Inside "Nothing Suits Me Like A Suit," With 'HIMYM' Co-Creator Craig Thomas

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Inside "Nothing Suits Me Like A Suit," With 'HIMYM' Co-Creator Craig Thomas

One of the most beloved and influential sitcoms of the past decade, as well as one of the first shows post-Friends to connect squarely with a millennial audience, How I Met Your Mother lives on in our cultural memory thanks to its endlessly quotable one-liners, ambitious experiments with form, and (of course) Neil Patrick Harris, whose Barney Stinson endures as one of TV’s greatest, wittiest, and certainly best-dressed womanizers.

Everything that defined Barney as a character, and by extension made HIMYM great, converged for the show’s 100th episode spectacular. It’s titled “Girls Versus Suits,” after a debate that momentarily threatens to tear Barney (or at least his perfect racks) apart. The episode builds to an ultimatum, as MacLaren’s new bartender asks Barney to seduce her by giving up his beloved designer suits. Agonized, he instead breaks into song – and HIMYM plays out the ensuing dream sequence as an epic, impeccably well-tailored musical number.

To film “Nothing Suits Me Like A Suit,” Barney’s show-stopping ode to his Sunday best, the HIMYM cast and crew spilled out across the New York Street area of the Fox lot. HIMYM had done musical numbers before, like “Let’s Go to the Mall,” but nothing on the level of “Suit,” an exuberant spectacle backed by 65 dancers and a 50-piece orchestra.

As Harris swings from streetlights, spins atop yellow cabs, and salutes his sartorial signatures (sample lyric: “To score a ten would be just fine/ But I'd rather be dressed to the nines“), Josh Radnor, Jason Segel, Cobie Smulders, and Alyson Hannigan all join in, turning Barney’s fantasy into a full-blown, sung-and-danced-through celebration of HIMYM’s inimitably niche comedy and swing-for-the-fences style.

The Dipp spoke to series co-creator Craig Thomas about collaborating with co-creator Carter Bays to write the Emmy-nominated number, drawing inspiration from MGM movie musicals, and worshipping at the altar of the legen– wait for it –dary NPH.

Looking back on the 100th episode of How I Met Your Mother, what do you remember about planning that episode out? When did you decide you wanted some kind of special musical number or "event" to mark the milestone?

Carter and I are big music nerds in general – our creative collaboration began musically, playing in bands together and eventually writing songs together – so our minds went right to doing a big musical number as a way to celebrate our series hitting the "Big 100."

As wannabe songwriters, we found every possible opportunity to write music for the show – I mean, we would just cram it in wherever we saw the opportunity. Any excuse to write songs. So, we figured we'd build our own version of a big, old-school, all-out MGM-style musical number around Barney, given Neil's legendary musical chops.

And how did the specific idea for "Nothing Suits Me Like a Suit" come about?

We had the idea of Barney's personal version of a soul-crushing choice: What if he had to choose between suits and a woman? That led to the idea of a musical number featuring a ton of backup dancers in suits, and the rest of the HIMYM cast all in suits, each joining in the song. It just immediately felt iconic and joyful and right to us, like something we'd look back on years from now and say, "That was our TV show."

Tell me about your collaboration with Carter Bays, writing the music and lyrics. It's amazing to me how true to the character of Barney "Nothing Suits Me Like a Suit" feels, and how much it aligns with the show’s comedic sensibilities. How did you thread that needle of setting the sometimes niche voice of HIMYM to music?

Well, in musical terms, we figured: What better "I Want" song for Barney Stinson than one about suits and women? Although here those two great loves are in conflict here for the poor bastard. In the episode, Barney has met a beautiful woman…who hates guys who wear suits. Once we knew Barney would find himself stuck in what, for him, was a life-or-death struggle – girls vs. suits – and that he would ultimately choose suits (but also find a way to get the girl, because, duh, he's Barney), we felt we had it.

Musically, Carter and I very much co-wrote the song, but I remember starting it off with that up-tempo opening-verse melody, trying to fashion something that would let Neil really spit out a lot of words – fast, with a lot of syllables. My son, a huge music and musical fan, was around two or three years old at the time, and I just remember playing that opening melody on guitar for him. It made him smile. So I figured, that's it. (Not the first or last time I wrote a song for HIMYM with that methodology!) We later built it out from that little opening fragment my son liked.

Related to this, Marshall's sudden break into an Irish accent on the line "What would you do/If you had to choose/Between your suits and a pot of gold?" makes me laugh every time. Where did the idea for that insane moment come from?

