One of the greatest ingenuities of How I Met Your Mother has always been its ability to defy the march of time. It’s flashed back, flashed forward, and stopped time; it’s made episodes with intricately intersecting simultaneous storylines; and it’s kept Ted’s two future kids in a state of suspended animation for nine years. For its last season, it has slowed time to a crawl, putting off its resolution Zeno’s-Paradox-style, setting its entire final run during the wedding festivities where Ted will finally meet The Mom. If HIMYM were not agreed to go off the air, I would not be surprised to find a tenth season set in the three seconds in which Ted turns around and finally sees his future bride.
Now the creators of HIMYM and CBS are exploring a way to prolong the show, or at least its universe, even longer: there are reportedly talks about a spinoff, with different characters but set in some of the same locations, to be called–wait for it!–How I Met Your Father.
Don’t. Please, please don’t.
I know, I know, it’s fish-in-a-barrel to say that a spinoff of anything is a terrible idea. I know that it’s all about execution, that Carter Bays and Craig Thomas are imaginative writers–as is Emily Spivey, who would join them for the project.
And I know that we’re not talking about Joey here (or for that matter Frasier), in which a single character from a popular show sticks around after the party’s over. Rather, we’re talking about essentially spinning off a show’s concept and applying it to a new, hopefully fresh, set of characters. (Then again, what are the precedents for that kind of approach? That ’80s Show? Not exactly more encouraging.)
What the idea sounds like, frankly, is less a spinoff than plain old unimaginative development–let’s do another version of something that’s worked before!–dressed up as a new concept. I get the appeal: CBS is still doing well in the ratings overall, but its Monday comedies have been struggling, and HIMYM is the strongest of the bunch. Creatively, though, it’s been running on fumes for a few seasons.
But when I say that HIMYF is a terrible idea, I say it out of love, not hate. I wouldn’t bother writing at all about the idea of spinning off a sitcom I didn’t care about. A spinoff is musguided not because of what’s bad about HIMYM but because of what is, or was, distinctively, lovably good about it.
At its best, HIMYM took risks. It laid down a challenge by embedding a mystery in its very title, and ending the pilot by telling us that the love story we thought we were watching–between Ted and Robin–was not the one we’d end up with. It borrowed the time-jumping, expectations-defying non-linear format of adventurous dramas like Lost and applied them to a sitcom format. It was funny and well-written and performed by a whip-smart cast playing characters invested with heart–but above all, it was new.
A How I Met Your Father spinoff–however much talent is attached, in front of or behind the camera–can never be that. HIMYM upended its audience’s expectations and surprised us; a clone, by definition, would be the opposite of that. (Even the gender switch to HIMYF would probably be less interesting: centering the original show on a man pining to get married and settle down upended decades of romantic-comedy clichés about women trying to snag a mate and men running from domesticity.)
As a longtime fan, I can understand the appeal of a sequel, not just commercially. But if Carter and Bays and CBS really want to reproduce HIMYM’s magic a second time, it won’t be by keeping the same format or putting new characters in the same bar. It will be by doing, one more time, what HIMYM did: showing us something we haven’t seen before.