Note: This post would have been up much earlier, had it not been for WP issues. My apologies.
There’s something inherently problematic with Barney Stinson’s place within How I Met Your Mother. On one hand, he’s the series’ breakout character, primarily for the hilarious broadness at which he operates as a womanizer, friend and all-around bro. This means that the character won’t actually do a whole lot of “changing” because the fans (and/or the series’ writers) don’t actually want him to be any different. This is sort of what happened last season with Barney’s relationship and subsequent breakup with Robin. Apparently no one liked “relationship Barney,” so very quickly we were back to just “awesome Barney.” On the other hand, it’s been proven that Neil Patrick Harris can handle the dramatic weight it would require to see the character grow, develop and become something of a more well-rounded, natural human being.
Fortunately, Barney’s search for his father allows the series to have it both ways without stepping on many toes. If we love Barney so much for his insane womanizing, giving him a father doesn’t necessarily jeopardize that version of the character in such a way that the audience (again, or the writers) get bored or frustrated with Mr. Stinson. Nearly every time Barney’s father has come up in the six years of How I Met Your Mother, the thread has been well-executed. And so it’s really no surprise that NPH and the guesting John Lithgow make sure that “Legendaddy” is yet another successful entry to the saga of Barney’s origins.
What I found particularly enjoyable about this episode is that it really didn’t try to do too much. The writers knew they were in good hands with Harris and Lithgow so there wasn’t any need to come up with a super-elaborate plotline about how Barney finds his father, how their interactions go or anything like that. The letter was already out there and Barney’s dad finally built up the courage to find his thirtysomething son.
Of course it’s 100 percent believable that Barney would make up these fantastical stories about his father. This is a man who turns every single story, from a random note from work to a historical contextualization, into a hyperbolic performance art – especially when he’s trying to overcompensate for emotion. So when Barney meets his father and it turns out that he’s just a normal, suburban dad with a new family and trying to somewhat escape his wild past, it’s completely in character for Barney to tell everyone else that his father is the exact opposite. This a man who legitimately convinced himself that his father was Bob Barker for a number of years, a few elaborate tales to Ted and company are a breeze.
And of course Barney would quickly turn into a petulant child when he realizes that he cannot lie about his father forever and the reality just doesn’t live up to the picture in his head. He makes fun of his younger half-brother, back-talks to his step-mom and ends up trying to rip down his father’s basketball hoop. It’s predictable and simple, but it’s also believable and honest from this character. These are raw emotions for a man-child who doesn’t know how to deal with emotions and frankly, I could picture this episode with Barney doing a lot more outrageous and overwrought things.
I also enjoyed how this episode left the relationship between Barney and his father. Barney is an adult, and one who cannot particularly handle having his father in his life on a consistent basis just yet. They’ve met, they’ve made stupid decisions and made their apologies and now Lithgow’s character is out there in the world waiting to return whenever the series needs him. I don’t think the character needs to consistently recur nor do I think having him only appear a few times undercuts the plot. As I noted at the top of the review, Barney is never really going to change, no matter who he dates or how well he knows his father. But bringing Lithgow around every once in a while to remind us of how good NPH handles the heavier material is enough for me.
Other thoughts on Monday’s really solid episode:
- While Barney was off finding his father, the rest of the cast was caught in a nice little running gag about their most obvious weaknesses and flaws. This felt like something the series has done before, but tying it to the death of Marshall’s father and how the group is babying him in the aftermath. Jason Segel has just been killing it all season and even though this was a really small story, he nailed every single one of the scenes.
- I’ve actually heard of people not knowing that the North Pole was a real thing, so Robin, you are not alone.
- I know she wasn’t really needed in an episode like this, but it feels like we haven’t seen Jennifer Morrison and Zoey in a while.