As I noted back in January with the “Bad News” episode of How I Met Your Mother, as they continue in their runs, sitcoms have a tendency to become more dramatic. My favorite example of this, and the one which pops most readily into my head, is Mad About You. As that series progressed, Paul and Jamie suffered serious marital strife and at one point it actually looked as though their relationship may be coming to a close. Eventually they worked it all out and the show continued, but there were some awfully dark episodes.
How I Met Your Mother, while it does do dramatic things, rarely ends up going towards a dark place (except, of course, for that episode back in January where I discussed their potential turn to the dramatic, but let’s ignore that). Last night’s episode where Barney finally met his father is another perfect example of how HIMYM balances the funny and the serious without having to go dark.
I have long argued that Neil Patrick Harris is deserving of more than just an Emmy nomination for his role as Barney Stinson (he was nominated in 2007, 2008, 2009, & 2010 and for a Golden Globe in 2009 & 2010). With any luck, voters will see his work in last night’s episode, “Legendaddy,” and he will finally have the recognition that he deserves for his work in the series.
For those unaware of his history, Barney Stinson was raised by his single mother and didn’t know his father for an extensive number of years. Initially, in fact, he kind of believed his dad to be Bob Barker (his mother misled him) which inspired Barney to perfect his Price is Right knowledge and go on the game show where he performed stupendously in order to impress dear old dad… not that Barker was actually his father.
No, as we learned last night, Barney’s dad, a one time roadie, is actually a driving instructor in White Plains, NY—roughly a 30 minute train ride north of New York City—who looks something like John Lithgow. He also looks something like the DMV tester I had in White Plains, NY when I took my road test, but that’s neither here nor there and the guy who administered my road test was far more like Lithgow’s character on Dexter than HIMYM. We also learned in this episode that driving instructors in White Plains, NY are well paid (either that or Barney’s dad purchases expensive clothes second-hand).
Learning the truth about his father wasn’t something that was easy for Barney to deal with and NPH played it all beautifully. There was Barney, desperately trying to do anything for his father’s affection one minute and pushing the man away the next. Barney was, as I think is only natural, hugely conflicted about his feelings for this man who, despite not being able to parent Barney, went on to a nice life in the suburbs with a different family. Harris was deftly able to slide between playing the funny moments in the situation to playing the more dramatic ones, providing the perfect example to anyone who cared to see it of just how versatile an actor he truly is.
Credit must also, of course, be given to the writers for constructing the situation and for managing to incorporate the story of Marshall losing his father into that of Barney finding his. Although moments last night were unquestionably absurd, the episode’s heart and soul (and a good deal of the humor) were squarely placed within the real world which made Barney’s situation both happier and sadder than it otherwise would have been.
I have to admit that I found myself questioning some of the larger Barney mythology last night – I thought Barney never knew his father which is why he believed (mostly) the Bob Barker story. There were however definite indications in yesterday’s episode that he remembered his dad from back in the day. I am not saying that the show has altered its history, I just couldn’t put the pieces of the puzzle together as well as I would have liked.
As How I Met Your Mother continues on into the future (it was just renewed for another two seasons), I look forward to seeing more of Barney’s story with his father unfold. I imagine that many of my lingering questions and doubts will be answered and that eventually Harris will get an Emmy for his role.