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Hulu's How I Met Your Father plays out like a millennial MadLib rather than a show all its own

  • "Despite the constant reminders that How I Met Your Father takes place in 2022 — both from Hilary Duff as the lovelorn 'I' and Kim Cattrall (very game here) as the same character narrating from her 2050 future— its every 'modern' reference and joke setup still feel at least five years out of date," says Caroline Framke of the "standalone sequel series" to How I Met Your Mother. "That, plus its commitment to the original How I Met Your Mother combination of soft punchlines leading to a loud laugh track, makes How I Met Your Father one of the more downright disorienting series in recent memory." Framke adds that HIMYF "goes out of its way to show its characters using smartphones and ring lights, but which somehow still feels frozen in the amber of the original series’ mid-aughts setting. Frankly, if How I Met Your Father had just gone ahead and embraced the weird challenge of being a full-on aughts period piece, it would’ve been a far more interesting show. Not only would its constant winking acknowledgments that Duff (and eventual guest star Josh Peck) was one of the era’s TV mainstays be more fun, but the entire show would at least set itself apart from every other sitcom like it. As is, How I Met Your Father is just a bizarre exercise in recycling nostalgia for modern times without finding a way to be modern at all."


    • Mediocre sitcom writing and "a bunch of Ted Mosbys" sink HIMYF: "It’s hard to judge a new sitcom based on a couple of episodes," says Dustin Rowles. "It’s not about the writing, which can get better. It’s more about the characters and whether there’s a potential to vibe with them. It’s not unlike a first date. Even if everything goes to hell, you can still tell if there’s a spark there. There may be some baggage of which you are unaware, they may say something in the future that will force you to reexamine everything you thought you knew, or you may not know yet that they drive a Jeep, but you can tell early on if this is someone with whom you want to at least spend more time. How I Met Your Father fails on all three counts. The writing is mediocre generic-dating sitcom writing; the characters are less Friends and more Friends clones; and there’s not much by way of a spark. Even the actors we know and like - Hilary Duff and Christopher Lowell (PIZ!) — have been flattened by sitcom writing, stripped of their personalities, and turned into cookie-cutter sitcom caricatures. There’s no Robin or Barney here, just a bunch of Ted Mosbys."
    • HIMYF 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," says Linda Holmes. "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.)"
    • How I Met Your Father evokes a specific kind of nostalgia: "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," says Petrana Radulovic. "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."
    • HIMYF will make you miss HIMYM: "Like most successful sitcoms, HIMYM boasted zippy scripts, enviable cast chemistry and earnest showmanship to spare," says Inkoo Kang. "But How I Met Your Father underscores what made the earlier show so distinctive: its particular friendship dynamic. Like so many well-to-do urban 20-somethings, Josh Radnor’s Ted built his adult support system through his college pals and random people he’d encountered at his local bar. The characters were raconteurs who couldn’t help mythologizing their youth, their city and their relationships. And some of the series’ best observations were about how they’d sometimes fudge the truth to make their romances sweeter, or themselves more attractive or better-seeming people than they actually were. From the hindsight of 2022, it was a prescient look at how young people would use social media to turn experience into neat, self-flattering images as a way of presenting oneself to the world. Ted et al. could also be smug as hell about the specialness of their friend group — their conviction that they were the protagonists of the story of New York — but the show delighted in puncturing their occasional insufferability, too. HIMYM’s greatest triumph was in spinning a cocoon of friendship based on long-running in-jokes, spontaneously invented words and games, and shared narratives they’d reference or revise, inviting viewers to feel as if they were one of the gang, too. It’s not entirely fair to compare what How I Met Your Mother did with nine seasons to what little How I Met Your Father does in its initial four episodes, the portion screened for critics. (The debut season contains 10 chapters total.) But I can say that not a trace of the graceful aplomb that HIMYM exhibited even in its pilot episode is present in the early installments of the Hulu series, which looks and tastes like a cake on Nailed It.”
    • HIMYF is a legendary misfire: How I Met Your Father "arrives knowing that the latter is the sin for which it must atone," says Jennifer Keishin Armstrong. "Alas, at least based on the first four installments of a 10-episode season, it’s hard to imagine caring enough about the ending for it to matter. This version doesn’t clear the first significant hurdle: It has none of the alchemy of the original that kept us invested for nine seasons. In fact, the strongest feeling it conjures is profound appreciation for how special the Mother iteration was. Remember discovering the blinding charisma of Cobie Smulders as Canadian pop star-turned-news reporter Robin? No wonder our sappy main character, Ted, fell for her immediately! Didn’t Jason Segel and Alyson Hannigan, as Marshall and Lily, make being married look delightful? And, my God, Neil Patrick Harris’ dazzling turn as womanizer Barney! It revived a career that had languished for a decade after his teen breakout hit Doogie Howser, M.D.! The entire cast meshed so well, and was having so much fun. So were we."
