How I Met Your Father has been a solid follow-up to How I Met Your Mother. The sitcom puts a new spin on the same concept as the original with a gender reversal: now, it’s the mom telling her son the story of how she met his dad.
It’s the cameo by Neil Patrick Harris, however, reprising his role as the womanizing Barney Stinson, that has everyone talking in season 2. The appearance was teased in the first episode, and in the midseason finale, his interaction with Sophie (Hilary Duff) is finally revealed in greater detail. But most importantly, so is an attempt to redeem a character that, by today’s societal standards, would have been canceled a long time ago.
A look back at Barney
How I Met Your Mother was a lighthearted sitcom that generated plenty of laughs. Many of these came at the expense of breakout character Barney. His behaviors, actions, and words were wildly inappropriate, only squeezing out hearty laughs because of Harris’ spot-on, exaggerated performance. He portrayed Barney more like a caricature of a human than an actual person. Nonetheless, it would never fly today.
The show first premiered in 2005, long before the #MeToo movement and a renewed and intensified focus on feminism. Barney’s misogynistic comments and atrocious behavior would no longer be considered funny today, regardless of how humorous the portrayal was. Some of his worst antics ranged from hiding a scale at his doorway to weigh potential mates before granting them access to his bachelor pad to lying about who he was to bed multiple women in one day. He had a Rolodex of elaborate schemes to pick up women, wrote a book called The Bro Code, and never shied away from a challenge to manipulate and use a woman. The character was creepy, deplorable, and disrespectful.
How I Met Your Mother ended in 2014, years before the MeToo hashtag and the exposé of Harvey Weinstein kickstarted a firestorm against the mistreatment of women and a put a spotlight on women’s rights. It was too late to redeem Barney, leaving a scar on an otherwise hilarious comedy. Or was it?
A cameo with a purpose
When he first appears in How I Met Your Father, Barney emerges from his car after Sophie rear-ends a vehicle with the license plate LGNDRY. She was preoccupied on a phone call, frantically revealing to her mother that she thinks she might be dating her father. He buttons up his suit jacket and declares “dude?” when he sees the damage and the scared young woman who is responsible.
This puts the now single Barney (the timeline in How I Met Your Father would occur long after Barney and Robin had divorced) in a perfect position to try and bed a vulnerable young woman who now owes him for the damage. But that’s far from what happens.
In fact, before Sophie can even speak, he reads from a piece of paper introducing himself as a “recovering serial womanizer,” delivering an apologetic speech he has likely recited more times than he can count in case the woman happens to be a victim exacting revenge. When he makes an inappropriate comment about her chest, his STD (shock therapy device) goes off and he shudders in pain. He explains it’s an experimental new electro-shock treatment, and the device is programmed with thousands of problematic statements that, should he utter one, will trigger it.
Barney flubs a few times, suffering through enough electricity, as he describes, to “power Staten Island.” It brings fans back to the old Barney who could barely go a moment without saying something inappropriate. But more importantly, he shows mercy on the clearly troubled young woman. He decides to listen to her sordid tale of potential daddy-daughter love and let her off the hook for his car if the story is “juicy enough.”
The conversation from there introduces fans to a sweeter, more caring, more respectful version of Barney. He relates his story about envisioning Bob Barker as his father when he was growing up and mentions how when an “old friend” (Marshall) lost his father, it inspired him to track down his own. As Sophie opens up about her wishes and fears about finding her own father, Barney delivers sage advice.
The clincher, however, is when he talks about his daughter, Ellie, who he calls “the best thing to ever happen to an idiot like me. The moment I saw her,” he continues, “I knew I had to change.”
His words weigh heavily on Sophie and convince her to finally look for her own father. In this respect, Barney’s cameo was more than just a meaningless appearance to appease fans of the original. It was an apology.
A path to redemption
If this is the last time fans see Barney Stinson on screen, the character has been redeemed in a satisfying way. He made grave errors in judgeent in the past. He disrespected women and his actions and words were unacceptable. But he’s learning, growing, and changing.
It’s an important lesson about a person’s ability to look in the mirror and decide to be a better version of themselves. The short cameo will cause fans to see How I Met Your Mother in a whole new way once they realize Barney’s character arc is far more meaningful and progressive than the finale might have let on. That’s a good thing for both shows.
Stream How I Met Your Father on Hulu. The second half of season 2 commences May 23, 2023.