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How I Met Your Father Review: Hulu’s Sequel Series Has Some Scraps of Potential

Hilary Duff stars in this new take on How I Met Your Mother, premieres January 18th

How I Met Your Father Review
How I Met Your Father (Hulu)
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    The Pitch: Somewhere in the vast wide multiverse, there is a planet Earth where, in the year 2022, the How I Met Your Mother spin-off series How I Met Your Dad is just now reaching its eighth season, with star Greta Gerwig thinking longingly about the indie film about growing up in Sacramento that she always wished she’d have a chance to direct.

    That planet Earth is not our planet Earth, where, in the year 2022, How I Met Your Dad ended as a 2014 CBS pilot that never made it to series, Greta Gerwig’s 2018 film Lady Bird received five Oscar nominations, and Hilary Duff is now starring in How I Met Your Father, a spiritual and literal sequel to the long-running CBS sitcom about the world’s most long-winded parent giving his kids way too much information about his past dating life.

    Does Sophie (Duff), a single 29-year-old photographer living in New York City, eventually find love? Well, she’ll at least have a kid, who in the year 2050 is being told all about the story leading up to his conception — and as the older version of Sophie (Kim Cattrall) warns him, it’s going to be  a long one.

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    A Change in Point-Of-View: From the opening moments, Father establishes an important switch-up to the HIMYM format — while the original series put the camera on Lyndsy Fonseca and David Henrie as the children of Ted Mosby, with narrator Bob Saget (rest in peace) overheard but never seen, Kim Cattrall appears in the flesh as older Sophie, living her best life in her fancy and futuristic 2050 apartment. (Her son is heard but not seen via her fancy and futuristic home phone system.)

    A huge factor in the original series’ success wasn’t the emotional stakes of Ted’s quest for love, but the cleverness of the writing, which played with genre, made surprising connections between storylines, and layered in countless inside jokes that helped the show evolve into its own storytelling universe. The four episodes provided to critics have some potential but not on that level; one has to respect the balls of doing a completely straight-faced “did not”/”did too” gag in the year 2022, but it’s not exactly cutting-edge.

    How I Met Your Father Cast

    How I Met Your Father (Hulu)

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    In the Year 2022… How I Met Your Mother sprang into action with a lot of momentum, with the pilot focusing on how his best friends’ engagement leads Ted Mosby (Josh Radnor) to decide that he’s ready to find the right girl and settle down. (Spoiler alert: It takes nine seasons for him to do so.) In the case of Father, 2022-era Sophie just wants to go on a good second date, after having experienced 87 bad Tinder dates, and is thus keeping herself open to all the possibilities life has to offer.

    An ensemble rom-com like this lives or dies on its cast and character development, and after screening the four episodes made available for critics, there’s reason to be concerned about Father. Not because characters are underdeveloped, exactly — instead, every character of the Father ensemble has exactly one more quirk than strictly necessary, at least for this stage of the show’s life. And it’s a large ensemble, with six main characters introduced in the first episode, plus some recurring folks.

    And One of These People Could Be the Father! This isn’t to say that a good TV character should get two traits maximum, but that the pilot is pretty clunky, just due to the cavalcade of introductions that are required. For example, Jesse (Christopher Lowell) is a musician/music teacher/viral celebrity thanks to a failed wedding proposal being captured on video.

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    On an individual basis, across the first four episodes each actor manages to find their moments to shine, with Suraj Sharma as newly engaged bar owner Sid and Tien Tran as Jesse’s adopted sister Ellen (who also happens to be a recently divorced lesbian who left her literal farm behind to move to the big city) really standing out.

    Plus, there’s Francia Raisa as Sophie’s best friend/roommate Valentina, who’s an aspiring stylist dealing with her latest hook-up moving to town. Because, again, this show is doing the most, said hook-up is Charlie (Tom Ainsley), a horny yet clueless upper-class British man disinherited from his family’s wealth.

    It’s six lead characters crammed into one show, and while it’s refreshing that creators Isaac Aptaker and Elizabeth Berger chose not to directly mirror the make-up of the original HIMYM cast, it feels suspiciously like the creators are introducing one or two characters more than they think they’ll actually need, so that they can trim off whatever dead weight’s not working down the line. That’s just a theory, of course, but it all speaks to the show’s relative lack of thematic focus.

    How I Met Your Father Cast

    How I Met Your Father (Hulu)

    The Verdict: It’s very hard to see How I Met Your Father lasting as long as Mother did, though that’s said not as a portent of doom, but in the spirit of optimism — that it takes this opportunity to learn from the original’s mistakes, and not stretch out the story longer than necessary.

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    Will that happen isn’t clear at this point: While Episode 2 literally begins with 2050 Sophie declaring that it’s the journey, not the destination we should look forward to, Aptaker and Berger come from working on NBC’s This Is Us, experience which hopefully brought with it an appreciation for building to a strong conclusion, and experience they’ll hopefully use to balance the show’s built-in longterm goals (tell a rich and complete story) and short-term goals (be funny on a weekly basis, for at least more than one season).

    As to whether Father can live up to the legacy of what came before, it’s questionable. How I Met Your Mother was a pretty flawed show on a number of levels, but it was also quite often stunningly hilarious and poignant, featuring a few transcendent moments that can still inspire tears.

    Father, on the other hand, is too much of an imitation at some points and too scattered and strange at others. But there are a few sparks of potential here, at least in the supporting cast. And being a fan of love stories means trying to keep hope alive, even when it might seem impossible.

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    Where to Watch: The first two episodes of How I Met Your Father premiere January 18th on Hulu. Subsequent episodes debut on Tuesdays.

    Trailer:

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