Neil Patrick Harris: Television's First 'Straight' Character
Last night How I Met Your Mother showed Neil Patrick Harris' character Barney extol his love of clothes in a song and dance number after hanging out with Tim Gunn. Wait isn't Barney supposed to be straight? Well, kinda...
Harris took the role on HIMYM a year before coming out publicly, and there was some speculation if he would get to keep his role as a hard-partying himbo whose conquests with women are legend-(wait for it)-ary. He did, and the public bought it, but as time wore on and Harris' profile rose by successfully hosting the Tonys and Emmys, the tenor of the character has started to change. On the 100th episode last night, Barney spent the evening trying to bag a buxom blonde bartender—the Betty Boop version of womanhood that stereotypical straight guys are supposed to lust after. In order to get her, he had to give up his trademark suits. See, Barney loves his fine dressing, almost as much as he loves women.
He successfully gives his fancy style up for a time, but when getting a "fix" of suiting up, he rips a jacket and runs off to Project Runway's Tim Gunn to have it tailored. After the requisite "Make it work" joke that only the ladies and gays in the audience got, Barney returns to seal the deal with his lady, but not before extolling the virtues of dressing up by—are you ready for this—doing a choreographed musical number with the entire cast.
Barney's character has always been portrayed with a wink and a nod, but rather than "don't take this guy too seriously" the wink now seems to be "even if Barney likes women, he is totally gay." In fact, earlier this season, the writer's crushed a storyline they had been buildng all last year that had Barney hitched to Cobie Smulders' character Robin. They said it was because viewers didn't want to see Barney tied down. So, they would rather see him sexualize two-dimensional lust objects rather than have a loving and lasting relationship. It's sad to say, but the reason might be because everyone knows Harris is gay.
Harris is one of the most famous openly gay actors and when proponents of the celebrity closet argue "gay actors can't play straight roles," NPH is usually the defense against that. Sure, he got the role of Barney and emerged from his Doogie Howser dark days as a drug-addled pussy hound in Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle before coming out of the closet, but his act still worked in the Harold and Kumar sequel and he played a heterosexual supervillian in Joss Whedon's popular internet experiment Dr. Horrible's Singalong Blog. In the latter, he naturally didn't get the girl and lives a sad and lonely life alone.
He may be playing straight roles, but Harris is still playing the caricatures that are usually reserved for gays on screen. They are overly-sexualized, bedding down with any pretty thing that comes by. They love drugs, partying, fine clothes, and loose
women men. Then there is the sad sack whose love is going to destroy him, who will end up with nothing. There is usually singing involved. That's why Barney is "straight" in name only. He is a gay stereotype that has been fooled into thinking he likes the ladies. Maybe there was a trip to Exodus in his past?
As much as we love NPH (especially when he's signing and dancing), maybe the HIMYM writers were onto something when they said the audience didn't really want to see a gay man play a reformed slut who gets serious with a woman. Is America ready to see a gay man in a committed heterosexual role on network TV? We're about to find out on 30 Rock where it's rumored that Danny, the new cast member played by Cheyenne Jackson (another handsome gay Broadway veteran), is going to having a romance with Tina Fey's Liz Lemon.
Of course, 30 Rock is genius, but it isn't known for its lovey-dovey couplings like The Office's insufferable Jim and Pam, and Jackson and his orientation aren't very well-known outside of the Broadway sphere, so the whole argument may be moot. Still, we hope it is successful and proves that the gay actor can get the girl, giving all those closet cases one less argument for keeping their secret.