We need to talk about Kevin.
Not the creepy shooter that Ezra Miller plays — though that movie looks scary as hell — but Kal Penn‘s character on How I Met Your Mother. While we were initially excited to see the Harold & Kumar star pop up on the usually witty sitcom, Kevin has become such a drag that he makes Ted look bearable!
This isn’t Kal’s fault! He’s giving it his all, but it’s just not working. It’s difficult to criticize, because in some ways Kal left his job at the White House to get back into roles like this. He left behind the celebrated part of Kutner on House to work for Barack Obama, and his character got unceremoniously killed off. Now we sort of want to see Kevin go in the same way. But considering how he feels about the show’s main characters, it wouldn’t be so far off for him to kill himself in an upcoming episode. (Maybe he’ll strangle himself with Barney’s duck tie?)
The problem is that Kevin just reacts to the gang. In his first few episodes it seemed as if we’d get to learn more about him, especially when Robin turns the tables and plays therapist so he’ll feel that they’re on the same emotional level to date. But since then he’s acted as a sixth wheel, a strange human barometer ready to point out the gang’s flaws. It’s easy to make these jokes since he is a psychologist, but it worked in “Mystery vs. History” (where he diagnosed the group as codependent, among other things) and was old in “Noretta” (where he said everyone ends up with their parents). As TWoP points out, this tired gag is about all that Kevin has going for him.
I do have to disagree with Vulture that Kal’s performance has been stiff. They specifically cite the scene in “Noretta” when he freaks out about Ted and Robin’s very-close-as-exes relationship, and that was one of my favorite moments from his five-episode stint!
It’s not just Kal; TV Guide pointed out that neither he nor Nazanin Boniandi are “popping” as Robin (Cobie Smulders) and Barney’s love interests. (I think Nazanin’s moment came when she had to sing “My Favorite Things” with any semblance of seriousness.)
And that’s where this gig is most insulting to Kal: The writers aren’t even pretending like Kevin is anything but a means to get Robin back on the tracks with either Ted (Josh Radnor) or Barney (Kal’s Harold & Kumar co-star Neil Patrick Harris). Past guest stars like Sarah Chalke had plenty of support for why they could become regular members; even though Sarah was starring in Scrubs at the time, we all believed that Ted and Stella were going to get married and live happily ever after.
If anything, Kal would probably agree with us, or at least be willing to talk it through. It so happens that in a piece on him in Us Magazine today, he shared this anecdote: Once I was in line behind a woman who was telling her friend what a horrible actor Kal Penn is. I tapped her on the shoulder and told her I agreed.
Of course, now I feel like a jerk for bringing this up, since next week may be Kal’s last on the show; his IMDb page has him listed only up through the next episode, “Disaster Averted.” And even though they’re talking about Hurricane Irene, I wouldn’t be surprised if this were the episode to bring Barney and Robin (or again, Robin and Ted) back together.