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10. 'Showdown' (Season 2, episode 20)
All of the "HIMYM" characters would become cartoons in the later years. Barney Stinson basically started out as one, but the writing and Neil Patrick Harris' performance in the beginning were so strong and specific and joyful that his larger-than-life qualities didn't seem at odds with more low-key characters like Marshall or Robin. "Showdown" is a great example of how well the show once knew how to balance Barney. On the one hand, it's an episode where Barney goes onto "The Price Is Right" to get the approval of the man he has been told is his father: retiring host Bob Barker. That's ridiculous. And yet Barney's complete domination of the pricing games — at one point submitting a deliberately bad bid in Over/Under so he can buy time to show Bob some childhood photos — somehow makes it all make sense, and with such boyish enthusiasm from NPH that you can temporarily believe that this is what Barney believes. It's cartoonish, but also incredibly sweet, and the tag where Barney gives all of his prizes (including a dune buggy) to Lily and Marshall as wedding presents was one of those important periodic reminders that Barney was a great friend to them in addition to being an obnoxious sexist jackass.
- Alan Sepinwall