When I was in high school, I started watching “How I Met Your Mother” for the same reason I imagine many people do things they don’t plan on: because of a girl. It didn’t work out as intended, but we did become good friends, and I was treated to nine seasons of a funny, heartwarming sitcom that has stuck with me for years. I’ve made slap bets with friends, I salute Major Problem and am a steadfast believer in both the Olive Theory and that nothing good happens after two a.m.
Years after watching the finale, the slew of references and my personal reverence have tempered. I grew up. I loved and lost and was heartbroken as the clock slowly ticked toward my mid-20s, and I started looking more like the hopeless romantic Ted Mosby by the day. Or, to provide a modern update, more like Hilary Duff’s Sophie.
Yes, seven years after the MacLaren’s gang had their last call, a whole new set of New York 20-somethings are here to guide us through the difficult world of love in Hulu’s “How I Met Your Father.” And it’s third time’s the charm for an attempt at the gender-swapped version of the sitcom; one famously starred Greta Gerwig in an unaired pilot.
The ten-episode season premiered with a double billing, “Pilot” and “FOMO,” each lasting your standard cable sitcom 20ish minutes. Reminiscent of the original series where the late Bob Saget told the story of how he met his wife to his children, Future Sophie (Kim Cattrall, “Sex in the City”) in the year 2050 regales her son with the tale of how she met his father.
With the framing established, we are transported to New York City, 2022 as Sophie (Hilary Duff, “A Cinderella Story”) is late for her Tinder date. The world of dating is radically different from 2005, when the original series premiered; it’s full of dating apps that perpetuate a meaningless hook-up culture, the antithesis to our devoted romantic Sophie. On her way to the perfect date with Ian (Daniel Augustin, “Grey’s Anatomy”), she takes an Uber from the lovelorn Jesse (Christopher Lowell, “The Help”) and his soon-to-be-engaged best friend Sid (Suraj Sharma, “Life of Pi”).
It’s only when Ian announces his plans to move to Australia for marine biology reasons that the rest of the group — which includes Sophie’s roommate Valentina (Francia Raisa, “Grown-ish”), her riches-to-rags British boyfriend Charlie (Tom Ainsley, “The Royals”), and Jesse’s lesbian divorcée sister Ellen (Tien Tran, “Candyman”) — finally join. Now, if that sounds like a lot of characters, you are absolutely right. Although we have two episodes to get to know the gang, the six of them almost always struggle against one another for screen time. Save for Sophie, they also feel immature and selfish in comparison to their “HIMYM” counterparts. The casting is thankfully diverse among the core group this time around, even if the first impressions are notably weaker.
That said, the scripts are surprisingly well written, keeping the tone buoyant and humorous in an effort to establish the characters in their modern world. Both episodes were penned by show-runners Isaac Aptaker and Elizabeth Berger, and “HIMYM” director Pamela Fryman returned to direct. Arguably some jokes were low-hanging fruit (millennials not knowing “litty titty” springs to mind), but I was pleasantly surprised by the number of giggles coming from me and my housemates. A clear early standout is Ellen, as Tran portrays her newfound freedom in an ocean full of queer fish as bright-eyed and refreshingly optimistic. Hopefully, we see more of her in the coming weeks.
Although it is built on “HIMYM”’s DNA, “How I Met Your Father” thankfully has little connection to the prior series, save for one or two surprises. I can only see this benefitting the show in the long run, as it will certainly need to defend its mere existence if it wants to survive and get a second season. To that end, some characters and their relationships are neat inversions of their “HIMYM” counterparts, and the series introduces a neat twist on the premise: Sophie informs both audiences and her son that she met her husband in the first episode. No yellow umbrellas or blue french horns, the Father is within our grasp at all times. The twist slightly worries me, as boxing in the premise to a few known men seems limiting, but it also forces the series to stand on its own.
“How I Met Your Father” is an interesting specimen in our current world of streaming television. The show strives to be a multi-cam sitcom, a breed that has been dying for about as long as I’ve been alive, that earnestly examines the complex world of dating in 2022. It’s based on a well-loved and long-running sitcom, but only has ten episodes to persuade audiences to invest their time and energy into Sophie’s journey. There are not many authentic and memorable moments, like Ted telling Robin he loves her after a first date, although Sophie does get close when she travels to an airport to tell Ian they should try long-distance. Did you know people still do airport love confessions? It’s cheesy and nostalgic and hardly original.
But something within me loves that. It empathizes with it. These characters are only a tiny bit older than me, so they all grew up with a steady diet of cheesy 80s and 2000s rom-coms. They were forced to use social media, posting so everyone else can judge and compare themselves to them. When our own identities are based on juxtapositions with those around us, it’s difficult to know who we are. And that damned promise of true love continues to look like something that exists solely in fairytales, or at least something to put on the back-burner as we try to pay off massive student loans, or our rent, or just buy fucking food to sustain ourselves. The world we live in is tiring and demanding and terrifying, everything quantified and digitized and absurd. Who could keep their beaten and battered spirit set on love? Who could stay positive?
At the end of the pilot, Sophie walks across the Brooklyn Bridge with her friends in an attempt to get over Ian. And though you only see it for a moment, Duff smiles. For the first time in the entire episode, Sophie is content, she is happy, she is living in the moment. Amid all the chaos she has conquered and the sea of unknowns in front of her, for one moment she understands this is exactly where she is supposed to be.
I can’t tell you that the next eight episodes of “How I Met Your Father” will turn the series into a must-watch. I can’t promise that these characters will become as familiar as your own friends, and there will be inside jokes that will impact your life for years. I can’t even promise there will be a second season. What I can promise is that, this time, I’m watching the show for myself. Maybe, just maybe, being on that couch with my friends as the future inches closer, is exactly where I’m supposed to be right now.
Or maybe I’m making a major deal (Major Deal *salute*) out of a legacy sequel sitcom that ultimately means nothing. Who’s to say?
Senior Arts Editor M. Deitz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.