HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER created by Carter Bays and Craig Thomas, with Neil Patrick Harris, Josh Radnor and Cobie Smulders. Airs Mondays at 8 pm on CBS and CH. Rating: NNN Rating: NNN
Somewhere along the way, Neil Patrick Harris shape-shifted from sweet, sensitive doctor Doogie to openly gay actor to TV's top horndog.
His brief side trip as a man-whore version of himself in Harold And Kumar Go To White Castle seems to have led to lecherous Lothario Barney Stinson on the sitcom How I Met Your Mother.
Harris's Barney is a work of mad kinetic genius: Eddie Haskell in a tailored suit, Three's Company's Larry Dallas with an imperviousness to rejection and even greater delusions of grandeur (if that's possible).
Not only does he steal every scene he's in, but he's also become one of those rare breakout characters who's endeared himself to audiences and entered the pop culture mainstream, thanks to his delightfully anachronistic attitude and fratish quips. (How many TV characters have their own blog?)
Barney's "legen wait for it dary" is quickly becoming legendary, joining Fonzie's "Ayyy," JJ Walker's "dyn-o-mite!" and Homer's "D'oh!" (and just about anything else said by the Simpsons cast) an infinitely quotable catchphrase that defines the character as much as the moment, while also providing fresh water cooler lingo.
As a result, Barney gets many of the show's best hilariously un-PC lines ("Lebanese girls are the new half-Asians," for example), and the list of Barneyisms grows each time he appears. "There are only two reasons to date a girl you've already dated: breast implants," and "The only reason to wait a month for sex is if she's 17 years, 11 months old" are two recent examples of how funny Barney's emotional immaturity can be.
But unlike Michael Richards as Kramer, a sitcom scene stealer left over from the 70s (he was all pratfalls, vocal hiccups and frizzed-out hair, not far evolved from Lenny and Squiggy), Harris has taken what could easily have been a one-joke role of snotty comebacks and sexist remarks and made it into a fully fleshed-out example of a poon-hunting bar hawk. He doesn't just burst through the door, deliver a punchline and exit.
He operates as the perfect foil for Ted (Josh Radnor), the show's lovelorn lead. Barney's raison d'être isn't to nail women so much as it is to deflate Ted's rose-coloured fantasies about them. He dilutes, with a little bit of sleaze, some of the sincerely romantic sappiness that threatens to creep into the show. One episode sees him scold Ted for wanting to bring a date to a wedding, because it's like "taking a deer carcass on a hunting trip."
Now the challenge that Harris and the show's writers face is keeping this breakout character from breaking out too far nobody wants a Barney spinoff á la Joey while also keeping him from stagnating in the scummy pond in which he currently thrives.
They've found success thus far by allowing all the young single in the show to declare open season on each other with barbs, quips and the occasional bitch slap. While the teasing is always affectionate (unlike the insults flung about on shows like Everybody Loves Raymond), it does have some teeth.
How I Met Your Mother has often been compared to Friends, yet Friends never had a true breakout star to whom audiences gravitated (unless you count Jennifer Aniston's hair). When they tried to manufacture a breakout character to launch a spinoff, all Joey had going for him was the well-worn catchphrase "How you doin'?"
As for how Barney's doin' well, in his words, he's steak sauce (you know, as in A1).
What to watch this week
Thursday, February 1
Ugly Betty (comedy) If you haven't been watching this Golden Globe winner, you're missing one of TV's sweetest shows. 8 pm on City and ABC
Sunday, February 4
Super Bowl XLI (sports) The favoured Chicago Bears take on the Indianapolis Colts. Prince plays halftime. 6:25 pm on CBS
Sunday, February 4
Who wants to be a superhero (reality) Ordinary folk compete to become comic book heroes, judged by Marvel master Stan Lee. 8 pm on IFC