A Rocky Attempt to Move Past HIMYM

Seven years after its season finale, How I Met Your Mother has become remembered more for its failures than for its successes. While the final season and episode were quickly heralded as one of the worst conclusions ever for a television show, HIMYM was also — for the majority of its run — one of the last great multi-camera sitcoms on commercial broadcast television. Coming in the wake of the end of Friends and with the world just getting wrapped up in the mysteries of Lost, HIMYM was a solid combination of both traditional sitcoms and a series-long mystery. Well, except for that ending.

After the negative reaction to the HIMYM finale, the series has tried and failed several times to return to this series, first with the Greta Gerwig-led How I Met Your Dad, followed by a new version called How I Met Your Father, which also never took off. But now, How I Met Your Father is finally here to try to win back some of the goodwill that HIMYM once had, an attempt to try again and to learn from the mistakes of the past.

Instead of a reboot, How I Met Your Father is actually a sequel series, although it’s unclear at this point how important the previous show will be to this one. How I Met Your Father stars Hilary Duff as Sophie, a photographer in New York who is still hopeful for true love despite having gone on 87 terrible Tinder dates in 2022 and the fact that her family’s history with love shouldn’t give her much confidence in her own. Like HIMYM, Sophie’s story is being told in the future, as the 2050 version of Sophie is played by Kim Cattrall. Already, HIMYF is learning from the past, as this time around these flash-forwards focus on Cattrall as opposed to the kids who can grow from teens to adults over the course of a single story.

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On her way to a promising Tinder date with Ian (Daniel Augustin), Sophie meets Jesse (Chris Lowell), a teacher who was recently rejected during a proposal, leading him to be known as “Mr. Proposal Fail” on the internet, and Sid (Suraj Sharma), who is getting ready to propose to his girlfriend at a big party he’s throwing at his bar called Pemberton’s. In the first episode, we also meet Sophie’s roommate Valentina (Francia Raisa), who has struck up a surprising relationship with Charlie (Tom Ainsley), a British man who has given up his family’s wealth to move to New York and be with Valentina. Also new to NYC is Ellen (Tien Tran), Jesse’s stepsister who is starting over after a recent divorce from her wife.

With this cast, How I Met Your Father is exploring new relationship dynamics rather than just copying what worked. While there’s still the lovelorn lead, and a potential romantic interest that isn’t necessarily sold on love just yet, this new series is more diverse and more open-ended in their possible love stories. There’s no happy couple already in place for the audience to root for, and there’s no attempt to recreate the Barney dynamic, although Charlie’s fancy attitude does at times feel like a slight wink to that character, and the fourth episode's attempt to make "trademark" this show's catchphrase does feel like the show trying too hard.

And yet, How I Met Your Father wants to be both charming in a classical sitcom way - complete with laugh track and friend group hijinks — while also trying to be a bit more modern and daring. 90% of the first four episodes of How I Met Your Father could air any night on CBS, but every once in a while, there’s talk about “crushing dick,” or an entire subplot about a high-tech sex toy. It’s certainly not bad for the show to be more contemporary in its look at love in the present, but the way it does it at times feels jarring, as if the show is trying to prove that it’s not your parent’s sitcom. Shows like Happy Endings or New Girl have nailed this balance, but the multi-camera sitcom trappings, mixed with attempts to be progressive, don’t always work with HIMYF.

However, by the end of these first four episodes, How I Met Your Father does a good job of setting up this new group of friends and what they could mean for the overall story. Duff and Lowell have great chemistry that elevates the entire series, while Sharma’s delightful when he gets his own story, and the questionable relationship between Valentina and Charlie is endearing, especially the further the show goes along. Also wonderful is Josh Peck as Drew, another possible love interest for Sophie that feels like a match made in early aughts children’s programming heaven. Yet, it’s, unfortunately, Tran’s Ellen that doesn’t have much to do here, as she’s often the sixth character trying to figure out what exactly she does. By the show’s fourth episode, “Dirrty Thirty,” there’s a stronger understanding as to who this character is, especially when it comes to her youth with Jesse, but it still feels like the one person that the show doesn’t quite know what to do with yet.

While it took over eight seasons for fans to realize that How I Met Your Mother wasn’t going to stick the landing, and it’s, of course, impossible to know at this point if How I Met Your Father will have the same problem in its eventual conclusion, HIMYF already does seem to be moving the goalposts. “Pilot” ends with what seems to be a very clear cut way for the show to narrow down its central mystery, yet by the third episode, “The Fixer,” the series is already pushing back on that idea, retconning elements that were set up just two episodes prior. If Father wants to help manage expectations for the eventual endgame, it’s already starting to stumble in a way that could cause problems in the long run.

But even though How I Met Your Mother struggled in its ending, it’s easy to forget that it took a while for that show to get on track as well. Sitcoms often take some time to figure out what works and what doesn’t, and How I Met Your Father definitely has some of those growing pains at this point. In addition to trying to set up its own story and characters, HIMYF is struggling with the legacy of its past, while trying to fix the errors its predecessor made. That’s a lot to ask of any sitcom, and who knows if it will be able to pull this off in the long haul. But at least with these first four episodes, thanks to its appealing cast and plenty of promise, How I Met Your Father is off to a rocky, but auspicious start.

Rating: B-

The first two episodes of How I Met Your Father premiere on January 18 on Hulu, with new episodes airing every Tuesday.

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Ross Bonaime (214 Articles Published)

Ross Bonaime is the Weekday News Editor at Collider. He is a Virginia-based writer and editor who had written about all forms of entertainment for Paste Magazine, Brightest Young Things, Flickchart, The Free Lance-Star, and more. He has an unhealthy obsession with theme parks and the Criterion Collection and will defend the Lost finale until his dying day. More at RossBonaime.com.

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