Neil Patrick Harris — or NPH as we here in Internet Land like to call him — turns 41 today. The man has taken on nearly everything in entertainment over his last 20-something years, from starring in two hit shows to headlining on Broadway and making people who don’t live in NY actually care about the Tony Awards, or at least the monologue. Aside from margarita benders, NPH is currently at the top of his game.
The early 1990s belonged to Harris thanks to Doogie Houser’s successful 97 episode run (ending in 1993). It would be a little over a full decade after that before NPH was really back in front of mainstream America on a regular basis with HIMYM. Sure, he had the occasional cameo or small film role, but for the most part, those years are full of forgotten TV movies and cancelled sitcoms. Let’s take a look back at the forgotten decade of Neil Patrick Harris.
Snowbound: The Jim and Jennifer Stolpa Story, Jim — 1994
Soon after Doogie Howser ended, NPH embarked on a steady string of dramatic made-for-TV movies titled “Something, Someone, Story”. Snowbound is actually a pretty incredible true story about a couple and their infant son who are stranded in the snowy wilderness of northern Nevada. The movie’s description sounds kind of like that another winter wilderness story, The Grey — except NPH doesn’t battle a pack of wolves and Liam Neeson is nowhere to be found. There are a few clips of the movie on YouTube, but I choose to include the below fan-made trailer, because I get a kick out of the idea that somebody loves this movie so much that they edited together a video tribute for it. Kudos if you can make it through the entire thing with the song playing.
Animal Room, Arnold Mosk — 1995
Animal Room outright billed itself as a 90s version of A Clockwork Orange, only instead of Malcom MacDowell there was Matthew Lillard. Harris plays an intellectual teen that is deemed troublesome by his school because of his recreational drug use and sent to a harsh disciplinary program. I’m assuming Harris took the role because his agent said he needed to get away from the family-safe parts and do something edgy. Unfortunately that meant doing a movie that was too crappy for a theatrical release and too violent for a TV movie — thus, straight to video. It does have a cameo performance by the 1995 version of The Misfits, so there’s that, I guess.
Starship Troopers, Carl Jenkins — 1997
Starship Troopers is a sci-fi classic and if you don’t agree than may a “bug” devour your family. It was nice to see NPH in something other than TV movies like Legacy of Sin, and I remember hearing a few people blurt out “it’s Doogie” when I saw it in the theater. Just like RoboCop and, to a lesser extent, Total Recall, director Paul Verhoeven weaves in tongue in cheek themes alluding to Nazi propaganda films. The NPH highlight: using telepathy to read the thoughts of a bug that is basically a giant butthole with eyes.
The Christmas Wish, Will Martin — 1998
1998 brought NPH back to TV movies and with it came all the feels. Harris plays a slick-talking Wall Street trader who returns to comfort his grandmother after his grandfather’s death and finds a mysterious diary. I’m sure if you really want to know what the secret Christmas wish is you can wait until December when it airs on the Hallmark Channel at 2 a.m., or you can buy the VHS on eBay for $10.
Stark Raving Mad, Henry McNeely — 1999-2000
Second time success doesn’t always come easy for TV stars, but Stark Raving Mad should have been a hit — technically it was, winning a People’s Choice award for “Favorite New Television Comedy Series.” The show featured Harris as an OCD and phobia prone book editor for a horror novelist played by Tony Shalhoub (prior to playing his own OCD and phobia prone character on Monk). It had a spot on NBC’s “Must See TV” Thursday night lineup and was created by Modern Family creator Steven Levitan who already had successful NBC hits with Mad About You and Just Shoot Me, but still, the show couldn’t make it more than 22 episodes.
The Mesmerist, Benjamin — 2002
Based on Edgar Allen Poe’s short story, “The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar,” The Mesmerist centers around a dying man who is put under a trance and sent into the afterlife. The dark comedy boast a pretty straight down the middle rating on IMDB of 5.4 and was called by one Rotten Tomatoes critic “a tiresome sort of Naked Gun on crystal meth.”
Undercover Brother, Lance — 2002
I’m not sure how I missed Undercover Brother in 2002. It pokes fun at blaxploitation films with NPH playing the white intern in an all African-American secret organization. The movie has a surprisingly good rating of 77% on Rotten Tomatoes and co-starred Dave Chappelle just a year before Chappelle’s Show. Twenty minutes of Dave Chappelle screen time makes up for 80 minutes of Eddie Griffen, right?
Spider-Man: The New Animated Series, Peter Parker/Spider-Man — 2003
2003 saw NPH return to animated voiceover work after a decade had passed since the deservedly short-lived Capital Critters. Oddly enough, this is an animated spin-off of the 2002 theatrical film and it ran during the evening on MTV. It also featured an impressive list of guest stars including Stan Lee, Lisa Loeb, Rob Zombie, Jeremy Piven, Gina Gershon, Michael Clarke Duncan, and Ethan Embry. The show couldn’t compete with the drunken hot tub antics of (insert any Real World episode) though and was pulled after just 13 episodes.
Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle, Himself — 2004
I don’t know if we would have ever had Barney Stinson if not for Harold and Kumar. A movie with a $9 million dollar budget about stoners trying to find a fast food place isn’t supposed to make $23 million at the box office and get a thumbs up from Roger Ebert. Harris playing a fictionalized version of himself as a stripper-chasing madman helped push the film to its current cult status and paved the way for Barney Stinson. And just like that, the next — and perhaps greatest era — of NPH was born.