    • HIMYF doesn't rise to HIMYM's level: "It’s hard to remember now, after that dumpster fire of a series finale, but How I Met Your Mother was actually a pretty good show for most of its run, putting a few new touches on the standard sitcom formula and creating something both fresh and familiar," says Dave Nemetz "It helped that its core cast was so talented, and How I Met Your Father boasts a talented cast of young actors, too. But the material doesn’t rise to their level. It lacks the sharp wit that made How I Met Your Mother so appealing, and it relies too heavily on sentimental schmaltz that doesn’t feel earned." He adds: "The cast is plenty likable, but the punchlines they’re given are lame, with lots of tired Tinder jokes, and the laugh track is loud and distracting. (That’s one aspect of HIMYM they could’ve left in the past.) How I Met Your Father has a real CBS sitcom feel to it, somehow, despite being on a streaming service. It does get a lot racier than HIMYM, though, with a sex toy mishap that would never play on CBS."
    • HIMYF is too cringeworthy: "I found myself cringing a lot during the first four episodes made available for review, hoping things would improve as the writers and actors found a rhythm," says Matthew Gilbert. "But joke after joke tanked, the ensemble — including the usually smooth Chris Lowell (GLOW) — never seemed to strike an easy chemistry, and the romantic dynamics bashed me over the head. How I Met Your Mother was outstanding on all those fronts, until the final two or so seasons, but the show that has been created in its image (by different people)? As Ted and Robin from the original might say with salutes, it’s a Major Miscalculation and a General Bummer."
    • HIMYF shows some promise after four episodes: "How I Met Your Father wants to be both charming in a classical sitcom way - complete with laugh track and friend group hijinks — while also trying to be a bit more modern and daring," says Ross Bonaime. "90% of the first four episodes of How I Met Your Father could air any night on CBS, but every once in a while, there’s talk about 'crushing dick,' or an entire subplot about a high-tech sex toy. It’s certainly not bad for the show to be more contemporary in its look at love in the present, but the way it does it at times feels jarring, as if the show is trying to prove that it’s not your parent’s sitcom. Shows like Happy Endings or New Girl have nailed this balance, but the multi-camera sitcom trappings, mixed with attempts to be progressive, don’t always work with HIMYF. However, by the end of these first four episodes, How I Met Your Father does a good job of setting up this new group of friends and what they could mean for the overall story. Duff and Lowell have great chemistry that elevates the entire series, while Sharma’s delightful when he gets his own story, and the questionable relationship between Valentina and Charlie is endearing, especially the further the show goes along. Also wonderful is Josh Peck as Drew, another possible love interest for Sophie that feels like a match made in early aughts children’s programming heaven. Yet, it’s, unfortunately, Tran’s Ellen that doesn’t have much to do here, as she’s often the sixth character trying to figure out what exactly she does. By the show’s fourth episode, 'Dirrty Thirty,' there’s a stronger understanding as to who this character is, especially when it comes to her youth with Jesse, but it still feels like the one person that the show doesn’t quite know what to do with yet."
    • HIMYF feels dated with its overreliance on nostalgia: "The sequel pays homage to the original series with gratifying inside jokes and Easter eggs, but sadly the HIMYM callbacks aren't the only signs that How I Met Your Father is stuck in the past," says Nicole Galluci. "Dated pop culture references to Jane Fonda workout tapes and early 2000s music feel forced, like strategically-placed nostalgia trying too hard to hook millennial viewers. It's understandable to long for a world before technology played such a heavy role in our love stories, but a lot has changed since 2005. Dropping buzzwords related to dating apps and internet slang isn't enough to make this modern series stand apart from the dated blueprint it's using as inspiration. In order for How I Met Your Father to succeed, writers can't solely rely on replicating morsels of HIMYM's magic and tapping into nostalgia. They'll need to fully embrace their modern-day setting and lean into what makes relationships, communication, and life so different today. Four screeners in, the laugh track does the heavy lifting for jokes that don't play, including one line two minutes into the pilot that actually made me cringe. But that's not to say the show's all bad. Duff brings a heavy dose of charisma to the role, and her talented castmates have enough chemistry and charm to keep viewers coming back for Season 1's ten episodes."
