How I Met Your Mother is like the slot machine of TV comedy. For six seasons we've been faithfully feeding it our viewing time in hopes of winning the jackpot – of actually finding out how "mother" got met – only to be left with sweet zilch and more promises that all shall be lavished upon us down the road.
In such a situation, tease often turns to torment. But with this sitcom, the pleasures of the journey have come to outweigh the destination. Through skilful storytelling, a dab comic cast and an emotional pendulum that swings from wigged-out laughs to heart-rending honesty within the confines of each 21-minute episode, How I Met Your Mother keeps us craving more. Even as season seven begins, we don't care if the payoff to the title gag ever comes.
If you've never sampled the witty delights of this tube confection, here's a quick primer: narrated through flashbacks from the year 2030 by Future Ted (voiced by Bob Saget), this series revolves around how the architect Ted Mosby (Josh Radnor) fell in love as he recounts to his son and daughter the "long" version of events that led to his meeting their mum. Set in Manhattan, the series also traces the social and romantic lives of Ted's friends: his outrageous bachelor buddy Barney Stinson (Neil Patrick Harris) who's chock full of endless opinions and foolproof ways to meet women; the lawyer Marshall Eriksen (Jason Segel); the journalist Robin Scherbatsky (Cobie Smulders) and the kindergarten teacher Lily Aldrin (Alyson Hannigan of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and American Pie fame).
The series' creators, Carter Bays and Craig Thomas, say the new season will see playboy Barney mature in his pursuit of women, particularly with his on-again, off-again relationship with Robin.
"There are going to be a lot of shake-ups with Robin and Barney," says Thomas. "A lot of fans wanted more … and were upset that we broke them up. But those characters weren't quite ready to go there (in previous seasons). This season, people who wanted more of the emotional spark between them will be happy. There are going to be a lot of fireworks."
The first episode of season seven, The Best Man, begins with Ted as the best man for a jittery Barney, who's about to wed a mystery bride. Soon, both men reminisce about the worst wedding they ever attended, and we flash back to it. Meanwhile, Marshall and Lily try to keep a secret from the gang: they're pregnant. Lily also forces Robin to admit she still has feelings for Barney – who gets a call from his ex-girlfriend Nora (Nazanin Boniadi) – but not before Barney and Robin do a funky 1990s one-hit-wonder dance number that would do Broadway proud. And yes, it gets nuttier from here; don't be surprised if the "worst" wedding implodes with a good old-fashioned fist fight.
Comedy is so much harder than drama, Harris told The Hollywood Reporter before season seven launched in the US last September. "What people find funny is so subjective. You have to – at least on our show – hit as many different types of funny at the same time as you can. If you're just goofball funny, that will turn off intellectual types. If you're just highbrow, wordplay funny, then you'll shut out the workers who come home to sit and guffaw at the fat guy and the hot wife."
In what could be called the great Canadian comedian swap, one sure-fire treat for fans this season will be the mirthful Martin Short stepping in to replace Dave Foley as Marshall's new boss. (Foley, who first appeared in the season six finale, couldn't return because his new comedy, How to be a Gentleman, was picked up by CBS.)
Also, expect a memorable guest appearance from Tom Cruise's wife Katie Holmes, who will return as a legendary love interest who Ted lost touch with after meeting her at a Halloween party years before, in the series' first season.
How I Met Your Mother, already renewed by CBS for an eighth season, has been enjoying "better ratings than ever", Harris told The Late Show with David Letterman in February. "Though I feel like, at this point, it's time to reveal already who the damned mother is."
Harris, a multiple Emmy and People's Choice Award winner, entered fatherhood with the birth of his son and daughter in October 2010. He was also honoured with his own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame last September.
How I Met Your Mother begins its seventh season on Thursday and is broadcast Thursdays and Fridays on OSN Comedy and OSN Comedy +2