It’s not difficult for me to hate characters like Barney from How I Met Your Mother. Last Monday’s episode, The Bracket, demonstrates it perfectly. It’s not a show I watch, for reasons Purtek highlighted in her review of another episode, and because I have no real desire to. I happened across five minutes of it last week, and sought out the full episode just to make sure what little I saw was as bad as I thought. That’s 20 minutes of my life I’ll never get back.
The episode starts with Ted and Marshall devising a bracket system for betting on March Madness (basketball), but quickly the attention turns to Barney. Barney, it seems, has been having unusual problems with picking up women, which is ALL his character does. As he explains what happens in multiple scenarios, his friends make it a game to guess what his hook is in each situation: picking up women at a pet store, a museum, a hardware store. Barney’s got some ridiculous tactic for each of these places. He feigns comfort for a recently widowed woman, pretends to be going blind, etc. All funny, funny stuff.
Here’s where his problem comes in: he leaves his victims for a moment, and when he comes back they turn on him, slap him and run away. Poor Barney, how could this be happening to him!? ::rolls eyes::
Cue the next scene, which is Barney and Lily at the bar together. He leaves for a second, and when he comes back, Lily explains a woman (“Blonde hair. Boobs. Kinda trashy,” describes Lily.) came out of nowhere and warned her about his use-and-abuse them behavior. He’s shocked. He’s horrified. He can’t figure out how any of the countless women he’s slept with (described as “dead in the eyes, with an air of desperation”) would want to screw him over like this. Laugh track from audience. Because this, too, is funny.
The next thing we see, Barney has taken over the blackboard and Ted and Marshall’s bracket system. Lily objects to using these women as a game…until Barney brings out the beer and then everyone cheers. A montage of them figuring out which of the women Barney’s been with occurs, none of it funny but all of it getting laughs. He narrows it down to the top four out of 64, and tracks them all down, with Lily in tow because she knows what the mystery woman looks like, and she wants to make sure he apologizes. Here we learn more (funny!) ways Barney has mistreated women and feels absolutely nothing about it. He makes no apologies.
But none of the top four women are the one screwing poor, poor Barney over by telling the truth about him. Robin comes up with a plan to snare the “stalker” woman. Why she wants to help Barney is beyond me, and a big part of the problem I have with his character. They set up a sting, with Robin playing the part of victim. All they have to do is make a good show, let Barney walk away for a minute and then catch the mystery woman in the act.
It works. Barney leaves Robin for a minute, and then a woman saunters up and speaks to her. Barney’s agast – he doesn’t recognize the woman. He approaches her as she leaves and apologizes. What does he apologize for? Not recognizing her. Yes, he tosses in a “whatever I did to upset you…” but the thrust of his apology comes from his inability to remember her at all. And it turns out he has no reason to remember her – she’s Robin’s coworker, and has never been victimized by Barney.
At the end of the episode, Barney still doesn’t know who the mystery woman is. The audience is assured we’ll learn more about her later, whee! We see him typing on his blog, Doogie Howser style (the only mildly funny thing about this episode), in which he claims he’s learned something about himself throughout the whole “ordeal” (pan here to the deceived and used woman on his bed) – that he’s awesome.
So, let’s see if you can guess why I hate characters like Barney. Is it because his appalling behavior is rewarded and treated as funny? Is it because not one of his companions put forth any serious objection to him (oh, sure, Lily protested, but ultimately she was there to serve as his foil)? Is it because we are supposed to sympathize with him as he roots out this mystery woman, instead of all the women he’s wronged, like he’s the real victim? That through it all, Barney never learns anything except how awesome he is? All of the above, and more.
This is just a sitcom, I know that, but I cannot see how glorifying this character or any like him as funny and awesome is a good thing.