There’s something deeply uncanny about Hulu’s “How I Met Your Father.” Billed as a “sequel” to the smash CBS sitcom “How I Met Your Mother,” but acting more like a spinoff entry in the “HIMYM” cinematic universe, “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character narrating from her 2050 future— its every “modern” reference and joke setup still feel at least five years out of date. 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.
From “This is Us” and “Love, Victor” writing team Isaac Aptaker and Elizabeth Berger, “How I Met Your Father” tells interweaving dating stories that are apparently meant to be current, but in practice bring little to TV’s ongoing (and outdated) fascination with what it means to be a single person swiping left and right for love. It also ostensibly takes place in New York City, but not one anyone within 50 miles of the real one would ever recognize despite the many references to top Google hits for the city’s best bagel/hippest neighborhood/whatever else. (I realize that some of the appeal of “How I Met Your Father” will be to let viewers spot “How I Met Your Mother” Easter eggs, but more shows that clearly shoot in Los Angeles should really just empower themselves to be set in Los Angeles, where they might actually know the ins and outs of daily life.) The most interesting twist on the original’s conceit is also the one I’m not allowed to discuss at all (but if it helps, “most interesting” is also rather generous considering how obvious its eventual outcome seems).
Duff plays Sophie, a photographer and hopeless romantic on the edge of 30 whose biggest dream is to find her “person.” Her roommate Val (Francia Raisa) is the show’s resident wild card, introducing her rich British boyfriend Charlie (Tom Ainsley) to Sophie as their new roommate within minutes of the show introducing Val. Rounding out the cast are best friends Sid (Suraj Sharma), who spends the pilot planning his surprise proposal to long-distance girlfriend Hannah (Ashley Reyes), Jesse (Chris Lowell), the resident cynic and most obvious foil for Sophie’s sunny optimism, and Jesse’s sister Ellen (Tien Tran), fresh off a painful divorce from her wife. Ellen is the closest the show comes to an interesting character, and only barely at that. Not even Lowell, so capable on shows like “GLOW” and “Enlisted,” can overcome the musty characterization of “Uber driver weathering the humiliation of his failed proposal going viral.”
That just about applies to every character and complication on “How I Met Your Father,” which 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.
“How I Met Your Father” premieres Tuesday, January 18 on Hulu.