Hillary Duff, Kim Cattrall and Josh Peck star in this nostalgic throwback to How I Met Your Mother
The first thing you’ll probably notice about How I Met Your Father is how throwback it feels. Deliberately, even self-consciously; Despite being made for a streaming service (Hulu in the US earlier this year, now released on Disney+ in the UK), to the whole world it feels like a standard network sitcom you’ve been half-watching in reruns for a decade see.
That is of course the point. In case you haven’t made the connection, How I Met Your Father is somewhere between a sequel and spin-off of the earlier series How I Met Your Mother, a series that ran for nine years from 2005 to 2014. (Sequel, spinoff, remake – it’s basically the same idea, with some returning elements and references to the previous version of the show, but you don’t have to be more than the most casual viewer of the Josh Radnor/Cobie Smulders version to understand where this is going.) In the present, Sophie (Hilary Duff) goes on 87 failed Tinder dates; In 2052, Sophie (Kim Cattrall) reminisces about the past and explains to her son how she met his father.
So this show is trying to fit into the same mold: It’s not trying to reinvent the wheel or really keep up with television comedy in 2022. How I Met Your Father is quite lucky to be the third or fourth best (or seventh or eighth) best show you’ve seen a few years ago – whether you find that flat and uninteresting or gentle and familiar depends more than anything others depending on personal taste. It’s not always the funniest program – one of its more memorable early punch lines is “What did you polish it with, jerkjuice?”, which says a lot – but it’s easy enough to get at its fundamental wavelength.
In many ways it feels almost nostalgic. Much of that comes from his casting, with Hilary Duff (Lizzie McGuire) in the lead and Josh Peck (Drake and Josh) in a significant supporting role; They’re both former child stars of the early 2000s, and the show is clearly aimed at an audience that grew up with them. “The early feelings are back,” one character remarks at one point, and you can see they certainly hope that’s the case, as the show offers hat tips to many other 2000s cultural references. But Duff’s casting isn’t just a nostalgia ploy — she’s still a keen comic talent (see Younger, she’s great at it) and really ties it all together.
For all that How I Met Your Father is nostalgic, it also feels a little cautious — it immediately hedges against some of the criticism leveled at its parent show. Most notably, it alludes quite heavily to who the father might be, and closes the first episode by revealing that it’s one of a handful of people Sophie (and we) met that night. “How I Met Your Father” ends just short of holding up a big sign that reads “Trust us, we know where we’re going,” but it’s clearly meant to reassure people who don’t like the “How I Met Your Mother” finale would like. (Interestingly, the attempted Greta Gerwig/Meg Ryan iteration of 2014’s How I Met Your Dad also made a similar choice in its pilot episode.) Will it? Hard to say — it feels like a misdiagnosis of the mainstream of these ailments, if nothing else — but they’re obviously thinking of them here.
Sometimes it’s hard not to feel like this would have worked better if it wasn’t tied to How I Met Your Mother anyway. That’s partly because this show doesn’t exploit its frame story as much as its predecessor; Where HIMYM routinely indulged in other narrative inventions, HIMYF is considerably simpler in its presentation. More than that, it’s because Kim Cattrall is the show’s obvious weak link — maybe it’s because the older Sophie acts in front of the camera instead of just narrating like Bob Saget did on HIMYM, but Cattrall is visible alone on the set at sea and on the phone a son who sounds more like a deputy than an actor. Cutting these scenes would improve the show quite a bit: as it is, the commitment to emulating How I Met Your Mother is a bondage to this show.
In a roundabout way, though, the real problem with How I Met Your Father – which is where all of its troubles come from in the end – is that it’s a throwback in almost every way except where it’s at necessary to be. From the way it’s staged to the laugh track, it has the pace and style of a network sitcom (something that basically airs on a regular TV channel), as we found. Streaming home means they can be a little more free with the language (they swear slightly and make stronger innuendos than before), but otherwise everything is identical to any sitcom.
Except that it’s only 10 instead of 24 episodes. What quickly becomes apparent is how much this style of comedy benefits from the extended running time – more room to breathe, more room to get to know the characters, more room to develop and self-correct in the first series alone. How I Met Your Father has six main characters (already one more than HIMYM) and a few other important supporting characters, but not enough time for any of them other than Sophie to have much impact beyond an initial sketch. In the end there is a show that almost consciously foregoes great impact, something that primarily seems to want to grow on you – but hardly leaves the room for it.
How I met your father will be available as a boxed set on Disney+ starting Wednesday, May 11th. I watched all ten episodes before writing this review.