'How I Met Your Father' review: A familiar sitcom that counts on nostalgia
After months of anticipation How I Met Your Father is due to launch on Disney+ from 11 May. Following in the footsteps of its predecessor, the hit sitcom How I Met Your Mother, which ran for nine seasons, audiences will be wondering whether this updated take on sitcom friendships is worth their time and attention span. A question which was apparently answered in February when a second season was greenlit.
Penned in part by the people responsible for that first outing, How I Met Your Father sticks to some tried and tested routes when it comes to engaging audiences.
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In this case that comes down to casting familiar faces from other long running shows, which bring a degree of reassurance and assuage the cynical.
By enlisting both Kim Cattrall (Sophie) and Hilary Duff (Sophie) to play two versions of the same character, Disney nail a double demographic when it comes to audience engagement. The former is not only a recognised character actor with solid credentials, but was pivotal in making Sex and the City such a huge success.
Her opposite number comes with similar kudos, having been hugely popular amongst younger Disney fans, through her role as Lizzie McGuire. A fact which ingratiates Hilary Duff to audiences and taps right into that universal appeal, giving this new show an instant advantage from minute one.
Coming in at under thirty minutes an episode, How I Met Your Father also benefits from having a lot of good writers in the room. They work quickly to establish Christopher Lowell (Jesse), Suraj Sharam (Sid), Francia Raisa (Valentina) and Tien Tran (Ellen), who each benefit from their own individual voice. Dialogue is slick and contemporary references are bounced around within that while scenes fly by.
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As feisty best friend and quintessential confidant Raisa’s Valentina offers the most on-screen value in early episodes. Proving to be both an adept comedienne and dramatic wing woman for Duff, as she negotiates the New York social scene. Unfortunately, Tom Ainsley (Charlie) gets handed the token English buffoon as his calling card, which does him no favours.
He may be aiming for amicable with a side order of culture clash comedy, but Charlie proves to be the weakest link in this show. Chiselled of chin, absurdly gym fit and stereotypically aristocratic, this character almost throws everything off balance. Audiences may buy into the dynamic elsewhere because they all slot together, but Charlie feels like a square peg in a round hole.
In many ways, How I Met Your Father follows the traditions set up by gold standard sitcoms including The Big Bang Theory and more obviously Friends. It is populated with characters who offer universal appeal and the potential for dramatic conflict. That is why it always comes back to the casting.
In retrospect Neil Patrick Harris dominated How I Met Your Mother, proving himself to be versatile and comedically gifted. Although the other cast members could deliver a good line, it was Harris who always drew the eye whenever he came on.
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However, with years of experience as a child star in Doogie Howser MD, combined with that Broadway background it should have come as no surprise.
This follow up comes with no such guarantees, as How I Met Your Father counts on nostalgia and an engrained fanbase to gain traction. As a show it is designed to be easily accessible, not overly intellectual and ripe for repeat viewings. Every series cynically aims for syndication in its quest for a ratings winner, which is why How I Met Your Father plays the long game.
Any comedy is character driven with segues into slapstick and farce, just to hit home with the largest target audience. More contentious topics are approached with caution, delivered with subtlety and passed off as sub-text in lighter moments. That is where the real skill of a show like this can found for those willing to dig.
However, for the most part audiences will dive into this because it feels familiar, is unlikely to ask too much of them and never loses momentum. Meaning that all the clever plot twists, Easter egg throwbacks and considered casting choices will be lost in translation. No doubt something Disney would have discussed at length prior to pushing ahead with another run.
In fact, there is so much faith in this property that season two promises to double the pleasure with twenty episodes.
Which is either a mark of genuine faith in the show or something more cunning cooked up by the bean counters in their marketing department. Only time will tell.
How I Met Your Father is streaming on Disney+ under the Star banner, with new episodes streaming weekly. Watch a trailer below.