That Irish accent thing was oddly one of the first ideas I had for the bridge of this song, and I can't explain it beyond that an imaginary Jason Segel somehow started doing that in my brain, and I ran with it. Because somehow I knew he'd nail it, no questions asked. And of course, he did.

I'm Irish – maybe that's part of it? The lyric being about a pot of gold, I don't know, it just fit. The cast appearing one by one to try and tempt Barney away from suits felt like a fun structure for the bridge, and a way to get everyone in there. It also protected Alyson from having to sing, because she was like, “Nope. I don't sing.” So she gets cut off by Barney right away.

This number is also perfectly suited (sorry) to Neil Patrick Harris as a performer. The MGM-musical structure it adopts is jaw-dropping in ambition but not so much so that it distracts from NPH dexterously pulling it all together on screen. What do you remember of working with him?

Neil is such a superpower, so eternally up to any challenge you ask of him, that it was a joy to make this with him. Also, we had to shoot it all in one big day on the Fox lot's New York Street, so having someone with Neil's technical precision and musical experience is really what made that possible. I think we had 65 dancers out there. It was a huge undertaking, it cost a lot to shoot, and we couldn't spill over to another day.

What were your main cinematic/theatrical influences on "Nothing Suits Me Like A Suit"? I'm sure you looked for inspiration in plenty of Broadway shows and iconic musical moments; I love the early Singin' in the Rain move with Barney on the street lamp, but what most inspired you?

The street lamp was definitely Singin' In The Rain. Also, Carter loves these lush, colorful, expressive French musicals by Jacques Demy like The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, which feel epic and sweeping. We also wanted it to be a rock song, up-tempo, a glam-ish strutty rave-up kinda song, so I'd say there's a bit of Iggy Pop and David Bowie in there somewhere, too, maybe a little Mick Jagger…And dare I say it, the image of Barney and our whole cast running around in suits amid a big throng of people – it felt like the Beatles, a Hard Day’s Night kinda vibe. The cast looked like a 1950s or ‘60s band, all suited up. It was awesome.

How I Met Your Mother had done musical numbers before, but this was such an elaborate and impressive high-water mark, especially given those 65 dancers backing your actors. How did Zach Woodlee get involved as choreographer, and what do you remember of his biggest contributions?

Because we only had a day to shoot it, we had to really rehearse and block it out thoughtfully. I remember Zach being a huge part of that, collaborating really well with our series director, Pam Fryman. Dance numbers of this scope become almost like a co-direction between choreographer and director. I just remember feeling like we were all on the same wavelength and having a ton of fun.

I have to imagine it was both an energizing and exhausting sequence to execute. What do you remember about being on set that day?

I remember basically taking over the Fox lot with that musical number. The New York Street on the Fox lot is right near the main gates, so you couldn't help but see us out there. A sea of humanity all wearing suits. We were stopping traffic that was entering and leaving the Fox lot, people driving by going, "What the hell is this?!" Fox lot employees, people from other shows on the lot, all walking over to watch, cheer us on, moving to the music; Fox execs in buildings high above us, looking down at the chaos from their office windows. The whole Fox lot was alive and grooving to that song in West Los Angeles. It was magic.

You were Emmy-nominated alongside Carter Bays for writing "Nothing Suits Me Like A Suit," by which time the number had already been hailed as a high-water mark for this kind of theatrical performance on sitcom TV. What do you remember of receiving the Emmy nod, and of that awards season?

I remember being really shocked! Carter and I began our creative career writing songs for our little bands, playing them for 50 people on a Sunday night at 7 p.m. at Arlene Grocery in the lower East Side in our twenties. The idea that we became Emmy-nominated songwriters was surreal to us, and it was even surreal how we lost: To Randy Newman (like yes, of course we should've lost to fucking Randy Newman – it's an honor to lose that way!!).

With How I Met Your Father on the way at Hulu, you’re likely thinking more about the original series than usual these days. What, to you, is the show's biggest legacy?

I hope the biggest legacy of How I Met Your Mother is that everyone who worked on it put every goddamn thing they had into it. Cast, writers, production staff, post-production, crew – everyone threw everything they had into it for nine seasons. Unrelentingly. Even when it was something absolutely ridiculous – nay, especially when it was something absolutely ridiculous – like an entire elaborate MGM-style musical number about suits. It didn't matter. We were all just like, "Let's make the best goddamn musical number ever made about suits."

What an honor, to be surrounded by so many amazingly talented people, all working so amazingly hard on this show, every week. I’m eternally grateful for that, and excited we get another chapter by way of How I Met Your Father...


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