In another timeline, Greta Gerwig would’ve been a sitcom star instead of one of the most sought after filmmakers in Hollywood. Gerwig starred in the pilot for the 2014 How I Met Your Mother spin-off How I Met Your Dad, but the series wasn’t picked up by CBS. Rather than Gerwig getting her first major TV role, she got to use her talents to make the Oscar-nominated films Lady Bird and Little Women instead.
As for the failed pilot? Well, CBS Entertainment president Nina Tassler previously said that “there were elements of the pilot that didn’t work out.” And a leaked script of the pilot episode showed that the spin-off idea paled in comparison to its predecessor. We’d all forgotten about the spin-off that could’ve been—that is, until this year, when Hulu decided that they were going to give it a go themselves. The streamer announced different showrunners, a brand new plot, a new star, and the new title, How I Met Your Father. But for those still curious about the original pilot, someone named John Gillman leaked the filmed pilot episode on Vimeo and, after watching it ourselves, we know exactly went wrong.
Though much of the plot is the same as the leaked script, the pilot is itself is very different. We never get to see Sally’s (Gerwig) daughter, Cricket. Instead, she types up the story on a typewriter: “A wise person once told me that if you’ve got something important to say, to type it up in a letter. To that end, I’ve dusted off this ancient blue contraption called a typewriter to tell you something very important indeed, the story of how I met your dad.” This already makes zero sense. Why is she typing it? Why can’t they have this conversation face-to-face? Why is it so important for her to type up the whole story—on a typewriter, no less—of how she met Cricket’s dad? And, most importantly, who names their kid Cricket? Meg Ryan narrates the pilot as Sally, but it’s an odd choice, considering Gerwig’s deep voice is so distinct; they sound absolutely nothing alike!
While Ted Mosby was a romantic to a fault—in fact, it was his whole persona—Sally gets to just be a 27-year-old party girl, who does tequila shots on a Tuesday night with her friend Juliet (The Good Place’s Tiya Sircar, who we’re glad got better sitcom roles after this failed pilot). But Sally, despite her antics, happens to be married to boring ol’ Gavin (Anders Holm), who isn’t into her party girl lifestyle, so he decides to break things off with her. Holm is fantastic in sitcoms like Workaholics and The Mindy Project, but the pilot severely underutilizes his comedy chops. Even when the pilot tries to point out how terribly boring he is with flashbacks, including one where he gives Sally instructions on what wines she’s allowed to drink and which ones are “investment wines,” it falls flat.
And Holm isn’t the only comedic actor whose talents are squandered. When Gavin asks Sally for a separation, she moves in with her brother, Danny (Andrew Santino) and his partner Todd (Drew Tarver), who was Sally’s friend in college. Santino has a background in stand-up and has appeared in shows like Dave, Curb Your Enthusiasm, and The League, but his character’s not funny at all. Danny is meant to be the mature one, who wants Sally to get her life together, but there should still be room for humor. It’s just painful to watch his scenes. Tarver, on the other hand, gets to have more freedom with his character since he’s not stuck to a specific persona, but his character’s still pretty bland. He barely gets any funny lines. This pilot makes us grateful Tarver ended up getting his own great sitcom, The Other Two.
But let’s get to the dad in question. When Sally’s marriage falls apart, Juliet sets her up with a random guy in her office, Frank (Nicholas D’Agosto). Juliet, who doesn’t seem to have much of a personality beyond investing her energy in her best friend’s life, decides that all Sally needs is a “nail and bail.” She acts as though it’d magically solve all her problems. So Frank, who could not be more boring, has a date with Sally where they bond over how nervous they are about the whole dating thing, and he inadvertently convinces her to go back to Gavin. But as soon as Gavin forbids Sally from touching one of his “investment wines,” she decides it’s over again. And, in a move that makes the show absolutely pointless, the episode ends showing a framed picture of Frank holding newborn Cricket.
How I Met Your Mother was frustrating because it ran too long, and Ted’s stories about all the women he dated never led to anything, until we ultimately got to meet the owner of the yellow umbrella, Tracy (Cristin Milioti)—only for her to be killed off and for Ted to reunite with Robin. But fans stuck around because the characters were so likable. From what we see in this pilot, How I Met Your Dad doesn’t allow its characters to have the charisma and heart that’s needed for it to work. It also was poorly timed, coming when TV was moving away from laugh track-aided, multi-camera sitcoms. There was no saving this one. But at least we got this glimpse at the train wreck.