How I Met Your Mother is back! Sort of — not really.
This week marks the premiere of its “stand-alone sequel,” How I Met Your Father, as showrunners and This Is Us alums Elizabeth Berger and Isaac Aptaker have put it. By all accounts, it sounds like HIMYF will be more of a spiritual sequel to its nine-season predecessor. Starring Hilary Duff as Sophie, we follow our protagonist on her quest to find love alongside a friend group played by Chris Lowell, Francia Raisa, Tom Ainsley, Tien Tran and Suraj Sharma—with Kim Cattrall playing a future version of Sophie as she tells her son how she met his father.
I, for one, plan on tuning in to this latest offering from Hulu, but my decision to watch required a good deal of reckoning and revisiting old wounds that have remained since HIMYM’s controversial, arguably devastating series finale that aired nearly eight years ago in 2014. There are a lot of pieces of the original CBS sitcom that have aged poorly, to say the least, like its glaringly all-white friend group, or the way much of the series centers around two men playing ping-pong with a female love interest. And none of that even scratches the surface of how cringe the show’s many transphobic or homophobic one-liners were, nor the frequent, questionable, alcohol-heavy methods that its womanizing playboy Barney Stinson employed to get women.
Despite the show’s great many flaws, I can’t deny that I enjoyed it as a teenager, charmed by the whimsical delights of its chaos — who doesn’t love a good French horn theft, a years-long slap bet, or the story of how Ted Mosby learned what Krav Maga was mid-way through dumping a woman on her birthday for a second (!) time?! Perhaps the most endearing feature of the sitcom was its deeply relatable rendering of young adulthood’s earnest stupidity.
Though, much of the show’s legacy was tossed with its finale, one of the most hated conclusions to a long-running, popular TV series in the same league as the series finale of Game of Thrones in 2019. In the event you blocked it out of your memory, here’s a brief refresher of the HIMYM finale: While the majority of the final season centered on Barney and Robin’s wedding, we learn they divorced a couple years later. The friend group splinters as Robin disappears to — god forbid — focus on her career, Ted settles down to start a family with the titular Mother (whom he met at Barney and Robin’s wedding), and Barney returns to his toxic, sexually predatory ways. Marshall and Lily are still around, mostly just to have more children. The real kicker was that, after nearly a decade of build-up, we learn the Mother, Tracy, died at some point, and the show’s final moments see Ted showing up at Robin’s doorstep with that blue French horn, all these years later, to pursue her with his children’s blessing.
Much of the explosive debate surrounding the finale hinged on how the show had thrown all character growth down the drain, with Ted appearing to fall back to his overly romantic, borderline-delusional ways, as he wound up literally right back where he started outside Robin’s apartment. Others critiqued the premature death of the Mother, who had been dehumanized throughout the series as a symbolic figure rather than a three-dimensional character.
What I took the greatest issue with wasn’t necessarily the implied ending of Ted and Robin getting back together, or even Tracy’s death. My problem was how the HIMYM finale upheld motherhood, parenthood, and birth-giving as essentially sacrosanct—the most important, life-changing experiences that could possibly happen to someone.
You’ll recall that the whole reason Ted and Robin split was their different stances on having kids, which is as fair a reason to break up as any. But over the course of the finale, we watch as Robin seems wistful and regretful about not having children or settling down, and instead choosing her career, as if these decisions are necessarily a binary for women. On the other hand, when a one-night-stand makes Barney the father of a newborn daughter, this alone, rather than meaningful reflection on all of the women he’s harmed through the years, magically transforms him into a better man. As for Ted, however loving his marriage to the Mother may have been, it’s also clear that she was written into the show solely to birth Ted’s two kids and then dip with all the efficiency of an Amazon delivery driver. Ted’s true love all this time was Robin, which really begs the question of why we needed to weather nine years of HIMYM just to circle back to the events of its naive, doe-eyed pilot.
HIMYM, of course, aired nearly a decade ago. HIMYF is set in 2022, with a plucky female protagonist in the ever-delightful Hilary Duff. And, as HIMYF’s showrunners and cast member Chris Lowell have said, the new show is written “within the same world without feeling trapped by it,” meaning there will probably be significant differences.
“I’m not being tasked with the pressure of being the new whatever, like trying to be the Barney or the Robin or the Ted… as a result, you get plenty of room for us to become our own characters, for our show to become our own show,” Lowell has said.
Aside from not merely reproducing characters that haven’t aged particularly well, HIMYF, I hope, will also adopt a more modern perspective on pregnancy, parenting and children rather than treat these as the most important possible outcomes in an adult’s life, and particularly an adult woman’s life. There’s nothing inherently wrong with Robin being unhappy or regretting her career and family planning decisions, nor with Barney choosing to change after having a daughter, or Ted’s obsessive yearning for a picture-perfect family of four. These are all things that happen in the real world, but HIMYM could have offered a more complex story, more complex characters, or just validation that women’s existential purpose isn’t to marry some blue French horn-clad dork and have his kids. Nor is having a daughter the only reason men should work on becoming better people. With a female lead, more diverse cast, and of course, a present-day setting, hopefully HIMYF will be able to make up for its predecessor’s shortcomings.