How I Met Your Mother was one of the first comedies of the Internet recap era to be dissected and examined for its continuing story; yes, its title and first season brought on that level of examination, but it was also the appealing cast, unique format and sharp writing that attracted viewers (to CBS, of all places). Eight years after HIMYM’s finale (and after the Greta Gerwig-led How I Met Your Dad didn’t make it past its pilot), Hulu gives us How I Met Your Father. Will it be able to stand on its own?
Opening Shot: An elegantly-dressed woman walks into her well-appointed apartment and yells “Home, call my son!” When it gives her a different response, she wonders why in the year 2050 voice command technology still doesn’t work.
The Gist: A middle-aged woman named Sophie (Kim Cattrall) makes a video call to her son, glass of wine in hand, to tell him about the day she met his father. He’s heard all of this before, but she says she’s now going to go into all the details, including the ones that make him squeamish.
In 2022, young Sophie (Hilary Duff) is on her way to a Tinder date — after 87 first dates that year — when she gets into an Uber driven by a guy named Jesse (Christopher Lowell). Along for the ride is Jesse’s best friend Sid (Suraj Sharma). They’re going to Sid’s bar, Pemberton’s, so he can propose to his girlfriend Hannah (Ashley Reyes). Jesse is particularly cynical about Sophie’s story about who she’s going to meet.
Sophie is on her way to meet Ian (Daniel Augustin), whom she matched with on Tinder right as she was going to disable her account. They’ve been texting each other for weeks while he was in Australia on a work assignment and their chemistry has been off the charts. Indeed, she has the best first date ever with Ian, but he drops the bomb on her that he’s moving to Australia for good — and he’s leaving that night. She wants to start an LDR (long-distance relationship) with him, but thinks otherwise and doesn’t even kiss him when the night ends.
She goes back to her apartment, where her roommate Valentina (Francia Raisa) is back from London, with a naked surprise: Charlie (Tom Ainsley), an aristocratic Brit who was willing to get cut off by his family to follow her back to New York. For now, he’s living with them. Sophie sees that and realizes she was too rational with Ian, and wants to give an LDR a try. But she has Sid’s phone, which sends the three of them to Pemberton’s, where Jesse has them hide to not ruin Sid’s surprise for Hannah.
Also at the party is Jesse’s sister Helen (Tien Tran); their parents adopted her from Vietnam but the siblings separated when their parents divorced. Ellen is in New York after divorcing her wife, who was more or less the only other lesbian in their small Iowa town. She seems to be fascinated with Valentina and Charlie, listening in on their fights about how gross Charlie seems to be finding things in New York.
After the surprise (Hannah says yes), we learn that Jesse is Internet famous for a brutal public proposal rejection, and that Sophie has vowed to cross the Brooklyn Bridge for the first time with her soulmate. After Hannah has to drop everything to fly back to LA for a medical emergency (she and Sid met at med school), the group dashes to the airport to drop off Hannah and have Sophie catch up with Ian.
What Shows Will It Remind You Of? How I Met Your Father is, of course, a spin-off of How I Met Your Mother, and the two shows are also tonal siblings.
Our Take: How I Met Your Father establishes right away that it takes place in the same universe as its parent show — Sid and Jesse live in the apartment that “some old married couple” (i.e. Marshall and Lily) had before them, complete with the swords over the fireplace — just dealing with the issues of “dating in 2022 New York” instead of “dating in 2005 New York”.
Yes, the central character is a woman this time around, and Mature Sophie’s narration says that one of the four men she met that day will be the titular father. But in many ways, the show is a rehash of HIMYM, and we’re not sure it’s going to have anything new to say.
While Carter Bays and Craig Thomas are involved in HIMYF, the creative forces this time around are Isaac Aptaker and Elizabeth Berger (This Is Us and Love, Victor). They’ve taken pains to make sure that a) the cast is more diverse racially and sexually, and b) the viewer gets into the characters as they are and not try to compare them to the characters from HIMYM. They succeed on both fronts, but in doing so, it feels like they’re covering much of the same beats as the parent show, which makes it harder to get into.
It took all four episodes that Hulu provided to get into the characters, mainly because they had to take that time to establish the parameters of all of these relationships — Jesse and Sophie have a thing going, Charlie and Ellen become roomies, Sid tries to figure out how to do the LDR with Hannah — and what we noticed is that we’re only invested in four of the six main characters. Charlie and Ellen aren’t quite fully formed yet, and we’re not really sure that they ever will, though an episode where Ellen bemoans the fact that Jesse moved away when their parents divorced helps.
We also don’t understand the purpose of having Cattrall on camera doing her narration. Is it to avoid what happened on HIMYM, where the teens were recorded listening to the late, great Bob Saget in 2005, and by the time the show ended in 2014, they were adults and couldn’t be filmed anymore? Even that logical explanation doesn’t keep us from being distracted by her presence, which disrupts the flow of a particular episode. We’d hope at some point that we see her in the first scene, and then just hear her voice. That’s how it worked with Saget, and it worked quite well for nine seasons.
All that being said, though, we were charmed by Duff as Sophie, even if we’re still not convinced that she’s flailing in the dating department — she seems far cooler and less boring than Ted Mosby was — and she has good chemistry with Lowell and Raisa. By that fourth episode, we did want to see more, which is a good sign. But our optimism was cautious at best, mainly because we don’t know where this show can go that HIMYM didn’t already do a decade-plus ago.
Sex and Skin: All talk, no action. Maybe being on Hulu will show some action. In an episode where Sid tries a long-distance app-based sex toy with Hannah, we do see him nude with the toy around his junk. But it’s played much more for laughs than anything else.
Parting Shot: Mature Sophie leans back on the couch and says to her son, “That’s it! Now, where did I put that bottle of wine?”
Sleeper Star: We like Raisa as Valentina, the series’ required “take a bite out of life” character, which is a a far cry from her conservative character in young-ish.
Most Pilot-y Line: Somehow, Sophie can afford a nice wardrobe and half the rent of a Queens apartment as a photographer who uses a film camera to take pictures of weddings and parties. Realism, much?
Our Call: STREAM IT. We’re hope that How I Met Your Father can reach a point where it becomes its own thing and isn’t trying to do what How I Met Your Mother did, only in the 2020s instead of the ’00s-’10s. There are enough good things about the show to think it’ll work eventually, but it might never click on all cylinders like the parent show did at its peak.
Joel Keller (@joelkeller) writes about food, entertainment, parenting and tech, but he doesn’t kid himself: he’s a TV junkie. His writing has appeared in the New York Times, Slate, Salon, RollingStone.com, VanityFair.com, Fast Company and elsewhere.