Is this what it feels like to be pandered to?
Like many others, I was burned by the How I Met Your Mother finale. Why spend nine seasons building up to the introduction of a character only to unceremoniously kill her off? Why break up my favorite couple on the show just so insufferable Ted Mosby could shoot his shot decades later? As much as the sitcom captivated me with its tight-knit friend group dynamic, full of inside jokes that the characters shared with the audience, the finale took everything I liked about the show and managed to completely blow it up in the last 10 minutes.
So, when How I Met Your Father — not to be confused with the shelved How I Met Your Dad — was announced, I rejected it on principle. They won’t get me this time, I thought. I’m stronger. I’ve learned. I’ve grown past the need for sitcoms about friend groups in New York City in impossibly cool apartments.
’Twas with a steeled heart that I watched the How I Met Your Father premiere, through squinted eyes, as I mentally prepared myself to be disappointed. And yet, the more I watched, the more I let my icy heart melt and by the end, I realized that perhaps for the first time I am specifically the target audience of something. I grew up with Lizzie McGuire, I watched the How I Met Your Mother finale in my college dorm common area, I am a late 20-something living in New York City, who feels like the pandemic has robbed me of spontaneous sitcom adventures alongside a group of friends with magically clear schedules (as if I went out a lot before), and my engagement photos were taken with the Brooklyn Bridge in the background (more on that later).
If I can’t race across the city with a group of beautiful people, at least I can watch Hilary Duff do so! I’ve shed my cynicism and reluctantly embraced How I Met Your Father — which may yet disappoint me, but I am clinging to the way this first episode made me feel.
[Ed. note: This post contains spoilers for the first episode of How I Met Your Father]
The premise of How I Met Your Father is pretty much the same thing as How I Met Your Mother. A middle-aged woman named Sophie, played by Kim Cattrall, calls her son in the year 2050 to tell him the story of how she met his father. Flashback to 2022, where she’s played by Hilary Duff, and Sophie is about to go on the most important Tinder date of her life, with charming marine biologist Ian (Daniel Augustin). On the way there, she steps into an Uber driven by Jesse (Chris Lowell), who is driving his best friend Sid (Suraj Sharma) to propose to his girlfriend. Sophie’s date gets cut short, however, when she learns that Ian has taken a job in Australia — despite all their chemistry, both agree that a long distance relationship based on a lot of texting and one IRL meeting is probably a bad idea.
Thanks to some sitcom mishaps and magic, by the end of the episode, Sophie walks across the Brooklyn Bridge with not just Sid and Jesse, but Jesse’s adopted sister Ellen (Tien Tran), who freshly moved to NYC after a divorce; and Sophie’s impulsive roommate Valentine (Francia Raisa) and Charlie (Tom Ainsley), her posh British boyfriend who she spontaneously invited to live with her after he got disowned. The way they all end up on this fated walk is definitely the result of contrived TV happenstances, but that is the charm of a sitcom: where event after event goes horribly wrong, so that one thing can go wonderfully right. How I Met Your Mother always pulled that off (at least, till that last episode), and seeing it replicated in How I Met Your Father promises that same sort of satisfying sitcom serendipity. At the end of the episode, Sophie tells her son that she did indeed meet his father that night — and the show flashes on every single man of note, including both Sid and Charlie — but that the story of how they got together is much longer.
It’s a notable twist on the original, where we didn’t meet the Mother till the very last episode of the last season. But much like how the original How I Met Your Mother was really about the core friend group, How I Met Your Father feels like it will be more intentionally about friendship than about the romance of it all. But unlike How I Met Your Mother, which invited the viewer into a mostly already established friend group, How I Met Your Father seems to be building it up with two separate friend groups coming together. It’s not the same immediate chemistry of How I Met Your Mother, but the different dynamic makes the show particularly compelling — how does one make friends in their 20s in New York City, without carrying them over from college like Ted, Marshall, and Lily?
While Sid and his fianceé do resemble Marshall and Lily on a surface level, the characters aren’t quite one-to-one matches of the HIMYM cast (and probably for the better — let’s be real, Barney’s whole schtick did not age well). Certain sitcom tropes do thread them together — Sophie as the lead romantic is obviously gonna be similar to Ted, while cynical Jesse shares some traits with Robin. But the familiarities are less direct homages so much as they are just typical sitcom stock characters. Charlie is the most fun addition, his stuffy posh roots providing a hilarious juxtaposition to the day-to-day life of regular New Yorkers, but the other characters all have promise of growing beyond their one-note impressions. The similarities between the original cast are there if you want to look for them, but it’s not required.
Unfortunately, the similarity that is glaring is the very early-2000s-esque comedic delivery. Perhaps that stilted and contrived delivery felt charming in 2005, but in 2022 it’s just awkward. The timing almost exactly mirrors the original, equal parts befuddling and nostalgic. On one hand, would it really be a How I Met Your Mother sequel if it didn’t spark the same sort of energy? But on the other, there are certain today-isms that just sound weird in early-2000s sitcom lingo. At one point, Sophie says her phone is hungry and makes what I can only describe as cutesy gobbling noises as she plugs it into the car charger. I visibly cringed (as if I had not made that same exact noise when charging my phone before); it’s just a version of today that doesn’t quite exist in the real world. Sometimes it’s awkward and weird. And other times, it transcends the cringe.
Yes, this is a version of 2022 where no one wears masks in Ubers and going to a crowded bar on a Saturday night seems like a fun thing to do, but I needed to see that. I want to see an actress I grew up with getting to do the things I thought I would do at this age, with a group of strangers slowly becoming friends since they all magically live within easy commute of each other and have schedules that line up (I cannot stress enough — the most unrealistic part of sitcoms about friend groups is how they all regularly have the same free time). I needed to see Hilary Duff make a stupid noise as she charges her phone in an Uber full of strangers, something I would only do in the private of my own home.
The reason Sophie walks across the Brooklyn Bridge at the end of this episode is because she promised herself that she would do it for the first time with her soulmate — but she decides that she doesn’t want to wait around for a guy. She’s going to take control of her own life, make some new friends and lasting memories. When one of my last big New York memories before the pandemic was taking engagement photos in front of the Brooklyn Bridge, surrounded by my closest friends, that just hits all the harder. Maybe How I Met Your Father will only ever be a pale shadow of the original, but for me, it’s evoked a specific feeling of nostalgia for old and wistfulness for what could be — yeah, there’s a good likelihood I’ll be burned again as the show goes on, but maybe, as the entire How I Met Your saga reiterates, it’s worth it to be burned in the pursuit of love.
The first two episodes of How I Met Your Father are available on Hulu.