CBS announced last night that indie darling Greta Gerwig will star in the How I Met Your Mother sort-of spinoff How I Met Your Dad. It’s Frances Ha herself heading to a network sitcom! Cue the rending of garments and lamentations on artistic integrity — the mumblecore icon on CBS, she has betrayed us all! Tweeted Variety’s digital editor-in-chief Andrew Wallenstein, “I tear up each time an indie starlet sells out.” Added film blogger (and Vulture contributor) Jordan Hoffman, “Greta Gerwig may have just secured her financial future but officially became of no use to me anymore.” Leave me out of these woeful histrionics. Because Greta Gerwig starring in HIMYD is great news.
Gerwig will play the show’s protagonist Sally, a “female Peter Pan who has never grown up and has no idea of where she’s going in life,” according to a casting breakdown. This is Gerwig’s jam! That is pretty much Frances in Frances Ha, Lola in Lola Versus, maybe even Hannah in Hannah Takes the Stairs. Gerwig’s specialty is making emotional despair seem very compelling. That’s how Greenberg worked, at least: She embodies that feeling of flailing without making it seem pathetic or, even worse, adorable. I’ve read the pilot script for HIMYD and liked a lot of it, and knowing that Gerwig is attached makes me think some of Sally’s panic will come across as meaningful and authentic and not just crazy sitcom-lady Cathy cartoon ack-ack-acks. Sitcoms don’t need an enormous amount of pathos, but an underlying sense of reality helps make characters’ wants feel important.
Being on a network show does not mean Gerwig will be out of commission for other projects. Jason Segel had time to write and star in a Muppet movie. Josh Radnor wrote and directed two indies during HIMYM’s run. Hell, Melissa McCarthy’s on a CBS sitcom, and she does plenty of other things. (So much so that it’s easy to forget Mike and Molly even exists, or that that’s what McCarthy won an Emmy for.) Fear not the depletion of precious Gerwig resources.
Indie work aside, Gerwig will also serve as a producer on HIMYD and is expected to write for it as well, so she has a hand in the series’ style and content. And Emily Spivey, creator of the late Up All Night, is one of the show’s executive producers, which is also encouraging. While current-incarnation How I Met Your Mother is kind of sour and un-fun, early era HIMYM felt fresh and lovely and joyous; as much as it was about Ted’s romantic hopes, it was more about a group of friends who loved and respected each other and wanted to have a good time. While I hope HIMYM’s racist, transphobic, and misogynistic tendencies get left behind, I also hope that this new show has the original’s sense of playfulness and inside jokes. “Swarley,” slap bets, Marshall’s tendency to sing songs to himself about what he’s doing — HIMYM started out as a show that had a lot of affection for its characters. This has waned, but the memory is enough to make a new show seem like a good idea.