I’m still reeling from Monday night’s House shocker, but I want to congratulate Kal Penn for coming up with the best excuse ever to violate the Jerry Orbach rule. Predictably, there’s been some grousing from the peanut gallery that Penn is another Hollywood liberal who’s unqualified to practice politics (funny how we never hear those complaints against Arnold Schwarzenegger, Chuck Norris, John Rich, Ronald Reagan, Charlton Heston, et al); such comments apparently come from people who confuse Penn’s pothead Kumar character for the real-life credentialed scholar that the actor happens to be. (By the same logic, however, he knows more about Guantanamo than all the politicians who denied we were committing torture there.) At least some of his ideological opponents are giving him credit for following through on his idealism (he campaigned for Obama in ’08; see video above) as well as for giving up a lucrative gig to do something he really believes in. Who knows whether the public at large will take him any more seriously in his new role as associate director in the White House Office of Public Liaison than the comment-board crowd does, but the Obama White House has been a lot less tone-deaf in coming up with clever ways to reach out to young people than, oh, every previous White House in American history.
Penn explains his decision here to EW’s spoiler king Michael Ausiello here; more spoilers are below the jump as I grouse about the way House‘s writers dealt with Penn’s career shift.
Okay, I guess it’s in keeping with House tradition to provide shocking, unexpected deaths (see last season’s demise of Cutthroat Bitch), especially as a way to throw Hugh Laurie’s Dr. House and his team for an emotional loop. (No doubt the ultra-rational doc will spend the rest of the season trying to prove Kutner’s gunshot-to-the-head was murder and not suicide, or else to piece together the reasons that eluded him and everyone else that would explain the seemingly well-adjusted Kutner’s apparently self-inflicted shooting.) Still, it really did seem a violation of Kutner’s character to make him a suicide, and the graphic and brutal finality of the act makes it impossible for Penn to return to the show. Penn tells EW’s Ausiello that he was as shocked as the viewers when he discovered how he would be written out of the show, whose creators insist to Ausiello that there were no hard feelings. Nonetheless, it’s hard not to wonder whether Penn’s small-screen suicide is a commentary on what the writers think the actor is doing to his career by leaving a hit show for the wilderness of politics. He may indeed be committing career suicide (which makes his idealism all the braver), but it’s awfully churlish of the House writers to make the point that way.