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The Ascent of Neil Patrick Harris

By RD Heldenfels Published: February 28, 2006

This morning, thanks to bad traffic and the scheduling that comes with a teenage son, I spent more than two hours shuttling between my house, high school and the dentist's office. Granted, the news was worse for my younger son, who will be facing the removal of awkwardly growing wisdom teeth this spring. But after my journeys, I needed to stop and breathe before going about my usual business. I also wanted a laugh. I turned, therefore, to my recording of last night's ''How I Met Your Mother.''

I did not get as big a laugh as I had hoped. It was not, overall, that great an episode. In fact, the show is pretty uneven, pivoting on a search for love that is really the least entertaining thing about ''How I Met.'' (That relationship is, in other words, what Meredith is to ''Grey's Anatomy.'' More about her in another post.)

But the episode underscored that point with a storyline that was less about the central character than about his best friend, the delightfully overbearing Barney, played by Neil Patrick Harris.

Last night's episode continued Barney's march to the center of the show. Already there have been promos playing up Harris over the lead, currently existing in my memory as whatisname. Yes, the show can be called an ensemble, and there is good work from Alyson Hannigan, Jason Segel and Cobie Smulders, if not whatisname. But last night's show was built around a big gag involving Barney (while whatisname's big moment just involved gagging). Barney told the story that kept people watching. Barney ruled over the other characters as thoroughly and remorselessly as Dick Cheney loaded for quail.

If ''Harold and Kumar'' was Harris's resurrection, ''How I Met'' marks his ascent into the top ranks of current TV comedy. He's not alone up there, not as long as ''The Office'' and ''My Name Is Earl'' are around. But I'm hoping that when it's time to hand out awards for this TV season, Harris gets more than just a mention.

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