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Arts

'How I Met Your Father' tries to learn from a 'Mother' of mistakes

Sophie (Hilary Duff) and Valentina (Francia Raisa) star in How I Met Your Father, premiering Jan. 18 on Hulu.
Patrick Wymore
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Hulu

Let us not rehash the bad feelings around the poorly conceived ending of How I Met Your Mother.

I spent happy years watching that show, loved much of what it did with its talented cast, and don't believe in regretting that time just because the charming premise of its pilot (sometimes the person who seems to be your romantic soulmate is not, but they may still be incredibly special to you) was betrayed by its ending (psych! She actually is his romantic soulmate LOL ha ha).

Much of that show's success lay in what you might just call its hangout vibes. Like Living Single and Friends and other sitcoms, it put a bunch of people — Ted (Josh Radnor), Robin (Cobie Smulders), Marshall (Jason Segel) and Lily (Alyson Hannigan), and Barney (Neil Patrick Harris) — in a bunch of rooms doing a bunch of weird things, and it watched as they unfolded. At the same time, the comedy of HIMYM was heightened and a little unreal. It's not as well-known for its hooky, jokey concepts as something like Seinfeld, but bits like the slap bet and Robin's past as a Canadian teen pop star always made it feel a little broader than a pure hangout show.

And now, years later, we get How I Met Your Father on Hulu, which is premiering Jan. 18. The premise is this: an adult Sophie, played by Kim Cattrall, addresses her son to tell him how she met his father. He says he already knows, but she says he doesn't know the details. From here, we launch into the story of young Sophie, played by Hilary Duff, who in the first episode is living with a roommate and going on Tinder dates and, improbably, instantly gaining entry into a new group of friends after an adventurous night. Critics have been asked not to talk too much about how the story of the father fits into this story, so: fine. Frankly, that asks us not to tell readers how the show is trying to preempt fears that its ending will be as much of a gotcha as the original HIMYM ending, which might be counterproductive from the show's point of view, but: fine.

But what I will tell you is that the jokes in the two episodes I watched just do not land at all. It's not for lack of effort, and it's not for lack of talent in the cast. Hilary Duff can absolutely carry a show like this, as you know if you watched her on Younger. And Chris Lowell, who's playing one of the guys in her newly formed circle, is one of my very favorite Regular Guy Actors, by which I mean he often brings a little punch and tons of charm to roles that aren't written with a lot of easy, showy stuff for actors to grab onto. (The role he plays in Promising Young Woman almost riffs on this very quality.)

The cast of <em>How I Met Your Father</em>.
Patrick Wymore / Hulu
/
Hulu
The cast of <em>How I Met Your Father</em>.

The rest of the cast I don't know quite as well in comedy — Francia Raisa as Sophie's roommate; Tom Ainsley, Daniel Augustin, Suraj Sharma (from Life of Pi!), and Tien Tran all play other people who enter her life in the first episode. But I don't think it's them; I think it's the script not being nearly funny enough.

But on the whole, I think this show isn't weird enough. Ted Mosby was often insufferable, but he had a kind of quixotic desire for love — a belief in grand gestures and destiny — that made him watchable, even if sometimes through your fingers. Marshall and Lily were a couple of beautifully matched dorks. And Barney was pretty loathsome, but at least he was specific, with his suit-wearing and his high-fiving and the constant question of why he was friends with any of these people.

How I Met Your Father is a hangout show that I think is too much like an actual hangout. These people seem very nice. (And it's definitely a positive thing that it's not another full complement of straight white characters.) They seem to like each other; they seem to be rootable and pleasant. The actors are absolutely up to the challenge. But ... trying to marry this kind of naturalistic, laid-back approach to the high-concept business with the narrator and the "this is how I met your father" and all that? I think it's not working in these early episodes, at least. (With that said, comedies often take time to grow into themselves.)

It's harder than it looks, the "put a bunch of attractive people in a room and put a camera on them" kind of show. It's hard, period. Chemistry is hard to duplicate; quirkiness is hard to manufacture without having it seem hopelessly labored.

If I had to actually be friends with either the friends in the first show or the friends in the follow-up show, I might well choose these friends. But that's not really the point, is it?


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