How I Met Your Mother’s Barney Stinson is the best reason to turn on your TV on a Monday night. He’s crass. He’s selfish. He’s a capitalist. And his way with women makes Sam Malone look like Lloyd Dobbler. So why is this feminist crushing so hard? Because while Neil Patrick Harris’ comic ability makes me laugh at Barney’s sexist jokes against my will, his dramatic ability evokes sympathy that I’ve never come close to with previous TV Lotharios.
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Do you see it? The insecurity lurking behind the bravado? The sweet, chewy center within the womanizing shell? That’s NPH taking a played-out male stereotype to a new level. And people love it. Not only does Barney Stinson have a popular blog on cbs.com (he’s always bugging his fictional friends to read it), he also has multiple fan sites where enthusiasts discuss their favorite Barney moments and quotes. But the fact that Neil Patrick Harris is openly homosexual doesn’t come up much in the comments. In fact, Harris’ homosexuality seems to go so well with his tongue-in-cheek masculinity that most fans forget about it.
That’s probably why he’s even more “masculine” when he’s playing himself. His turn in the Harold & Kumar movies as a club-drugging, seat-humping, hooker-branding version of himself was every bit as funny as it was disturbing. And his endorsements of Old Spice cologne show that the brand is only too happy to have the debonair NPH shill their manly brand. Who cares if they have to get some other guy to kiss the girl?
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I’m going to posit that Neil Patrick Harris is this century’s answer to Cary Grant. He brings a self-awareness to his performance that allows us to understand, appreciate, and even crush on characters who would otherwise be written off as casualties of dudes-are-like-this/chicks-are-like that writing. He shows us that even stereotypical men can have a softer side, even while they’re doing their damnedest to man up and hide it.
Say what you will about Barney Stinson, but NPH is a total dreamboat.
Miscellaneous reasons to crush:
- His turn as the tragic nerd/supervillain in the extraordinary Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog. (This is especially recommended for Buffy fans, as it was written and directed by Joss Whedon.)
- His adorable recurring role on Sesame Street as the Shoe Fairy
- His narration of the Henry Huggins audio books by Beverly Cleary
- His love of magic (He’s on the Board of Directors of the Hollywood Magic Castle). Le sigh.