up its sleeve.
Tuesday’s premiere marked the first appearance (keyword being first) by How I Met Your Mother‘s Neil Patrick Harris, who is reprising his Emmy-nominated role as Barney Stinson in Season 2 of the Hulu sequel series.
In the episode, Future Sophie begins to tell her son the story of how she hit “rock bottom.” We then cut back to the present timeline — albeit later in the year — to find 30-year-old Sophie driving through the suburbs, frantically trying to make contact with Lori. “Mom, please call me back,” she says. “I think I’m dating my dad!” Wait, what??
Distracted, Sophie gets into a fender bender. She gets out to assess the damage, and that’s when we discover that the vehicle she dinged belongs to Barney. “Dude!” he exclaims, as the bumper falls off the back of his Audi (whose license plate reads “LGNDRY”). And that’s all we get of Barney for now.
An episode count for Harris’ encore is being kept under wraps, but we can confirm that NPH’s cameo was only an introduction, and we’ll see more of Barney at some point during HIMYF‘s supersized second season of 20 episodes.
Below, HIMYF creators Isaac Aptaker and Elizabeth Berger discuss Harris’ return to the franchise, rule out a possible connection between the two shows, and suggest how another upcoming guest star may be responsible for Barney and Sophie crossing paths.
TVLINE | How long had NPH’s return been in the works?
BERGER | As soon as we started breaking our season, we all got very excited about the idea of having him return. Thankfully, his relationship with [HIMYM and HIMYF director/executive producer] Pamela Fryman is so phenomenal that she was able to reach out to him and get a very quick, “Let’s talk about it.”
APTAKER | She officiated his wedding!
BERGER | We did a creative Zoom with him to talk about what we were thinking, and that was it. He was game, which was so incredible for us. It was the best way we could imagine coming back.
APTAKER | He also has a little bit of a preexisting relationship with Hilary Duff. They connected when the show launched last year, and she did an interview with him for his newsletter Wondercade, so he was really excited to get to come meet her and work with her. It was awesome to see the two of them bond over becoming television stars at such an early age, then fronting a How I Met… series.
TVLINE | In that interview, NPH suggested that the Barnacle’s “antics” wouldn’t fly in the #MeToo era, and HIMYF would be better off without him. Were those concerns addressed during that initial Zoom?
BERGER | Absolutely. We wanted to bring him back, and we wanted him to be true to his character and to the fans that loved Barney so much. But we also wanted him to exist on our show, in our time, in a way that made sense, so all of that Zoom was spent talking about how we could blend all those things and service him and the show in the best way possible. We are very excited for people to see the way that turned out.
TVLINE | We know from How I Met Your Mother that Barney was born in 1975, which means he would have been just 17 years old when Sophie was born in 1992. We also know that Barney was a late bloomer who lost his virginity at 23. Assuming nothing’s been retconned, can we go ahead and rule him out as Sophie’s dad?
APTAKER | I think so. We’re not telling a teen dad story. I think given Lori’s age, that’d become a pretty uncomfortable story.
BERGER | Yeah. I don’t think you need to be a mathematician, only a HIMYM fan, to reach the conclusion you reached. [Laughs]
TVLINE | Hey, you never know! You could have changed a few details and chalked it up to Ted being an unreliable narrator.
BERGER | True!
TVLINE | At this point in the timeline, Barney is already divorced from Robin and dad to Ellie. Will we learn more about his life after the events of the HIMYM finale?
APTAKER | Whenever we talk about bringing back a member of the original crew, you want it to serve two purposes: You want to give some tidbits about what is going on in their lives, where they’ve landed and where they’re at, but it’s also about how they impact the How I Met Your Father story, and how they send one of our characters in a new, unexpected direction. Similar to Robin last year, we’ll learn some more about where Barney’s at, but it’ll also have a major impact on the trajectory, and main narrative, of our season.
TVLINE | The Season 2 trailer revealed a May-December romance between Sophie and a new character played by John Corbett. Does Sophie’s sudden interest in older men lead her to Barney?
BERGER | There is a chance that it parlays into the Barney storyline, but the way that it does, I think, is very unexpected and surprising.
TVLINE | How long will it be before we see Barney again?
APTAKER | We’ll have to wait and see. That car crash becomes a major turning point in Sophie’s life and in her season-long arc. Once we catch up to that, I think people will be pleasantly surprised by how her story turns via Barney.