Is Neil Patrick Harris's Career Smurfed?

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Schlocky CGI films for kids haven't been good for their grown-up stars

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Few actors actors working today have been on the receiving end of as much goodwill as Neil Patrick Harris. In fact, his career over the past six years could be described, quite simply, as "charmed." A sitcom star, consummate host, champion of Broadway, and ostensible face of the gay-marriage movement, the ubiquitous former child star is easily one of the most popular, hailed, and likable modern entertainers. But will he lose all of that at the bitsy hands of a gaggle of a tiny blue critters?

As the human lead of the live action-CGI animation hybrid The Smurfs, Harris is, for the first time in many years, finding himself part of a project from which even he may not be able to escape unscathed. On the night before it hit theaters, the film, based on the '80s animated series and Belgian comic strip, had a 0 percent Rotten Tomatoes score and was slapped with the label of worst film of the summer—it's since risen to a barely more impressive 20 percent. For an actor who, up until now, could do no wrong, does this mark the moment when the tides of good will turn against him? And, more importantly, will Harris recover—or is his career "smurfed?"


Harris first became famous in the early '90s playing the precocious child wunderkind Doogie Howser, a teenager struggling through his growing pains while maintaining his career as a licensed physician. When the series ended, Harris found himself unable to shake the career-debilitating "aw, you were Doogie!" recognition while toiling through small guest roles and the occasional ill-fated sitcom before finding a well-suited home on stage in musicals like Rent, Cabaret, and Assassins. But a hilarious cameo in the stoner odyssey Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle in 2004, in which Harris played an exaggeratedly macho version of himself, became the unlikely vehicle that put the actor back on the map in Hollywood.

How I Met Your Mother premiered on CBS in 2005 to kind, if not totally positive, reviews. Harris, however, was unanimously hailed as the sitcom's breakout star, playing catchphrase-coining, womanizing lothario Barney Stinson. For its first several seasons, the series remained as what's called a "bubble show," meaning its merely fine ratings, fanbase, and critical reception put it in constant danger of being canceled. But Harris's popularity grew. A starring role in the online miniseries Dr. Horrible's Sing-a-Long Blog, which reached cult status, won him the rabid Comic-Con fanbase. He landed a gig emceeing the TV Land Awards, and then a higher-profile, perfectly suited spot as host of the 2009 Tony Awards. Meanwhile, How I Met Your Mother's stature grew, and the show now counts as a long-running, well-performing staple of CBS's comedy lineup.

As for Harris, his self-deprecating charm, quick wit, sly smile, and constant professionalism won him a legion of fans in the industry. His successful Tony Awards hosting performance parlayed into more increasingly prestigious gigs, including emcee at the 2009 Primetime Emmy Awards and star of the opening number at the 2010 Oscars. "Host With the Most"—though a tired, cliched label—was quickly applied to Harris, who became Hollywood's most beloved master of ceremonies since Billy Crystal. He received four Emmy nominations for his role on How I Met Your Mother and actually won two Emmy awards, for guest acting on Glee and hosting the Tonys.

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Kevin Fallon is a reporter for the Daily Beast. He's a former entertainment editor at TheWeek.com and former writer and producer for The Atlantic's entertainment channel.

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