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By the time How I Met Your Mother stumbled to the finish line after nine seasons in 2014, it seemed to have outgrown itself. Its once-youthful protagonists were pushing 40. The multi-cam format, already waning in popularity at its start, had fallen further out of favor. And its love story had been dragged out long past the point of patience for many viewers (this one included), culminating in a finale that only seemed to confirm the show should have ended a lot sooner.
When it first premiered in 2005, though, it felt like a breath of fresh air — a worthy Friends successor with a believable understanding of young adult life in New York, and characters who felt fully formed almost from the jump. Hulu’s sequel, How I Met Your Father, tries to recreate some of that early spark for 2022, and in some superficial aspects it succeeds. But in the ways that count most, it feels so far like a pale imitation.
'How I Met Your Father'
Airdate: Tuesday, Jan. 18
Cast: Hilary Duff, Chris Lowell, Francia Raisa, Tom Ainsley, Tien Tran, Suraj Sharma
Executive producers: Isaac Aptaker and Elizabeth Berger
HIMYF borrows the same basic structure and many of the plot beats of the original. This time, Kim Cattrall plays narrator Sophie, who in the year 2050 regales her kid with stories of her love life in the year 2022, where she’s played by Hilary Duff. Sophie, like Ted Mosby before her, is a hopeless romantic, impatient to find The One and settle down. And where there’s a Ted, naturally, there’s a Robin. Here it’s Chris Powell’s Jesse, a cynic who’s skeptical of marriage but seems charmed by Sophie’s earnestness in spite of himself.
HIMYF‘s pilot, like HIMYM‘s, involves both a proposal — Jesse’s best friend Sid (Suraj Sharma) pops the question to his long-term, long-distance girlfriend Hannah (Ashley Reyes) — and a crowded cab ride to a last-ditch grand romantic gesture. Though HIMYF‘s narrative connection to HIMYM is a tenuous one (and, according to its marketing team, a spoiler), everything from the tenor of its performances to the coziness of its sets fit seamlessly into the universe laid out by its predecessor.
But if old episodes of HIMYM feel like comfort food in 2022, HIMYF feels less like an updated recipe than the prepackaged Trader Joe’s version. It’s good enough to pass in a pinch, but not quite good enough to surpass the real deal. The new series’ clearest advantage is Duff, who seems born to be a rom-com queen. Her delicate balance of starry-eyed and grounded keeps Sophie on just this side of relatable, even as she sighs after 87 failed first dates in a row that the next first date is going to be when she meets the man she’ll spend the rest of her life with. (Forget what such a grueling track record means for her emotional state, how does she find the time?)
The cast around Duff is equally game, particularly Tom Ainsley as Charlie, a British upper-crust himbo so aggressively clueless that he needs to be reminded not to use “poor” as a noun, but so fundamentally sweet he’ll trek all the way to Jersey to fetch bagels. In keeping with the times, the ensemble is significantly more diverse; the core sextet is rounded out by Sophie’s Mexican American best friend Valentina (Francia Raísa) and Jesse’s Vietnamese adoptee sister Ellen (Tien Tran, playing maybe the most intriguingly quirky character of the bunch). Meanwhile, the rank slut-shaming of the mid-aughts has been tossed out in favor of Valentina and Sophie admiring Jane Fonda for “crushing dick.”
There’s only so much these performers can do, however, with the tepid observations they’re given on subjects as picked-clean as Tinder, Grindr, FOMO and viral “fail” videos, and with characterizations that veer too familiar, too bland or, in Sid’s case, both. The vivid personalities, crackling chemistry and memorable one-liners that mark a great hangout show elude them so far, although the show offers flashes of hope here and there that it could yet grow into them.
Notably, those moments tend to come in storylines centered around its platonic relationships. Of all the fairy tales offered up by HIMYF — and there are many, including Valentina and Charlie getting “Meghan Markled” by his disapproving parents — its most alluring might be the ease with which its characters make new friends in adulthood. In HIMYF, all it takes is an Uber trip for Sophie to meet Jesse, and a phone mix-up for their friend groups to become inextricably intertwined.
From there, offbeat pairings follow. Posh Charlie strikes up an unexpected connection with regular guy Sid over wall paint colors, of all things, and an adorably awkward one with Ellen over their shared status as newcomers to the city. Sid warms to “cool friend” Valentina when he enlists her expertise in sex toys for his long-distance relationship. The most compelling dynamic to emerge from the first four episodes is not the predictable will-they-won’t-they between Jesse and Sophie but the frayed bond between Jesse and Ellen, siblings torn apart in childhood by their parents’ divorce.
But romantic destiny is never far from HIMYF‘s mind; it’s baked right into the premise. It doesn’t take a 2050 flash-forward to notice that even as Sophie throws herself into what she hopes will be “the first chapter of my next great love story,” the show around her feels too stuck trying to replicate the nostalgic pleasures of a relic from the past. HIMYF would do well to take its own narrator’s sage advice, and work harder to live in the moment.
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