I should probably start this entry by admitting that I have not watched nearly as much How I Met Your Mother as the other shows on this list. I watched every episode of Season 1 and the majority of Season 2, but have only seen sporadic episodes since. But even from that small sample, I’m well aware of how great Barney Stinson is.
Barney carries the vast majority of the humor load on HIMYM, and he delivers 99 percent of the time. He is a chronic womanizer and is constantly manipulative, which should make him a despicable character. But he is so consistently hilarious and charming that you ignore that and revel in his wit.
It would have been very easy for the HIMYM writers to make Barney a mindless skirt chaser who spends his time scoring women and nothing else (a la Joey from Friends). But he is so much more than that.
Barney is intelligent, clever and reads people exceptionally well. He often uses those gifts for his own selfish desires, whether it be creating an alias to impress a woman or manipulating his friends into a precarious situation for his own amusement.
His series of catch phrases alone is enough to put Barney among the best characters on TV. Several of the things he says have been picked up by the general public, including “Suit Up” and “Legendary,” and even the more specific “Legen…wait for it…dary.”
Having lived in a fraternity house for three years, I’m also quite familiar with Barney’s “bro code.” His ability to pick up women through various forms of trickery is the envy of countless “bros.” The bro code became so popular that it even spawned a popular Twitter account, a tie-in novel and an audiobook.
While Barney’s main purpose is delivering clever one-liners, there is also a kind heart that occasionally pops out from behind his smooth-talking, nice-dressing exterior. He rarely shows it, but he does deeply care for his friends and knows when he needs to be there for them.
It takes a talented actor to pull off everything that makes Barney who he is while staying likable, and HIMYM found the perfect man in Neil Patrick Harris. It strikes some people as odd that a gay actor is able to play a serial womanizer so convincingly, but the only thing the role strictly requires is charm. And Harris has that in spades.
Harris first auditioned for the role assuming he wouldn’t get it; he was friends with the casting director and thought that was the only reason he was called in. He has said that feeling allowed him to open up during his audition and give his own voice to the character, which is immediately what attracted the execs at CBS.
The marriage between the writers’ creation of Barney and Harris’ personal take has led to widespread acclaim. Harris has been nominated for four Emmy Awards, and How I Met Your Mother still gets great ratings. The show’s ratings actually went up in each of the last two seasons – a rarity this late in a sitcom’s run – and CBS renewed it for two more years.
I maintain Barney is the main reason for the show’s success. All of the main characters are important, but Barney is consistently the most entertaining. If he were removed from the show, I don’t think it would have made it past Season 1.
Programming Note: How I Met Your Mother can be seen at 8/7c Mondays on CBS.
TV’s Top 10 Characters
10 – Stewie Griffin
9 – Sterling Archer
8 – Chuck Bartowski
7 – Manny Delgado
6 – Dexter Morgan
5 – Barney Stinson
4 – Don Draper
3 – Abed Nadir
2 – Phil Dunphy
1 – Ron Swanson
Honorable Mention – March 31