Ted: Always have a fake pair of concert tickets in your pocket in case Lily invites you to something stupid? Ted: Labanese girls sprint to third base and then stay there.
The humor of such a character comes from the type that the character represents. Their job is now to provide desultory plot in between expressing amusement or frustration at the outrageous behavior of the new star. But can you think of another show that managed to give its breakout character actual depth, turning him into a figure that we root for and empathize with?
A type responds predictably to a situation and isn’t bound by the rules of realism. On occasion, the creative team behind the show is strong and innovative enough to keep a breakout character in his or her place—finding ways to highlight and feature the big draw without relegating everyone else to a supporting role. It calls for a play I’ll designate “The Pinocchio.” The type has to realize that he lacks the elements of a fully realized character.
The downside of a type, of course, is that it lacks depth. That’s why there’s a main character or two who carries the weight of the narrative, while the peripheral types pop up and crack jokes. Unless he can acquire characteristics other than the few broadly-drawn strokes of his designated role, he will never win the love of the audience (much less of an actual human character).
Sometimes, those types are unusually effective at generating humor. He has to go on an epic quest to become a real boy.
Ted’s amiable Scottish chat with his target is abruptly interrupted by Jeannette, who in turn discovers The Playbook and does a lot more than storm out.
The rain of shattering and burning objects from Ted’s apartment that we saw in flash-forward in “Bad Crazy” occurs, with the flames coming from The Playbook strapped with fireworks from the prop trunk.
And Barney gives the conflagration his blessing, not because he’s turning his back on his identity as a game-player, a confidence man, a trickster, an illusionist—a liar, not to put too fine a point on it—but because he’s finally gotten Robin to understand that he’ll always be that, and indeed, that’s who she fell in love with, and how he showed her the depth, intensity, and sincerity of his love.
It’s “the one true thing that can support all the lies in the world,” he explains, and he demonstrates this by emptying his sleeves and pockets of all the magic tricks he carries around, ending with bouquet after bouquet after bouquet, undeterred by her rejection.
Sometimes, those types capture something in the cultural zeitgeist. I respond to Barney because he’s accomplished this rare feat with as much grace, aplomb, and white-knuckle risk as any of his ilk have ever demonstrated. I can’t think of another catchphrase-spouting sidekick who has been able to become as truly vulnerable and as heart-attack serious, when the moment calls for it.
Sometimes, they’re just unusually marketable, with catchphrases and references that fit nicely on a T-shirt. Tonight’s episode is fantastic because it combines some of ’s best comedy—sturdily constructed but light on its feet, unabashedly gag-centered but never pandering—with a moment that deepens Barney’s humanity without whitewashing his identity.
When that happens, you’ve got a breakout character. It’s a feat I can’t imagine any other character, any other actor, or any other show pulling off quite as well.