The first season establishes Barbara, Harry’s middle child, as a perky, upbeat, carefree cop who is great at her job but can’t seem to manage her finances. When Harry finds out that she is thousands of dollars in debt (her system of paying off one credit card with another backfired), he insists she move back in with him. But her fast-paced lifestyle isn’t exactly what he was expecting.
Barbara definitely likes to have fun, a characteristic displayed by her various relationships over the years. She isn’t necessarily looking for any long-term commitments, but instead just goes out with guys she thinks she’d have a good time with. She basically has her pick of any man she’d like, which doesn’t please her sister, Carol. “Every man you’ve wanted your whole life has wanted you,” Carol tells her. “Many of the men I’ve wanted in my life have wanted you.” These two siblings definitely don’t see eye to eye and their arguments (often evolving into physical fights) are the focus of many scenes.
Barbara seems to have a pretty good handle on who she is. Some things she calls “Barbara Things” include chilidogs, Springsteen music and police work, which is the definitive Barbara Thing. She takes her job very seriously and is a dedicated police officer. It’s a job Harry often wishes she didn’t have, for various undercover assignments tend to put her in dangerous situations. She is often seen wearing unusual undercover disguises, dressed as anything from a nun to a prostitute. Her hard work and determination pay off during season 4 when she is promoted to sergeant.
At times, Barbara does tire of being perky and upbeat. She admits to feeling sad and lonely at times, but she isn’t sure how her father and sister would react to seeing her that way. As the series progresses, Barbara does tend to become more mature and responsible, such as when she decides she is ready to be a mother and considers artificial insemination, although she opts instead to focus on her career.
Near the start of season five, Kristy McNichol left the series unexpectedly for health reasons, leaving no time for a send-off episode for Barbara. For a short while she is said to be out of town and afterward has apparently moved to Tucson, Ariz. During the final episode, Barbara returns home to pack up her things when Harry sells the house.