'How I Met Your Father' review: The shaggy-dog story returns
SERIES "How I Met Your Father"
WHERE Streaming on Hulu starting Jan. 18
WHAT IT'S ABOUT Sophie (Hilary Duff) is a New York based-photographer just getting her career on track while her love life veers badly off. She's just met a nice guy via Tinder, Ian (Daniel Augustin, "David Makes Man") but there's a complication (he's about to move to Australia). Her roommate, Valentina (Francia Raisa, "Grown-ish"), is just back from London Fashion Week with new boyfriend, Charlie (Tom Ainsley). Then, after meeting Jesse (Christopher Lowell, "GLOW") and his friend Sid (Suraj Sharma,"God Friended Me") — who is trying to get a new bar off the ground — during an Uber ride, Sophie's prospects either improve or lead to another dead end. Viewers won't know which until the series' end because like "How I Met Your Mother,'' this is all about Sophie telling her son in the year 2050 (Kim Cattrall plays the future Sophie, reclining on a couch, sipping chardonnay) how she indeed met his father.
MY SAY The shaggiest shaggy dog story in prime-time history ran for eight seasons beginning in the mid-aughts and proceeded on the dubious assumption that "the kids'' really did want dad (Josh Radnor) to tell them how he met their mom — over 208 episodes no less. This shaggy dog nonetheless became both a hit and a cultural force, and seemed to square the zeitgeist circa 2005-14 with the ageless challenge of finding one's soul mate. "HIMYM" also had a compelling narrative hook, or something called "causation," which meant that the most innocuous act could (and did) lead to the most consequential ones (meeting mom, for example).
The shaggy dog is back, with some key differences. Foremost, Hulu's "HIMYF" almost petulantly refuses to be called a "reboot," but instead says on screen that it was "inspired by" the old CBS hit. While the distinction might seem semantic, the cast here is in fact diverse ("HIMYM" wasn't remotely) and the story is framed in the right-here-right-now, with smartphones, serial dating, swipe right (or left) and the overwhelming challenge of finding true love in the age of Tinder. There's no character remotely like Neil Patrick Harris' (now) deeply problematic Barney Stinson, "HIMYM's" serial womanizer and #MeToo sexual harassment lawsuit waiting-to-happen. In "How I Met Your Father," everyone is clueless and looking for love in the all the wrong places — the cellphone, mostly — and coming up short.
In fact, no one has the dating game figured out because dating has become as momentous as taking an Uber or swiping a DM. Microdating is the norm, with its own lingua franca — submarining, ghosting, breadcrumbing, benching — and acronym salad. How did Sophie meet the kids' father? You may be certain she managed after navigating a DTR (Define the Relationship), the occasional FWB (Friends with Benefits), and finally agreeing to an IRL (meeting someone offline).
If this sounds depressing — and let's face it, this pretty much is — then "How I Met Your Father" has an obvious workaround, or a couple of them. It's a familiar sitcom with familiar beats, and stars a particularly familiar lead who brings a nostalgic vibe to an essentially wistful enterprise. "How I Met Your Father" is for anyone who grew up on Duff's "Lizzie McGuire" or "Drake and Josh" (Josh Peck joins in a later episode) and may be wondering right now why romance is so tragically out of reach circa 2022. All evidence to the contrary, at least this "inspired by" reboot offers a glint of optimism.
BOTTOM LINE The shaggy dog is back with some updated touches, a good cast, and familiar sitcom energy. Otherwise, swipe left.