On Tuesday morning, during my daily commute into Manhattan, I realized I’d been staring at a man’s Doc Martens across from me on the train for what was probably an inappropriate amount of time. I hadn’t meant to get stuck on them; they were fine Doc Martens, really. I had simply clocked the Docs, and then my consciousness slipped away from me, likely to take a little breather in birdbrain land while my physical body just sat there like an abandoned cocoon. I blinked, coming to as I heard my partner’s frequent follow-up question in my head: “Hello, where’d ya go?”
Embarrassed, I looked to my left, then my right, to make sure no one had caught me in unmanned parking garage mode, but it looked as if nearly every woman on the train was similarly in unmanned parking garage mode. Just the night before, Politico had gotten hold of a leaked draft of the Supreme Court’s decision to roll back Roe v. Wade, potentially ending the right to safe and legal abortion in this country. Forced to sit with the all-but-confirmed fact that our nation’s leaders do not want women to have control over their bodies, several bouts of dissociative zone-outs actually seemed like quite the mild reaction. A less braindead version of me would’ve been rage-screaming.
I tried stretching, and I tried dunking my face in cold water, and I tried phoning home, and I tried on a pretty lavender dress. None of it helped—not even a glittery rhinestoned belt or a lychee martini—so I gave up. I sat on the couch and channel-surfed around streaming services until I landed on the dreaded How I Met Your Mother reboot, creatively titled and still gendered How I Met Your Father, on Hulu. For all my grumblings on the death of creativity within Hollywood’s remake/spinoff machine, which favors latex-covered super-duds and thoughtless regurgitations of series not even 20 years old, at least it had Hilary Duff as the show’s lead. I was hoping she might “let the rain fall down /and wake my dreams,” or something stupidly earnest like that.
Ten episodes later, what I found was syrupy, cheesy, at times entirely one-dimensional, and hopelessly romantic. But it tasted like “Chicken Soup for the Soul”: the new buddy comedy I’ve needed for a long, long time, and especially now as promises we thought, however naively, would be upheld melt away like ice cream on a summer day. I never asked the show to be “legendary,” and it wasn’t. I only needed for it to be kind.
The original Ted Mosby, in hindsight, was unbelievably annoying and a master gaslighter—the sort who breaks up with his girlfriend on her birthday over the phone, then calls her up several years later because he can’t find anyone else who wants to date him, only to break up with her on her birthday again. The original Barney Stinson, played by Neil Patrick Harris, was a textbook narcissist in a suit who went to extreme lengths to objectify women. And speaking of women, in terms of representation, we got two beer-chugging pick-me straight girls. All characters mentioned here were white.
How I Met Your Father attempts to right these wrongs. The cast, including Duff as our love-broke heroine Sophie, Valentina (Francia Raisa), Jesse (Chris Lowell), Ellen (Tien Tran), Charlie (Tom Ainsley), and Sid (Suraj Sharma), is at the very least racially diverse, and Ellen is gay, though clueless to a fault.
TV critics, of course, have panned the show: Too sappy, under-developed, no confidence. How I Met Your Father, they say, doesn’t know who it is, nor do its characters know who they are. But do you even know who you are anymore?! Do I?! I don’t even know what the fuck is happening right now, and I certainly don’t expect more of my fictional television characters than I do of the real ones in my life. I like their innocence. I like their half-baked selves. Aren’t we all a little half-baked?
I love that Sophie tries desperately to seem more well read than she is. I love that, as she turns 30, she still wants to throw a classless little rager with kegs, but ultimately folds to the pressure of acting like an adult—or at least, what she assumes an adult might do (sushi hors d’oeuvres and champagne in lieu of red cups and Miller Lite). I love all of Sophie’s dysfunctional friends who can’t commit, who change their minds, who don’t know what they want out of their relationships or careers or how long they should pursue passions that may or may not be pipe dreams. I love that Sid almost accidentally jacks off to Michael Barbaro’s podcast The Daily, how the group’s dumb, lovable trust fund British baby can’t get anyone to give a shit about soccer, and how Valentina isn’t above a little petty theft.
And while Sophie’s love interest, Jesse, is somewhat of an unremarkable doormat far below what we’d want for her, that’s fine. Sometimes, in real life, we tire of waiting for the perfect suitor and settle instead for some accessible, inoffensive person when things get a little lonely. And anyway, the real moments of love are captured in friendship—in something as simple as Sophie and Valentina working out in their living room together (which, for some reason, reminded me how much I missed my entire family and network of friends in Los Angeles), or Valentina helping Sophie parent her child-like mother who can’t stop cheating on her boyfriends.
Sure, the show appears stuck in some alternate universe that’s not quite 2022, with medium-funny jokes that lean slightly more into elder millennial cringe than I’d prefer. But in a year that has been endlessly depressing, I found myself shedding un-ironic tears to this silly little sitcom, because these often idiotic characters felt like family. After writing depressing reports on abortion bans and sexual assault in ballet and all the horrible things happening to women, I couldn’t wait to hang out with these characters again.
In a time where I, too, am trying really hard to be someone worth spending time with, I’d like to give these characters time to grow into themselves. This week especially, in which I’m trying to show up as someone who gives a shit about abortion rights, while taking care of myself, while showing up for my friends, and continuing to pound the pavement at work, squeezing every last brain pulp I have to put feeling and facts in equal measure to the page, I need characters like these. And I think that we’re in perfect agreement that if they can show up as not-quite-finished, not-quite-figured out, so can I.
So, yes, we can burn our brains to ashes watching murder documentaries and cult specials and fictionalized takes on billionaire scammers. But in a heaping pile of disaster content that speaks only to our negativity biases, nothing replaces the feeling of a heart-warming hangout sitcom that seems to come once or twice in a generation, if we’re lucky. I would never suggest, in the middle of Mental Health Month no less, that taking a walk or getting some vitamin D or watching a candy-coated television show could cure actual depression and anxiety. Instead, How I Met Your Father feels sort of like giving a lollipop to a kid after getting a shot at the doctor’s office: The evidence of the prick is still there, and it’s fucking throbbing, but at least for a moment, you can forget about it.