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How I Met Your Mother's Barney Was Almost A Completely Different Character

Looper 9/29/2022 Mark D. McKee
Neil Patrick Harris smiling © Jamie Mccarthy/Getty Images Neil Patrick Harris smiling

If you ever watched "How I Met Your Mother," you know that Barney Stinson (Neil Patrick Harris) has only one rule. Now, depending on which episode you watch, that one rule changes regularly to whatever fits his current scenario. But one thing that never changes is an exception exists if the girl is hot. Stinson was a solid example of the womanizing and immature archetype the series battled against throughout the late 2000s and early 2010s. Ted Mosby (Josh Radnor) and Marshal Erickson (Jason Segel) bonded over their college memories and their collective poking fun at Barney, using him as an example of what not to do while Ted searches for his soul mate.

While he may have been the humorous anchor to the series, some would say that he is offensive by today's standards. This is a notion that Harris shrugged off when speaking with The Guardian. "Some people will be offended by it in retrospect — and there's not much one can do in retrospect," the actor explained. "But the experience of making that show for nine seasons was very good energy ... and there was never a sense of doing things with bad intent." He talks about how the character is a fictionalized version of the stereotypical wingman, the crazy friend that is always ready to party and takes it just a little too far.

While the Barney Stinson that we got for nearly a decade is hands down the most iconic part of the show, he isn't the first version of the character. In fact, we almost got a completely different iteration of the legen — wait for it — dary character.

He Was Nothing Like Harris

Neil Patrick Harris looking suspiciously at Josh Radnor © CBS/YouTube Neil Patrick Harris looking suspiciously at Josh Radnor

In a 2008 interview with The A.V. Club, Harris recalls that his first glimpse at the pilot script revealed a very different version of Barney. "Reading the pilot to 'How I Met Your Mother' it's much funnier than most sitcoms and not formulaic. So it was clever, but the character was written as a Jack Black, John Belushi type, so I thought, at 6 feet tall and 160 pounds, I probably would not be thought of as that guy." Of course, there are more than simply the physical differences between Harris and someone like Jack Black. Where Harris played the part of Barney Stinson with a camouflaged charm and huge heart, Black would have likely played the part with a boisterous persona impossible to take seriously when needed.

But how did Harris change the showrunner's mind about who Stinson was? "This script came around, and I thought it was ridiculous and thought there was no way I could get it," he confessed. "So I went in for it and didn't seem to care very much about making an a** of myself, and they seemed to respond to that mentality." He landed the part and spent his entire nine-season arc trolling women, searching for the most epic night, and winning the title of best friend from his constant wingman.  

It is hard to argue with the fact that nobody in the series makes a bigger fool out of himself than Barney Stinson. He dressed as an astronaut, an old man from the future, and virtually anything you can think of to manipulate a woman into bed with him shamefully. But how did a character like Barney Stinson, arguably the most despicable character in the series, become the most beloved and remembered?

His Character Was Satirical

Neil Patrick Harris hitting on a woman © CBS/YouTube Neil Patrick Harris hitting on a woman

How does Barney Stinson retain a beloved status when he is essentially a garbage person? According to a popular Stinson theory, the character was used as moral fodder to make Ted Mosby look better. Redditor u/KermitTheFraud92 lays the theory out in a post, saying, "I feel a lot of episodes where Ted's doing something bad he immediately swaps to a story about Barney doing something worse, which makes me feel like he was trying to make himself look better." The entire show is from Ted's perspective, after all. 

The Redditor amends the theory to address the comments that state it is a popular fan theory that Ted sat his children down to tell them the story of how he met their mother as a lead-in to asking how they would feel if he went after Robin (Colbie Smolders). In the process, he makes Barney look terrible to downplay his relationship with Robin, clearing the path for him.

What Barney ends up being is a model for the pitfalls of modern dating. While Ted spends nearly a decade looking for his soulmate, he is accompanied throughout New York by the living embodiment of everything wrong with dating at a time when the dating world was changing. Today, society would never accept many of the antics Barney pulled. Still, the idea of Barney Stinson is less about glorifying his behavior (the other characters condemn it constantly). It's more about speaking about the many horrible daily behaviors people with bad intentions engage in. Harris lent his charm and his wit to turn what would have been an easily canceled character falling victim to the times into a one that perseveres by being legen — wait for it — and I hope you're not lactose intolerant because the next word is — dary.

Read this next: The Only 14 Near-Perfect Sitcom Seasons Of All Time According To Metacritic

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