INTO THE NEXT STAGE: Kal Penn Returns to Acting in ‘How I Met Your Mother’

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By GUY AOKI
(First published in
The Rafu Shimpo on Oct. 20, 2011.)

Three weeks ago when CBS executives told me and the Asian Pacific American Media Coalition that Kal Penn — fresh off his two-year job in the Obama Administration — was going to have a recurring role on “How I Met Your Mother,” I didn’t think much of it. “Recurring” usually means someone who pops up with a line or two for three to six episodes, then disappears. That hardly matches the amount of screen time any of the regulars get.

So I was pleasantly surprised when both the Oct. 3 and 10 episodes began with regular Robin (Colbie Smulders) sitting in the office of Kal Penn’s psychiatrist character Kevin. His presence was immediately felt, and in this week’s show, he was hanging out with the five regulars at their favorite bar as if he was one of the cast. In the first episode, Robin has to seek court-appointed counseling for assaulting a woman. The running joke is that Robin takes forever to tell Kevin who the woman is and the circumstances that led to the beating.

Turns out Robin was still not over her break-up with Barney (Neil Patrick Harris) and was jealous of his new girlfriend, Persian Brit Nora (Nazanin Boniadi). When Nora left for a business trip, Robin convinced Barney that the two old flames should paint the town red. Then Nora popped up — back early from her trip — and the two left Robin alone again.

A buxom woman interested in Barney showed up at the bar, and Robin told her where he was, hoping it would ruin the couple’s evening. But then Robin talked with Ted (Josh Radnor) — another one of the series regulars — who’d realized that if you love someone and they’re happy without you, you should be happy for them.

Robin intercepted the woman before she got to Barney and Nora and beat her up so she wouldn’t interrupt them. Kevin realizes Robin had “no criminal intent” and says she’s cleared.

Colbie Smulders and Kal Penn.

In the beginning of the second episode, Kevin tells Robin he can’t see her anymore because he’s moving to Alaska. Later, he shows up at a diner to tell her the truth: He thinks she’s cute but can’t date her because ethically, it wouldn’t be right because they have a professional relationship and she shared intimate personal details to him.

Robin talks him into just having breakfast with her, and they do for a week. Finally, they decide to give this dating thing a try. But ultimately when they’re alone and about to kiss, Kevin’s conscience still bothers him. He can’t get over the fact that they initially met as client and therapist and that he had her at a disadvantage.

One day, Robin comes up with the solution: She sits in his therapist chair, and since she had two hours’ worth of therapy from him, she offers the same to him so the amount of personal secrets she shared will be equaled by his. Comically, he begins opening up angrily about issues over his mom.

In the end, she tells him, “I don’t think this is gonna work.” “I scared you off, didn’t I?” “No, I mean, I don’t think I can be your therapist; you’re really cute.” He smiles.

In this week’s show, as Kevin hangs out with Robin’s friends, he realizes they’ve all got serious mental and social issues and at one point, explodes at them. Pretty funny, and Penn adds a nice balance to the cast (he says he’s supposed to be on for anywhere between five and eight episodes, but who knows? I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s made a regular).

“How I Met Your Mother” (which airs Mondays at 8 p.m.) is another one of CBS’ infamously all-white sitcoms. It’s probably no coincidence that both of the recurring love interests on the show are people of color. Last week, Ted’s date was black. At least the producers are making a belated attempt at some balance.

For “Harold and Kumar” fans, of course, this show reunites Kal Penn with Neil Patrick Harris, who’ll be seen together in their third “Harold and Kumar” film, “A Very Harold and Kumar Christmas,” beginning Nov. 4. Their characters on this sitcom — and the interaction between the two — are very different from those in the H&K films.

Oh No, Kono! Department: Someone heard a rumor that Grace Park, Kono Kalakaua on “Hawaii Five-0,” was going to be killed off this season and replaced. Technically, she already was by Lauren German, a bland blonde actress who apparently only has one facial expression and whose acting abilities are being called “wooden” just like the star of this mess, Alex O’Loughlin (no wonder they’re being set up as love interests; two wooden characters in love — how…exciting?).

Since the beginning of this season, Kono was suspended as Internal Affairs looked into charges that she took money from a police compound (she did, but the rest of Five-0 was in on it; they were trying to help Chin Ho Kelly, who’d framed himself for something his uncle did. Don’t ask. It was a contorted plot line that made no sense at all, and I’ve already covered it here months ago). Kono began hanging out with some dirty ex-cops led by Frank DeLano (Billy Baldwin), feeling it was the only way to earn a living. This time, she ended up driving the escape car and one of her teammates dies after German shoots him.

