In case you haven’t noticed, we’re stuck in reboot hell. Over the past year alone, viewers have been subjected to a near-constant influx of announcements for new iterations of Gossip Girl, Sex and the City, Saved by the Bell, iCarly, Dexter, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, and Degrassi. In this nostalgic, cynical era of entertainment, nothing, not even a show as beloved as How I Met Your Mother, is sacred. So it should bode well that, according to its creators, How I Met Your Father isn’t exactly a reboot—it’s a sequel.
How I Met Your Father, premiering on Hulu January 18, isn’t the first HIMYM spin-off. Back in 2014, HIMYM’s creators took their first stab at a gender-swapped version of the hit show, set to star Greta Gerwig and Meg Ryan, but its pilot was never picked up. This latest attempt is helmed by This Is Us showrunners Isaac Aptaker and Elizabeth Berger, with HIMYM’s creators Carter Bays and Craig Thomas as executive producers, and stars Houston-born Hilary Duff as thirtyish Sophie—a photographer and hopeless romantic on a streak of bad Tinder dates.
While it may be a sequel, the distinction isn’t enough to save HIMYF from falling victim to plenty of reboot pitfalls. The show exists in the same universe as its predecessor, with a few fun references to the original sprinkled in early on. But sometimes, the callbacks and jokes feel like nostalgia for nostalgia’s sake. When the scales are tipped too far, you end up with plot lines and dialogue that border on cheesy and saccharine. Still, the four episodes made available to critics add up to an easy watch that shows promise.
In the pilot, we’re introduced to Sophie as she gears up for her eighty-eighth Tinder date of 2022. (The show takes place in a pandemic-free fall.) In her rideshare, she meets Jesse (Chris Lowell), a cynical musician and Uber driver recovering from an embarrassing breakup, and his best friend Sid (Suraj Sharma), a bar owner who’s planning on proposing to his long-distance girlfriend. Sophie’s roommate and best friend, Valentina (Francia Raisa), is an assistant stylist who’s figuring things out with her new fling, Charlie (Tom Ainsley), a recently disowned British aristocrat who followed her to New York. Rounding out the group is Ellen (Tien Tran), Jesse’s estranged adopted sister who’s looking for a fresh start after divorcing her wife. Viewers also meet Kim Cattrall as future Sophie, who’s regaling her off-screen son with the tale of how she met his father. It’s a welcome switch-up from HIMYM, in which we never actually see Bob Saget as the voice of older Ted.
Recreating the magic that made the original the perfect mix of funny, endearing, and sentimental is a tall order. When HIMYM began its final season in 2013, it was dominating the sitcom world, raking in roughly 10.5 million viewers per episode. Fans had spent nearly a decade falling in love with Marshall, Lily, Barney, Robin, and Ted, learning the gang’s inside jokes, sharing in their heartbreak, and trying to follow the convoluted mystery laid out in the show’s title. And while the reveal of that mystery famously had viewers ready to riot, HIMYM has managed to hold onto a fiercely loyal fan base.
Duff and the rest of the ensemble cast of HIMYF have enough natural chemistry to take on the challenge. (Most notably, Ainsley shines as Charlie, who comes off as a lovable, less predatory, himbo version of the original’s Barney.) The characters have some obvious differences from their straight, white HIMYM counterparts, but unlike other recent reboots, this one (so far) doesn’t smack the viewers over the head with them for the sake of winning diversity points. And in contrast to HIMYM, in which four of the group’s five members were already established friends when we met them in the pilot, the gang in HIMYF is still in its early stages. It’s reasonable, then, to expect that there will be growing pains.
We’re watching the gang get to know each other, and while the setups for their hangouts can sometimes seem a little silly, they don’t feel forced. It’s fun to see Valentina give Sid phone-sex pointers, or watch Charlie try and prove to Ellen that he’d make a good roommate. We also see Jesse and Ellen beginning to work out their relationship as siblings in a scene that serves as the highlight of the first four episodes.
The problem is that the cast is often hampered by the writing. HIMYF captures its predecessor’s tone with almost uncanny accuracy. That means some of the punch lines and soon-to-be-running jokes are so easy to anticipate that they lose their punch. It also contributes to a nagging feeling that the dialogue is made up of recycled HIMYM lines that have been updated with stale references to dating apps, FOMO, and unboxing videos.
With HIMYM’s director Pamela Fryman back for the reboot, the show’s laugh track and traditional multi-camera setup only serve to accentuate how different the TV landscape is now. That’s not to say that sitcoms don’t work anymore, but when competing for attention with clever murder mysteries, dramas about cannibalistic teens, and prestige TV about emotionally damaged trust-fund babies, a sitcom has to be truly special to stand out.
Instead, HIMYF feels like a victim of the reboot age. Before landing the role of Sophie, Duff was set to star in the highly anticipated Lizzie McGuire reboot—a project she exited when Disney+ execs made it clear that thirtysomething Lizzie wouldn’t be allowed to even talk about sex. And while Cattrall is magnetic (as always) as older Sophie, it’s hard not to watch her and think about her character’s absence from And Just Like That (though Samantha Jones definitely dodged a Che Diaz–size bullet there).
By the fourth episode, it’s a little bizarre to watch Samantha Jones narrate a kiss between Lizzie McGuire and Drake and Josh’s Josh Nichols (Josh Peck). Seeing actors known for their portrayals of particular characters interact like this on a rebooted version of an old show feels like an out-of-body experience.
More nostalgic than it is actually funny, HIMYF isn’t quite a lost cause. It feels like a faithful companion piece to the original, from the sitcom-style humor to the sweet moments and life lessons HIMYM was known for doling out. The creators captured the tone, but it’ll take a little longer to see if the team behind HIMYF can capture the heart that made its predecessor a classic.