Faint echoes of TV past
How I Met Your Mother never smashed any genre tropes, but it knew its groove and mostly flourished there before gutting most of its fan base with an ill-conceived finale. Its doofy sentimentality worked in spite of itself due to its banging cast, jocular characters, and solid writing. After a few years and several failed attempts to launch, Hulu’s How I Met Your Father valiantly attempts to fill its predecessor’s shoes, and kids, they are far, far too big.
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The year is 2050, and Sophie (Kim Cattrall), a woman deep in her drink, uses technology to call her adult son to tell him exactly how she met his father. He knows the broad strokes, but she feels it’s time for him to learn everything in great detail, starting with the night some guy she just met got engaged in front of her at a bar she never visited before. For some reason, he gamely settles in to listen.
Viewed as a standalone production in the standard friends-hanging-out genre, the lackluster setup, dull pacing, and grating laugh track of How I Met Your Father sparks very little joy. Taken as a How I Met Your-verse successor, it disappoints nearly as much as its antecedent’s conclusion. This mishmash group of people who’ve circumstantially met lack both personal intentions and a unifying purpose. They’re merely randos walking across the Brooklyn Bridge together under the pretense that its meaningful.
As a desperate romantic in her late 20s, Sophie (Hilary Duff) lacks direction but wants to find love. She and fresh acquaintance Jesse (Christopher Lowell) talk endlessly about what messes they are, even though they’re the sitcom equivalent of blank walls. British twit Charlie (Tom Ainsley) doesn’t understand the subway, shopping, or urinals because he used to be rich. He’s not a lovable man baby or charming jackass; he’s a neutral moron. Sophie’s roomie Valentina (Francia Raisia) is also her bestie, because everyone needs one of those. Sid (Suraj Sharma) is Jesse’s equivalent pal. Ellen (Tien Tran) is adopted and a lesbian, and neither of those things are character traits.
While a collection of attractive people may be lovely to look at, the inherent hilarity of their humanity makes them worth watching, and provides fertile ground for ongoing situational hijinks. How I Met Your Mother fell short in myriad ways, and frequently ended up mired in its own hokiness, but the characters lived in a vibrant world of their own construction, and graciously invited the audience to share in their language and experiences. In contrast, the world of How I Met Your Father is a barren landscape, too lazy or too scared to fill in the scenery lest a stance of any kind cause offense. Even worse, the show clumsily lurches out of its way to pay homage to the original, providing an unneeded reminder that there used to be shows exactly like this one, except that people executed them better.
The cast seems genial enough, and nostalgia for traditional television and basic nights on the town could earn How I Met Your Father an audience indulging in some ‘rona safe vicarious living. Perhaps it will grow into its own standalone comedy, full of purpose, heart, and humor, but so far, expecting that much feels suspiciously like building sandcastles in the sand.