Television sitcoms often put their giggliest gags in the mouths of their most obnoxious, morally challenged characters. It gives writers an excuse to wrap funny in a soiled blanket. And with over-the-top jokers such as Barney of CBS' sitcom How I Met Your Mother, it's getting harder to ignore the stench.
Barney, played by Neil Patrick Harris, is an unapologetically shallow young professional, a schmoozer who hounds his friends to join him at strip clubs, lingerie-modeling parties and sexed-up soirees. Entertainment Weekly was so impressed with Barney's presence that in 2005, during the sitcom's first season, the mag dubbed Harris "the No. 1 scene-stealer on any new television show this fall." But not everyone has fallen for Barney's problematic charm. In 2009, Common Sense Media ranked him No. 10 on their "10 Worst TV Role Models" list, saying, "He's extremely cavalier about dating and rarely sees women as anything besides the next notch in his belt."
Technically, Barney's supposed to be a supporting character: The premise of How I Met Your Mother theoretically focuses on a lovelorn guy named Ted (with best friend Marshall, Marshall's wife, Lily, and their friend Robin balancing out the quintet). As a gimmick, the story is told via flashback, with a 2030 version of Ted relating to his children how he met their mom. But despite this being a "children's" story, it's utterly obsessed with strippers, sex and alcohol jokes, and demeaning gags. A lifestyle of drinking, partying and meaningless hookups gets treated about as flippantly as the next transvestite hooker jest.
If there's an upside, Ted is no Barney, even though he gets drawn into his pal's schemes. Tired of the singles scene, Ted is desperate to find his perfect match and settle down. Marshall, meanwhile, seems to be the show's sensitive and stable everyman—the "good" to Barney's "bad," at least in this show's murky ethos. More often than you'd think, How I Met Your Mother even concludes on a surprisingly positive note: Barney, for all his scene-stealing, is known as an immoral stooge. It's Marshall and Ted we're asked to sympathize with.
But the show never lets us forget, even for a moment, that in today's world of soiled-blanket TV, tender moments and mature contemplation are given screen time solely to set up another bawdy wisecrack. While How I Met Your Mother would like us to believe it has the heart of a Marshall, it has the soul of Barney.
Ted and Barney open a bar in their apartment, and Barney turns Ted's room into a "VIP" chamber where he can have sex with revelers. Meanwhile, personal heartbreak (for Sandy), triggers drinking and the solicitation of a three-way. (We see him begin to undo his robe.) The book Enigmas of the Mystical prompts Marshall and Lily to snipe about faith, with Marshall saying it "gives life shape and meaning! And if there aren't leprechauns and Yetis, what's the point of ever getting up in the morning?" Lily regrets that her uninvolved father never taught her to believe in anything. Later, Marshall and his brother lob spiritual-themed putdowns over who gets to spend solo time at their father's gravesite. An example: "I'm trying to feel Dad's spirit flow through my soul, butt-breath!"
Marshall embraces a spirit of generosity. But most of this material is thick with references to casual sex. Sandy masturbates (offscreen) in an apartment hallway, and it's suggested that he considers urination and/or defecation a turn-on. Robin's boyfriend suggests they make a sex tape. Barney talks about getting girls drunk so he can sleep with them. A reference is made to prostitution.
We see people punch each other and throw up. They drink beer and wine. They say "b‑‑ch" and "a‑‑" once or twice each, misusing God's name a few times.
Lily's quest to become pregnant drives a wedge into her relationship with Robin, and tensions rise when Lily mistakenly believes that if she does have a baby Robin will stop being friends with her. Barney, meanwhile, shows a DVD of a kids' program called Space Teens, which Robin and Jessica starred in years earlier. It's packed with intentionally unintentional sexual double entendres, and many minutes are devoted to smirking over them: Oral sex, ménage à trois, lesbianism and masturbation are all implied in Space Teens, as are slang terms for female genitalia.
Lascivious Barney wears a boutonniere, saying it means "booty is near." Punchy, Ted's high school friend, visits, bringing more foul humor and immaturity. He shows his genitalia to Ted as a gag, jokes about having sex with Ted's mom, says he's collecting his urine in a jar and laughs about the time Ted soiled his pants as a teen. But it turns out that seemingly insensitive Punchy is actually concerned about Ted, and he's visiting to be sure his friend isn't as depressed as he sounded during their last (ridiculous) phone call.
There are three or four misuses of God's name in the episode, and one somewhat muffled "d--n."