When you love something, you want to protect it.
So when it was announced a few months back that the beloved, long-running sitcom How I Met Your Mother was getting a spinoff, fan reaction was pretty mixed: On the one hand, great! Let’s continue the party at MacLarens. On the other hand, the television landscape doesn’t have a great history of spinoffs based on recent popular sitcoms (RIP Joey). While How I Met Your Father Dad will have the same creators, many fans –myself included – still thought that after nine seasons, it might be best to leave well enough alone and not tarnish the memory of a sitcom that gave us Interventions, the Dobler-Dahmer Scale, and five best friends who we’ve truly come to care about.
But then yesterday came the news the spinoff had cast indie film star Greta Gerwig as the star. She’ll play Sally, “a female Peter Pan who has never grown up and has no idea of where she’s going in life.” Like the original, the show will be told via flashbacks, but beyond that not much is known about the project. But for the first time, the Gerwig announcement made me genuinely excited to check the show out this fall.
First of all, Gerwig is just plain talented as an actress, and she could really shine in a weekly sitcom. For those that aren’t aware, Gerwig is an accomplished indie film star, most recently co-writing and starring in Frances Ha, which earned her a Golden Globe acting nod. Funnily enough, her role as Frances actually sounds very similar to Sally: Frances is also late-twenties and has a bit of Peter Pan syndrome. The whole film is about Frances’ quest to become the person she’s meant to be, a journey that doesn’t sound all that different than Sally’s. Gerwig also cut her comedy chops with supporting parts in mainstream comedies such as No Strings Attached and Arthur, which means she can likely roll with the CBS crew.
Secondly, Gerwig isn’t just starring on the show; she’ll be a producer (and there are reports she’ll also write, which makes sense given her background). This is even more exciting as a viewer: Behind the scenes is where decisions are made, and for a show following in the footsteps of a comedy with a very distinct point of view, getting one-of-a-kind voices in the mix lay the foundation for potential great things. It’s exciting that original creators Carter Bays and Craig Thomas will be around, but day-to-day it’s good to get some different perspectives involved as well (Emily Spivey will also write/executive produce). Gerwig’s typical writing style isn’t exactly what comes to mind for mainstream TV shows, so I’m intrigued to see where they land on the final tone blend — it could really be the thing that differentiates Dad from other CBS sitcoms (like, say, Mom).
I love How I Met Your Mother, but as a viewer one of the problems on the show was how overblown many of the characters got in the later seasons of the program. Barney has his own issues, but what always stuck out to me was the problem the show had writing women who felt in any way real — whether that be Ted’s girlfriends, a one-stand-stand partner of Barney’s, or even Lily and Robin some of the time. Having more distinct voices in the writers’ room, like Spivey and Gerwig, could help allow different perspectives — which turn into different plots and characters — be brought into focus, and that can only be a positive thing for any sitcom.
Many are concerned about the spinoff aspect of the show, and whether it will just re-hash a program that’s already been created. I understand the concern, but from what we know so far, Dad isn’t so much a repeat of Mother but more just Sitcoms 101. Some version of “A group of friends looking for love and living life in a big city” is half of what is on television today. Viewers can sniff their nose and say TV is out of original ideas, but a well-done version of this basic plot is what a lot of people still like to watch. To make it “well-done,” these kind of sitcoms live and die by their cast chemistry, jokes-to-plot ratio, and how uniquely various tried-and-true sitcom benchmarks (like the will-they/won’t-they friends) come into play. All these aspects are likely improved by the involvement of Gerwig. Her acting chops and different comedic sensibility could wind up being the secret ingredients that make How I Met Your Dad truly legen – well, you know.