Oh, We’re Still Doing This?: Neil Patrick Harris Is Reprising His Barney Character for ‘How I Met Your Father’
The Season 2 premiere of How I Met Your Father brought back a familiar face, just like the series premiere of That ‘90s Show brought back a couple familiar faces, and sort of like how Velma brought back an entire vanful of familiar faces, minus the most important furry face of them all.
Barney Stinson officially made his legen–you get the joke—dary return to the How I Met Your (Parent) universe in yesterday’s episode of the revival series. The “classic character resurrection” stunt is part of a cycle that’s accelerated in recent weeks, but it is not at all new – television studios bring back a beloved series with a new iteration of an established premise, then blow the frickin’ minds of the in-studio audiences by introducing an OG character or two for a multi-generational cross-over that generates hype and heat for the new show. Then we complain about the unoriginality of the move and the staleness of reboots, remakes and rehashes of old content – lather, rinse, repeat.
So why does this one feel different? Maybe it’s because Neil Patrick Harris’ performance as a previously beloved womanizer is a role that only really fit in his series and his time period. How I Met Your Mother managed Barney’s Don Juan-esque debauchery by playing it off as the silly escapades of an emotionally stunted manchild, but a female-focused reboot in 2023 might have a harder time tackling Barney’s sleazy “Playbook.”
Barney’s entire shtick in How I Met Your Mother is that he’s an emotionally immature and often pitiable portrayal of a comedy trope that has since gone the way of the clip show or the character-specific catchphrase. The playful lothario who has good looks, cool clothes and an effortless confidence used to be a staple of the soundstage sitcoms of olde – sometimes, he even had two dates in one night, how wacky!
While Harris’ performance brought a higher level of humanity and vulnerability to the archetype than previous iterations, the trends of sitcoms have reflected our changing cultural values in that we see less and less of the objectifying, male gaze-driven sexual dynamics in modern shows that made those characters work in the first place. Gone are the Charlie Sheens of Two and a Half Men-style shows who derived their “cool” factor from their sexual conquests as networks have shied away from the sympathetic sleazeball in the years since How I Met Your Mother concluded almost a decade ago. For that reason, the revival might have some trouble trying to bring back its delightful dirtbag.
Hulu has already revealed that Barney is back as a recurring character and not a simple cameo, so there are two obvious ways this could go down: 1) The writers of How I Met Your Father establish that Barney continued his growth arc from the original series and has fully abandoned his womanizing ways in order to be a better father to his daughter, or 2) Barney continues to love the ladies a little too much, but the ravages of time and the demands of family life have robbed him of his mojo and he fails embarrassingly at his attempts to bed every woman he meets, including our new protagonist, Hillary Duff’s Sophie.
Or, maybe, Barney will continue to sleep with three women who have two lines between them in every episode. If that becomes the case, then apparently the saying goes “If the funny pervert ain't broke, don't fix him," at Hulu.