TV's romantic comedies have expanded in scope and ambition in the eight years since How I Met Your Mother's much-hated 2014 series finale. But you would never know that watching this week's premiere of HIMYM's gender-flipped Hulu sequel series, How I Met Your Father. "Eight years is a lot of time, especially in the fast-changing landscape of 21st-century TV," says Alison Herman, pointing out that HIMYF is a streaming show. As Herman notes, "just a few months after How I Met Your Mother ended its run, FX premiered You’re the Worst, which made the prior show’s destination its starting point. How I Met Your Mother built up to single meet-cute; You’re the Worst understood the meet-cute for what it is: the beginning of a much larger, more complex story. For five seasons, ending in 2019, You’re the Worst tracked the highs and lows of a single relationship between misanthropes Jimmy and Gretchen. It was a first in a series of projects, including Amazon’s Catastrophe and Netflix’s Love, to use television’s length to their advantage, tracing bonds more complex and enduring than a typical get-together plot. What How I Met Your Mother treated as a denouement, such series took as a rich text. Finding a soulmate doesn’t have to be the end of one’s story—in fact, quite the opposite. This cluster of shows was part of a larger migration. Throughout the late 1990s and early aughts, romantic comedies were the province of films and the movie stars that led them. With the decline of the mid-budget, adult-oriented feature and the rapid expansion of TV, that balance started to shift. (Remaking High Fidelity as a show felt especially symbolic.) The trend was further accelerated by the rise of limited and anthology series, which offered a happy medium between a one-off story and a multi-season exploration. From the second installment of Fleabag to the latest edition of Love Life, the rom-com has proved every bit as well-suited to the season-length story as crime or horror." After all that progress, what made HIMYM unique doesn't feel so special anymore, which is why HIMYF seems frozen in time. "In the end," says Herman. "How I Met Your Father has neither throwback charm nor a fresh take on its material. For the former, one could simply rewatch How I Met Your Mother, which is also streaming on Hulu; for the latter, one could choose from any one of the many shows that have carried the rom-com torch into a new, more sophisticated, often auteur-driven era. After such a lengthy hiatus, the How I Met Your … concept has reemerged into a much more crowded ecosystem. It simply can’t compete."
Despite a gender swap, How I Met Your Father still ended up with an insufferable "lovelorn sitcom dude": "Nobody watched How I Met Your Mother for its protagonist Ted (Josh Radnor)," says Eliana Dockterman. "They tuned in for Neil Patrick Harris’ Barney, the quippy playboy, or for the way that Jason Segel’s Marshall and Alyson Hannigan’s Lily doted on one another. Ted was a drip. A bummer. He complained about not being able to find love. Worse still, he seemed to feel entitled to a partner. Thankfully, the central character in Hulu’s long-awaited How I Met Your Mother spinoff, How I Met Your Father, is not only a woman (Hilary Duff’s Sophie), but a woman who remains unflaggingly optimistic about her prospect of finding love in the big city, even in the face of repeated rejection. And yet, somehow, a whiny Ted-like character has still snuck his way into this new ensemble. Christopher Lowell plays Jesse, Sophie’s new friend—and, based on the puppy-dog looks the two often exchange, inevitable love interest. Jesse reveals in the first episode that he proposed to his girlfriend on stage in front of hundreds of people, but she turned him down. A video of the incident has gone viral, and he has turned bitter. His defining character trait in the first few episodes is 'man dumped by woman.' Jesse is far from the first self-styled good guy to get dumped in the pilot episode of a sitcom. In fact, he’s the inheritor of a dated and sexist trope. He’s the latest in a long legacy of lovelorn men who are a tiresome staple of these ensemble casts. Many of the comedy shows that aired from mid-1990s to the early 2010s fall into one of two categories: hangout comedies that are, essentially, riffs on Friends (How I Met Your Mother, Happy Endings, New Girl) and workplace comedies (The Office, 30 Rock, Parks and Recreation). The workplace comedies were filled with zany personalities, and while some among them may have been mopey (hello, Toby Flenderson), they were supporting players, not romantic heroes. But if the show fell into the former classification, it probably had a Ted in the group."
Francia Raisa, 33, gets to finally play her age on HIMYF after her role as a college student on Grown-ish: "It was a mindf*ck in my personal and professional life,” Raisa admits about playing someone 10 years younger than her. “Because professionally, I hadn’t aged. I was playing the same age. But personally, I was getting older. And so when quarantine happened, honestly it was the first time I really got to live my life as a 30-year-old. I really got to learn myself. And even when I stepped foot on How I Met and I met everyone else… you know, Chris (Lowell) and Hilary are married with kids, and meeting people that are in different stages of their lives and similar to where I’m going, it was like, oh, I was immature for a very long time. It was a quick realization and a way for me to just grow up. It was very refreshing. And I would say that it definitely helped a lot with my depression, to be able to just be my own person and finally live my life in my 30s.”