Kids, time is a funny thing.
It’s been less than 17 years since How I Met Your Mother premiered and only eight since it aired its series finale. But the beloved CBS comedy now seems like a relic of an era we are never likely to return to. The five main characters were all white and all straight. Unless you count Alyson Hannigan’s red hair, there was absolutely no diversity in the series. The world has changed a lot since September 19, 2005.
So in many ways, the pilot of Hulu’s How I Met Your Father feels a bit like a course correction. The cast is diverse both in ethnicity and sexual orientation. Hillary Duff stars as Sophie, a photographer who still believes in love despite all evidence to the contrary. She’s been, as she’s fond of repeating, on 87 Tinder dates and “all of them were duds.” She lives with her roommate Valentina (Francia Raisa) who has just returned from London with a new live-in boyfriend Charlie (Tom Ainsley). On her way to meet her latest Tinder date, Sophie meets Uber driver/music teacher Jesse (Christopher Lowell) and his best friend Sid (Suraj Sharma). She also meets Sid’s sister Ellen (Tien Tran), who is still reeling from her divorce from “the only other lesbian” in her hometown of Iowa. Already we are off to a better start reflecting the diversity of New York City—even if the New York City on the show looks like a faux set.
The notes for the series are very clear (insistent?) that How I Met Your Father is a sequel to the original series, not a reboot. (Fans may remember there was a 2014 How I Met Your Dad starring Greta Gerwig that never got past the pilot stage and was shelved indefinitely.) However producers and Hulu wants to spin it, the central conceit of the series is the same with a gender flip. The comedy, which also has Mother series creators Carter Bays and Craig Thomas as executive producers, flashes forward and backward in time to show the origins of a love story. While not the novel idea it was in 2005, it’s still a pretty terrific premise. The road to finding your partner is rarely a clear and straightforward path.
Which brings us to 2050, where future Sophie (Kim Cattrall) is regaling her son with the story of how she met his dad. “It’s time for me to tell you the unabridged version,” she tells him, while confessing she’s had enough wine to include “the sexy bits” in the story. Unlike the late Bob Saget, who was heard but not seen in the original series, Cattrall is one camera in a beautiful Nancy Meyer-esque living room talking to her off-screen son. It’s so great to be able to see Cattrall on camera in a series this January —even if it’s not in the series we were hoping for. (It is, however, fodder for some great And Just Like That/How I Met Your Father fan fiction.)
It’s also smart to age up the son, who appears to be in college, making a parent telling their child about the sexual exploits of their youth a little less unsettling. Also by making the son an offscreen character, the series doesn’t have to worry about him looking older in future seasons, which is key.
As for our central group, Duff is charming as ever and the cast has a nice rapport, with Jesse now as the cynic who thinks love isn’t an option for him. The series gets a lot of mileage from Charlie navigating his way through New York, and there’s also some great sibling stuff between Jesse and Ellen. What the show doesn’t have is a Barney. Now, of course, a character like Barney (as so brilliantly played by Neil Patrick Harris), probably couldn’t be written into a series today. Barney was a womanizer with a playbook who lived by his personal bro code, but Harris infused him with vulnerability and humanity while also making phrases like “Suit up” part of our everyday vernacular. Would a character like Barney, who said things like “The only reason to wait a month for sex is if she’s 17 years and eleven months old,” get past the development stage in 2022? Probably not and that’s probably a good thing. But, after watching the first four episodes available for review, How I Met Your Father doesn’t appear to have a character poised to be that quotable or that memorable.
As for other shadows of HIMYM’s framework, Sid is the only one in a committed relationship, and his fiancé Hannah (recurring guest star Ashley Reyes) is a surgical resident in LA. I’ll be interested to see how and for how long the show keeps their version of Marshall and Lily apart. Further expanding the cast, Josh Peck (Turner & Hooch) shows up in the third episode and is quite delightful.
There have also been promises of direct homages to the original series throughout; one of them, that I’m not allowed to tell you about, happens fairly early. But the show is also committed to updating its material to reflect our current times, with talk of Tinder, viral videos, lots of action takes place via text message; a misplaced iPhone is a major plot point in the pilot episode.
Still, without the framework of the well known series it pays homage to, How I Met Your Father would be just another perfectly pleasant, often funny comedy. There’s nothing wrong with that. But it doesn’t have anything that makes it stand apart in a cluttered TV landscape the way HIMYM did.
Unfortunately at this point, it doesn’t appear like the show is destined to be legend—wait for it—dary.
The first two episodes of How I Met Your Father premiere Tuesday, January 18 on Hulu, followed by weekly single-episode release.
Amy Amatangelo, the TV Gal®, is a Boston-based freelance writer and a member of the Television Critics Association. She wasn’t allowed to watch much TV as a child and now her parents have to live with this as her career. You can follow her on Twitter (@AmyTVGal).
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