HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER. 8 tonight, Channel 3.

ACCIDENTALLY ON PURPOSE. 8:30 tonight, Channel 3.

THERE ARE those who still think of last night's Emmys' host as "Doogie Howser, M.D.," but if you haven't seen him suit up as Barney, the irrepressible ladies' man on CBS' "How I Met Your Mother," then you haven't really seen Neil Patrick Harris.

There's still time, though, as "HIMYM" returns tonight for a fifth season with an episode that's all about Barney and the reluctant love of his life, Robin (Cobie Smulders).

OK, so it's also a bit about Ted (Josh Radnor), who's starting a gig as an architecture professor after failing miserably as an actual architect. But is there really anyone out there who's still watching this show for Ted?

Yes, we're ostensibly on a multiyear mission to discover the identity of the future mother of Ted's children. And, yes, it's possible, though unlikely, that we'll catch a glimpse of her tonight.


I've come to think of The Mother as the woman who'll help transform the charmingly awkward Ted into a guy who can't ever seem to finish a story and who sounds disturbingly like Bob Saget.

That can't be a good thing.

Barney and Robin, now that's a good thing.

Harris and Smulders have earned their characters' ill-defined romance one hilarious step at a time, and it's pure pleasure to see them struggling to remain themselves in the face of something neither can quite explain.

There's no saying whether those two will ever make it as far as parenthood, but if they do, I guarantee their stories won't be fit for children's ears.

"HIMYM" is now leading off CBS' Monday night comedy block, ceding its old spot to the network's one new sitcom, "Accidentally on Purpose," which stars Jenna Elfman as a woman who finds herself pregnant after a one-night stand with a younger guy.

Bad enough Courteney Cox is starring in ABC's "Cougar Town" while her "Friends" co-star Jennifer Aniston still gets to do romantic comedy at the multiplex - when did "Dharma" become the Older Woman?

Elfman plays Billie, a San Francisco movie critic who gets knocked up, in this sitcom based - I'm betting loosely - on the memoir of former Contra Costa (Calif.) Times movie critic Mary F. Pols, who found herself pregnant after a fling and got both a book and a baby out of it.

Not necessarily in that order.

"Accidentally" seems more interested, though, in following in the footsteps of "Knocked Up," which also put a tall blonde in bed with a younger guy who outside a movie theater wouldn't have been remotely in her league. Zack (Jon Foster) looks nothing like Seth Rogen, but he's the kind of guy who plays "Grand Theft Auto" ("I killed three hookers and robbed a bank this afternoon - it was very exciting") and sleeps in his van.

He's also very sweet, which leaves Elfman as the sour (sort of) grown-up, a thankless job made only more thankless by the writing, which takes a bad situation and only makes it worse.

'House' call

And as the Fox drama returns tonight in a two-hour Season 6 opener, I'll admit there's a small part of me that worries this, too, might not be real.

Because this is House as we've never seen him - powerless not only over his addictions but over every aspect of his life - and it's just too good an episode to have it all yanked away next week.

Andre Braugher ("Homicide: Life on the Street," "Gideon's Crossing") goes toe to toe with Laurie as the psychiatrist in charge of House's case, and it's a treat to see them on screen together.

"House" is too often dismissed as a formulaic show, as if formula were always a bad thing. It breaks its boundaries often enough, and though tonight's episode - appropriately titled "Broken" - would seem to be a prime example of that, half the fun is seeing the formula applied to strangers, in a very strange land.

They're the critics

Our winners, who spent an evening with me last week watching fall pilots here at the Daily News, were, as usual, a knowledgeable, opinionated bunch - I'm not just saying that because they praised my homemade chocolate chip cookies - and you'll be hearing from them in the coming days as they help me assess some of the new network shows.

This year's group of Daily News Reader Reviewers included: Denise Bray of University City; Marcell Costello of Bensalem, Bucks County; Anthony Holmes of Northeast Philadelphia; Derrick Hord of Logan; Tanea Hubbard of Southwest Philadelphia; David J. Kraft of Holmesburg; Marc Malfara of Blackwood, N.J.; Sultan Muhammad of University City; Sherry Murphy of Olney; Alycia Sheppard of Northern Liberties; Jan Sklaroff of Berwyn; and Anthony Tann Jr. of West Philadelphia.

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Thanks to everyone who entered our 15th annual Everybody's a Critic contest.

When we last saw Dr. Gregory House (Hugh Laurie), he was about to check himself into a mental hospital to deal with hallucinations so real most "House" viewers were probably as confused as he was.