By Lori Acken
Yes, House fans, Kutner’s really dead. Really, truly.
And according to executive producer Katie Jacobs, he really did commit suicide, no matter what Dr. House would rather think.
On the other hand, she also let you think Meat Loaf’s guest appearance was the episode’s big news. I’m just throwin’ that out there …
Either way, unless it’s via previous-episode flashback, don’t plan on seeing Kal Penn’s Dr. Lawrence Kutner back at Princeton Plainsboro — even in an Amber-esque, ethereal, bus-riding incarnation.
But it’s not because Penn wants to make (more) movies, or he didn’t like his contract, or his story line, or he got too big for his lab coat … or any of the other usual suspects when actors appear to inexplicably leave megahit series.
Mr. Penn is going to Washington.
Following his active role in then-candidate Barack Obama’s presidential campaign (including a move to Des Moines during the Iowa caucus that had his family and friends wondering what was up with the avowed “cynical independent”), Penn felt increasingly pulled by the other of his dual passions — the arts and public service.
Via his avid work on the campaign’s arts policy committee, the actor realized he could help under-served populations, particularly in the Asian, Under 30 and Arts communities, realize their full potential. Penn contemplated a more lasting commitment to the cause, and when Obama handily won the election, he started speaking to the folks in charge — including the new president himself.
Shortly thereafter, Kal Penn, actor, became Kal Penn, associate director in the White House office of public liaison.
You may now be impressed.
The office’s role, Penn told journalists in a conference call with Jacobs and House writer/producer David Shore this afternoon, is to “take the administration out of the White House,” and into communities counting on this administration to bring about badly needed change. Penn plans to stay in his new role for at least a few years, and though he will not act during his time in D.C., he is adamant that he has not retired from acting.
Good news for Penn fans. For House fans? Depends on how you look at it.
Penn — who approached Jacobs and Shore about his new opportunity and asked to be released from the series — says he was as shocked as you were last night when he found out Kutner’s fate, “somewhere around episode 17 or halfway through 18.
“I asked if there was something in his background that would indicate this,” the actor says, and Shore told him no, advising him not to change the character’s expressions or demeanor despite the stunning turn of events.
Chalk it up to Shore’s ability to make lemonade of lemons. Because Kutner’s final act was so unexpected, “it’s a question House can’t answer,” Shore said, “That’s what’s exciting.”
Shore adds that the after-effects of the death will resonate throughout the rest of the season and into the next, as the remaining staff struggle to make sense of, and deal with, their loss — individually, and, in the case of Foreman/Thirteen and Cameron/Chase, as couples.
Which, for House fans hoping the series can hang onto its chutzpah, is very good news — and good consolation — indeed.
FOX has launched a special online memorial at fox.com/kutner to give viewers an opportunity to remember “Dr. Lawrence Kutner” (Kal Penn), whose unexpected suicide occurred on last night’s episode of HOUSE.
Features of the site include a video tribute to Kutner featuring music composed by Hugh Laurie, Kutner’s obituary, messages posted by Princeton Plainsboro coworkers and a link to the Kutner memorial Facebook page.
On the Facebook page, fans have the opportunity to leave personal messages remembering the character, view photos, video clips, as well as “grab” his hospital ID to post on social networking sites and their personal blogs.