Familiar to a derivative degree, a second season doesn’t provide much of anything new to this series whose humor remains stuck in the past.

Before attempting to understand the odd existence of the ongoing retread that is How I Met Your Father, it must be said that there is nothing inherently wrong about dipping back into an old comedic form. Shows like Abbott Elementary and Rutherford Falls have proven that to no end, but they also felt fresh in what they were actually about. This did not, as the first season was rocky at best and it struggled to justify its own existence beyond tapping into nostalgia people had for How I Met Your Mother.

However, a second season always represented a new chance to carve out a comedic identity of its own. There could have been plenty of opportunity to have Sophie, played by a committed Hilary Duff, take on funny new developments that life throws her way. Even as the ending of the last season did not exactly provide an encouraging sign that this would take place, there was a willingness to go in with an open mind and see where it took us. Picking up right where we left off last, with Sophie locking eyes with the handsome Ian (Daniel Augustin) at her show where both seemed smitten with the other, it initially hinted that things may be looking up for the road ahead of where it would all go next.

In the first seven episodes of this second season, that promise ends up going squandered both for Sophie and all of us watching. With each new storyline and bit, there is little sense that this series is any closer to finding its own humorous niche. Never quite silly enough to get consistent laughs and lacking in the cleverness necessary to make sharp jokes about modern life, it relies on yet more references that are more a series of closed loops than compelling comedic premises. Out of respect to those that have made it this far from Season 1 who want to remain “surprised” by some of what comes up this time, this review will not reveal any type of callbacks or cameos that refer back to the previous show. That being said, there isn’t anything that is actually surprising or unexpected about any of it. Instead, from the very first episode, it dangles the promise of one particular appearance so that you’ll stick around for however many episodes it takes to see them come back. If this sounds like a flimsy foundation on which to build an entire television show that was already lacking in much of any originality, then you’ve got some sense of the uphill battle the cast must undertake.

how i met your father season 2 social
Image via Hulu

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While there are some occasional jolts of fun in seeing Sophie get up to some scattered shenanigans, such as an introduction of her taking on a task surrounding a birth for a friend where she is way out of her depth, the rest of the experience remains a slog to sit through. Many of the “jokes” found elsewhere are just never that funny in their construction or bold in their punchlines. The supposedly wild payoff to the bit surrounding Sophie and the birth just ends up devolving into shouting that clumsily signals, along with the laugh track, that this is actually meant to be hilarious. Unfortunately, it is far from it.

Of course, this is not and likely won’t be the last sitcom to use a laugh track. However, there hasn’t been a show of late where it has felt increasingly awkward to hear it when the jokes are actually falling flat. Though this was never something that would normally come up, it actually made me almost miss the experience of watching the recently canceled Blockbuster, which at least had jokes that approached having something more to them. Sure, it was a generic workplace comedy that wasn’t as distinct as it should have been, but it at least gave its cast some moments to shine. That is never the case here, as all the characters get stuck in cycles of stilted scenarios.

Image via Hulu

How I Met Your Father continues to attempt to update the material within the conventions of the sitcom, but it never comes together when it counts. Characters reference girl bosses in conversation, make staged videos for social media followers, and discuss starting a podcast. It all feels out of touch more than it ever does of the moment it is supposedly commenting on. There is even one recurring sequence where a character brings a date out with friends — who, we are told, is so forgettable that no one even remembers his name. The show signifies this by placing an emoji over his face that changes as the conversation takes various turns. The longer this goes on, the more you’re waiting for some sort of greater subversion or worthwhile joke to all this. When you realize that it is just going to mostly keep doing the emoji bit, because that’s what the kids are into these days, the more you’re left cringing as opposed to laughing. It eventually makes use of a different emoji in a crude fashion that gets a chuckle, a tone which the show would have benefited from far more, though it also requires a long build to arrive there.

If the rest of How I Met Your Father was more playful and less constrained by a formula, perhaps some of this could work. As it plays out here, it just feels like it is stretching and straining for relevancy that never feels natural. For every moment of cheekiness and snark, it crashes into a competing desire that seems to want to play it safe. Perhaps this is meant to appeal to fans of the original series, but that provides little reason for people to watch this new version when they could just revisit the old one. Hell, if you’re coming to this season just to see Duff, you would be better off going back to Lizzie McGuire, which honestly should have been the series to be given new life. As it drags along, there is little that is unique to How I Met Your Father — or, more importantly, anything that manages to get enough laughs to justify the investment.

Rating: D+

How I Met Your Father Season 2 premieres January 24 on Hulu.

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