How I Met Your Father premieres on Hulu with two episodes, “Pilot” and “FOMO,” on Jan. 18.
They say the third time’s the charm. In the case of How I Met Your Mother spin-off How I Met Your Father — which follows the unaired 2014 pilot How I Met Your Dad, and a pair of unproduced shows in 2016 and 2017 also titled How I Met Your Father — the third time is the one that finally makes it to air. Created by Isaac Aptaker and Elizabeth Berger, who were also meant to helm the previous version, the show’s first two episodes premiere on Hulu on Jan. 18, with a further eight arriving individually. Its weekly release schedule could pose a problem, since its characters and situations often struggle to be engaging. However, its long-term hook could very well be the thing that brings audiences back.
In 2005, How I Met Your Mother kicked off with a novel twist. A long-running story with a definitive end goal in mind — as teased by its title — it opened with a dreamy, picture-perfect meet-cute, not between protagonist Ted (Josh Radnor) and the titular mother, but between Ted and a woman he refers to, via narration from his future self (Bob Saget) to his future children, as their “Aunt Robin” (Cobie Smulders). How I Met Your Father immediately frames itself as a reflection of HIMYM, with its multi-camera laugh-track format and its female-led cover of the original’s opening theme. In the year 2050, a middle-aged, wine-drunk Sophie (Kim Cattrall) tells her son the story of how she met his father, beginning with a Tinder date in 2022 — where she’s played, with a spring in her step, by Hilary Duff — which soon devolves into a comedy of errors, crossed wires, almost romances, and brand-new friendships in the bustling Big Apple. However, when the pilot finally plays its hand, it reveals a narrative conceit that not only mirrors that of the original, but departs from it in an intriguing way.
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It’s an incredibly effective linchpin, and as the story stands in the pilot episode, circumstances could both prevent or facilitate practically any romantic pairing — permanent or otherwise — during the course of the show. Three of its four leading men have a fair bit going for them, too. There’s the chipper marine biologist Ian (Daniel Augustin), Sophie’s Tinder date with whom she gets along famously, but who happens to live in Australia. Then there’s the aristocratic English himbo Charlie (Tom Ainsley), a newcomer to New York and the brand-new live-in beau of Sophie’s fashionista roommate, Valentina (Francia Raisa). And rounding out the trilogy of interesting dudes is the puppy-dog-eyed Sid (Suraj Sharma), a newly engaged Indian American bar owner in a rocky long-distance relationship, who Sophie meets by chance. Although, the fourth leading man both reads as the most likely romantic candidate on paper and also happens to be the least interesting among them: Sid’s roommate Jesse (Chris Lowell), an Uber driver and musician who recently achieved internet micro-stardom for an unfortunate reason.
Jesse is a disillusioned sort, and thus a perfect foil to Sophie, a starry-eyed romantic. Regardless of where Sophie ends up, her dynamic with Jesse seems poised to be a central fixture of the series, given what they might be able to learn from each other as the story goes on. Unfortunately, that’s a bit of a red flag. Lowell himself is by no means a problem — his deep voice and casual charm make him, at the very least, inoffensive to watch — but in the first two episodes, there’s little to Jesse as a person beyond how he fits into Sophie’s romantic picture.
Likewise, Duff brings a wide-eyed glimmer to Sophie, and Raisa approaches Valentina with an excitable energy, but little in the writing rounds them out as fully formed people with recognizable personalities beyond the punchlines written for them. To make matters worse, Ian’s status as a potential long-distance boyfriend means he’s practically absent from the show, leaving only Charlie and Sid as anything resembling fun focal points. (Jesse’s sister Ellen, played by Tien Tran, has just moved to the city from Iowa, but she barely registers as an on-screen presence, entering scenes only to make a few fleeting quips before swiftly making her exit).
Charlie and Sid may not be enough to keep the show afloat on their own, but in the second episode — titled “FOMO,” in which the newly minted friend group embarks on a nightclub rendezvous — actors Ainsley and Sharma share a surprisingly sweet dynamic. It’s made all the more alluring by the fact that Charlie feels like a work of absurd fiction — a man so silly and sheltered that he couldn’t possibly exist in reality — while Sid, who smiles past his difficult romantic predicament, brings a concentrated dose of emotional realism to the table. Their strange mix is a treat to watch, but the show has too many other lifeless interpersonal dynamics for its character-based humor to really land. Compared to HIMYM, its cast may be a more true-to-life reflection of New York City on the surface (which is to say: not every single main character is straight, white, and American-born), but it lacks the zany personality that a show about New York ought to have, the way its predecessor did.
While it has little connection to HIMYM beyond its narrative structure — and a nostalgic Easter Egg that positions it as a loose sequel of sorts — it’s hard not to consider it a lesser version of the original, at least so far. In 2005, all it took was a handful of lines and interactions to learn all you needed to know about Ted, Barney (Neil Patrick Harris), Lily (Alyson Hannigan), and Marshall (Jason Segel), whereas in How I Met Your Father, it takes a while even for the small number of standouts to emerge. Although, a more pressing concern is whether it can develop anything worth watching beyond its long-term romantic question, because while it’s built in the visual and narrative image of HIMYM, it isn’t yet comfortable breaking any of the rules the original began to discard right out of the gate. That’s especially disappointing, since its two-part premiere was helmed by Pamela Fryman, who directed all but 12 of HIMYM’s 208 episodes.
What quickly stuck out about HIMYM, beyond its narrative framing, was how it felt like a breath of fresh air for a form of television that was slowly being left behind. At the time, the multi-cam, canned-laughter sitcom was on its way out — single-camera shows like The Office and Arrested Development had just begun, with 30 Rock soon to follow — and HIMYM was the last series to do anything novel with the format, between its immediate use of perspective shots and other tools that broke the expected visual language, and its whip-smart narrative re-shuffling that hopped and skipped around in time. How I Met Your Father has little of that so far, so it can’t help but play like a mechanical re-creation of a bygone era, without the charm or self-awareness to feel like pastiche. Until it finds its footing, it may just struggle to be more than a reminder of a much better series.