Steve McGarrett, Danny Williams, and blonde face arrest Kono, and McGarrett starts yelling at her during interrogation. Chin Ho (Daniel Dae Kim) tells him that’s not the way to handle it, and he tries reasoning with her, hoping she’ll explain what she’s doing, but she won’t budge. Finally, Vincent Fryer (Tom Sizemore), the head of the Internal Affairs investigation, tries to take her out of the room, eventually explaining that all the while, she’d been doing undercover work for him.

For once, it’s not McGarrett or Williams who knows what’s going on, but Chin Ho. He’s suspicious that Fryer’s using his cousin as a personal vendetta to get back at DeLano, who’s his ex-partner.

Turns out Fryer made a deal to go easy on her if she cooperated with his plan. McGarrett’s pissed off and, at the end of the episode, punches him in the face. Long story short, they agree to work together, and though Kono’s shot after turning on DeLano in a bank, she survives.

This episode got some points for the angry confrontation between McGarrett, Kelly, and Fryer, for reassuring us that one of the regulars hadn’t been that stupid to become a crooked cop, and for showing that Chin Ho and his ex (“24’s” Reiko Aylesworth) are dating again. But once again, all of the major guest stars were white.

The victim, the husband and wife tangled up in the middle of the murder, and of course, Baldwin and Sizemore. You know what additional guest stars we got last week? Patty Duke, Peter Fonda (Holy ’60s flashback, Batman!), Michelle Borth (of the summer series “Combat Hospital”), Autumn Reeser (formerly of “No Ordinary Family”), and Terry O’Quinn of “Lost.” This week, CBS “stole” another “Lost” alum, Tania Raymonde (who played Ben’s adopted, doomed daughter Alex), for a small part. If this isn’t enough, next week, someone from “NCIS: Los Angeles” will guest star! What the hell are the producers of this show doing? Are they even trying to find local Hawaiian actors who can play substantial roles?

Wayne Harada, the legendary entertainment editor of the Honolulu Advertiser, wrote to me, pointing out that he agreed with me and that for months, he’d been writing articles complaining about how the show has cast all of the guest-starring roles in Los Angeles and locals are only allowed to audition for the small parts. As I told CBS, if you can’t find good local actors, get Asian Americans from the mainland. God knows, they’re bringing in every white person from there!

Can’t She Shut Up? Department: From watching trailers of NBC’s new romantic sitcom “Whitney” starring Whitney Cummings, I knew I couldn’t stand her. She talks and talks and talks and talks. You know, exactly what most guys can’t stand. The attitude she seemed to exude is, “I’m hot, so if you wanna be in a relationship with me, you’re just gonna have to stand for me yacking away cos I can get away with it.”

As predicted, not too many viewers tuned in to the show (and I can’t imagine many men) and the audience has been shrinking ever since. Inexplicably, NBC still gave it a full season order, which says more about how badly their new line-up is doing than anything else.

I forced myself to watch this sitcom because one of its regulars is Asian Indian Maulik Pancholy. I found that Cummings doesn’t go off at the mouth all the time. And when she shuts up and shows vulnerability, she’s actually … dare I say it? Adorable. Then, at the end of one of the episodes, there went that mouth again. Forget what I said. What was I thinking?!

Anyway, last week’s episode centered around Neal (Pancholy) wanting to propose to his white girlfriend Lily (another regular). It was done very romantically, and she excitedly accepted. “Whitney” (er, for you women) airs Thursday nights at 9:30.

If It’s Broke, Fix It Department: Many continue to watch “2 Broke Girls” to see how Matthew Moy’s Han Lee will be portrayed. His thick accent’s bad enough. It didn’t help that in the initial script, he was called Rice Lee, and in the second episode, Kat Dennings told her blonde fellow waitress/roommate, “You can’t tell an Asian he’s made a mistake! He’ll go in the back and throw himself on a sword!”

This week, Han at least showed some hip dance skills. Playing the nerd, though, he admitted to the waitresses that he wanted to get laid at this party they were planning. Initially, they showed concern for him when they saw him dancing with himself. But at the end of the evening, he was dancing then making out with one of the butchy ’80s partiers. Yay?

The show follows “How I Met Your Mother,” Mondays at 8:30 p.m.

Till next time, keep your eyes and ears open

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Guy Aoki, co-founder of the Media Action Network for Asian Americans, writes from Glendale. He can be reached at [email protected] Opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.

 

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