Hilary Duff plays Sophie, a single millennial in New York City looking for love.
This review of Hulu’s How I Met Your Father season 1 does not contain spoilers.
When How I Met Your Mother premiered in 2005 it was seen by many as a clear successor to Friends, which had ended just a few months earlier. Albeit somewhat raunchier than Friends and with a narrative twist (that soon wore out its welcome), it didn’t diverge too much from the formula, nor from that show’s traditional multi-camera stylings. By the time HIMYM wrapped up its final season in 2013 it was a dinosaur. Single-camera sitcoms like Modern Family, Louie, and Girls were all the rage, and a poorly received finale (as well as a decline in quality over several seasons) didn’t help the feeling that the world had moved on.
This issue seemed to plague the first attempt to reboot/spinoff the show (the pilot to How I Met Your Father, which you might be able to find online, is also just plain bad, although it is interesting to imagine an alternate timeline wherein Greta Gerwig had been trapped on a network sitcom for most of the 2010s). But now, in 2022, the powers that be have decided that enough time has passed to attempt another reboot. In the current entertainment landscape, nostalgia is king.
It’s to How I Met Your Father’s credit that the show limits any direct callbacks to its parent season. No characters return, putting the focus all on the new cast, led by Hilary Duff. Her Sophie is, like Ted Mosby before her, a romantic dreamer struggling to find love in New York. Where they differ are the depths that Ted never quite had (helped by Duff’s soulful performance, although their romantic fatalism remains similar.)
The rest of the crew, who slowly assemble over the course of the pilot, are much more diverse than before (one of them is British!). Not just in demographic terms, but in their relationships, as How I Met Your Father season 1 balances out Sophie’s dating life with those of characters in relationships struggling to make them work, which in theory could make for some interesting dramatic and comedic parallels, but in actuality makes every episode seem haphazardly thrown together.
It doesn’t help that, with the exception of Duff and Sophie, none of the characters or the actors playing them communicate any depth of their characters. Most of them are different kinds of comic relief that works with varying degrees of success. Most notable is Charlie (Tom Ainsley) who has some great one-liners but appears to exist in an entirely different reality than the rest of the show.
But the show’s biggest problem is that in an attempt to recapture the feeling (and success) of How I Met Your Mother, it goes too far to emulate that show. And not necessarily in terms of content, although it does feature a group of young people who frequent a bar, and a futuristic frame narrative (a very game Kim Catrall taking over from the recently departed Bob Saget). The issue is that the show’s creators have decided to have directed, shot, and edited the show as if no advancements, changes in trends, have occurred in TV sitcoms of the last twenty years.
The jokes feel like they were written by an AI, cookie-cutter. The studio laugh-track seems bored with itself. Sometimes the actors wait in the background for their lines to come like in a middle school play. This feels less like coming home to a warm fire than finding expired food at your parents’ house that they convince you is still edible.
Make no mistake, I love a good multi-camera sitcom. Here though, It seems like the intention was to create a show that feels like rewatching an old show, except with references to Tinder and Postmates (there are really a lot of app names dropped in the dialogue). It succeeds at having that comforting feeling, attractive cast, and enough laughs to make it watchable. But the poorly paced editing, flat lighting, and performances make it feel like someone is trying to revive a corpse. While many of the jokes are funny, others succinctly replicate the feeling of watching a standup bomb onstage.
Yet despite these stylistic failings, there’s still something charming about the show. Coming from Isaac Apteker and Elizabeth Berger, the duo behind Love, Simon (& Victor), nobody would have expected them to reinvent the wheel, but like those other works, How I Met Your Father frequently threads the needle between saccharine and ironic, finding a sweetness that never threatens to overwhelm the jokes while being surprisingly effective. At its best, the show digs into the themes of loneliness that make up Sophie’s desire to find a soulmate, and how this connects each character to one another.
When it gets to this place, we get a glimpse of what it could be; a funny and incisive look into the anxiety of dating in the 2020s. And just when you think How I Met Your Father has transcended its antiquated stylings, someone cracks say a line about podcasts, stilted laughter comes in ten seconds later, and you realize that it hasn’t suddenly become a better show. It doesn’t even want to try.
What do you think of Hulu’s How I Met Your Father season 1? Comment below.