Spin-offs are hard to make work.
Still, that doesn’t stop us from trying. From That 80s Show to Joey and countless others, networks have tried for years to recapture the magic of their original series. In theory, it should work. Take an established setting and a character (or more) that’s already beloved, set them up with a few new pieces and let the series take off. Yet fondness for the characters and humour from the original often taints our willingness to accept new people in the world that we once loved. Either expectations are too high or it simply feels repetitive.
But then there’s How I Met Your Father.
Using the same devices as How I Met Your Mother, How I Met Your Father unashamedly leans into the IP established in the original. Nostalgic reminiscing as a storytelling device? Check. A diverse cast of quirky characters who try to navigate love in New York? Absolutely. (In fact, the premiere even sees the introduction of a very familiar apartment.) However, unlike many series who have failed before it, Father is an absolute joy, largely due to the strength of its cast.
Set in the near future, How I Met Your Father introduces us to Sophie (Kim Cattrell) as she decides to tell her adult son the story of how she and his father came together. From there, the series travels back to 2022 as the younger Sophie (Hilary Duff) attempts to navigate the New York dating scene. Plagued by bad Tinder dates, games of broken texts and other romantic misfires, Sophie and her group of friends try to figure out who they are and what they want out of life together.
With a solid cast, the series has absolutely scored with a modern mixture of characters and possibilities. Led by the charisma and sweetness of Duff, each cast member brings their own unique pop to their performances. Whether it’s Tien Tran’s frantic energy, Francia Rasa’s sly street-smarts, Christopher Lowell’s humility, Suraj Sharma’s integrity or Tom Ainsley’s innocence, each member of the group feels like they have something to offer from the outset. Having said that though, the anchors of the series truly are Duff and Raisa. As best friends Sophie and Valentina, the two women have solid onscreen presence and are genuinely fun to watch together.
However, it’s worth noting that the starkest difference within Father lies in its racial and gender inclusivity. Whereas the Mother primarily focused on the lives of five white adults, Father does a far better job of showcasing the diverse population of New York. In other words, although the framing of the narration is through Sophie’s eyes, the series does its best to balance the variety of voices and experiences that make up the city. (In fact, it’s worth noting that, whereas Mother focused the storytelling on the kids, Father only shows the older Sophie. In doing so, the narrator never gives away any clues to the ethnicity of the unknown father through the identity of their inevitable child together.)
As with the original, the charm of Father’s premise lies in the fact that the dramatic events of Sophie’s past often feel more significant in the moment than they do in the future. By narrating the story (technically) through flashback, Sophie is able to gain a new perspective on her life. In essence, while we know that, ultimately, Sophie is going to form a meaningful connection with the mysterious ‘father’, younger Sophie has no such assurances. Just like Sophie, the dating misfires and relationship problems of our youth may have taken on massive significance to us in the moment. However, when we look back on them, those moments often help lead to something much better. As such, through this format, the viewer automatically starts with a certain sense of hope. No matter what she goes through, we know that Sophie is going to be okay. Although she’s struggling, the events of her youth have not defined her in the present, no matter who the ‘father’ turns out to be.
There’s peace in that assurance.
So, even though How I Met Your Father may be going back to a familiar setting and style, it’s possible that this spin-off may just succeed where others have failed. Certainly, there’s enough charm amongst its cast to bring me back again for another trip into the past.
The first two episodes of How I Met Your Father stream on Hulu on Tuesday, January 18th, 2021, with new episodes arriving weekly.