    • HIMYF feels like a pale imitation: "If old episodes of HIMYM feel like comfort food in 2022, HIMYF feels less like an updated recipe than the prepackaged Trader Joe’s version," says Angie Han. "It’s good enough to pass in a pinch, but not quite good enough to surpass the real deal. The new series’ clearest advantage is Duff, who seems born to be a rom-com queen. Her delicate balance of starry-eyed and grounded keeps Sophie on just this side of relatable, even as she sighs after 87 failed first dates in a row that the next first date is going to be when she meets the man she’ll spend the rest of her life with. (Forget what such a grueling track record means for her emotional state, how does she find the time?)... There’s only so much these performers can do, however, with the tepid observations they’re given on subjects as picked-clean as Tinder, Grindr, FOMO and viral “fail” videos, and with characterizations that veer too familiar, too bland or, in Sid’s case, both. The vivid personalities, crackling chemistry and memorable one-liners that mark a great hangout show elude them so far, although the show offers flashes of hope here and there that it could yet grow into them."
    • HIMYF is the sad cover version of a show that's best left forgotten: "Hearing the affected patter of How I Met Your Father educes the same reaction: they're not saying anything offensive, it's the way they're saying it – as if they're playacting 2022 from the perspective of 2005," says Melanie McFarland, adding: "Aside from incorporating a few racy elements that never would have made it through CBS' standards and practices department, like a visual gag involving a technologically advanced sexual aid for men, its main change is that Tinder features prominently. You know, the same as in every show about the difficulties of mating and dating in in today's world."
    • Francis Raisa wanted to be part of HIMYF because of Hilary Duff's involvement: "I heard Hilary Duff was a part of it and I was like, 'OK, well everything she touches turns to gold so let's see this,'" she says.
    • HIMYF fans haven't seen the last of Leighton Meester
    • Co-creator Isaac Isaac Aptaker and Elizabeth Berger loved adding HIMYM Easter eggs: "These shows are so much fun because they are puzzles," says Aptaker. "They take simple moments, very grounded moments, and make them feel huge, all by storytelling and how information is very carefully revealed. We’re a big fan of elements like that, and people should certainly be watching for them.” 
    • Hilary Duff, Chris Lowell and Tien Tran discuss how "freaking amazing" it is to work on HIMYF and escape from the real world: "I’m in New York right now, and to live in a world where I can be walking around the New York streets without an N95 mask on, where the biggest stress of my life is what my Tinder profile looks like, is a wonderful world to live in," says Lowell. "It’s a wonderful way to experience New York, that I frankly miss dearly and hope will come back soon. But I think you said it all in your question, being able to spend time with people that I genuinely love and being able to be put in scenarios where I have to try not to laugh all day long is a great way to go to and come home from work."
    • How Hilary Duff landed on HIMYF after only being somewhat familiar with HIMYM: "I got a call from my manager saying that there was this project that they wanted to chat with me about," the actress tells EW of looking for a new project as Younger was ending. "Then I heard the title and I was like, 'Are you kidding me? What?!'" That familiarity made the star nervous, though. "The original show is so, so beloved and was just so spot-on perfect, that I'm like, 'Ohh, I don't wanna do reboot,'" says Duff. But after talking with Aptaker and Berger, Duff was reassured. "They could literally sell me a bag of dirty laundry," she jokes. "They're so enthusiastic about what they do and they're so talented. I was a little bit nervous about the sitcom of it all because I've never done multi-cam, but I read the script and it was just everything you want a comedy to be. There were lighthearted moments, but there (were) funny moments and it was a little dirty at times. It was just perfect. I signed on board and was like, 'Yeah, I need five months — I'm having a baby right now.'"
    • HIMYF is using the exact apartment from HIMYM: "It’s not a replica," explains the Los Angeles Times' Ashley Lee. "The studio quietly held it in storage after wrapping production on the original in 2014, with its upholstered valances and window blinds still intact." But why use the old set? “This is very much its own show and we’re telling an entirely new story here,” says co-creator Elizabeth Berger. “But at the same time, we wanted to pay tribute to the original and give this loyal fan base — and we are part of that fan base — something special.” HIMYF even used the original swords from HIMYM, borrowing them from HIMYM co-creator Carter Bays.

    TOPICS: How I Met Your Father, Hulu, How I Met Your Mother, Chris Lowell, Elizabeth Berger, Francia Raisa, Hilary Duff, Isaac Aptaker, Tien Tran