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Comedian Kal Penn is back on television educating young people about the power of voting and other big issues in the 2020 election.

In the midst of election season, Kal Penn’s new show on Freeform, “Kal Penn Approves This Message,” aims to cut through scandalous campaign ads and nightmarish debates to educate young voters and encourage them to engage in democracy. Two episodes already aired, with four more to come leading up to Election Day on Nov. 3. The show airs on Freeform on Tuesday nights at 10:30 p.m. and is available to stream on Hulu

Each episode is 30 minutes, packing in helpful information and tools for viewers in a short amount of time. In addition to his career as an actor and comedian, Penn worked in the Obama White House on outreach to young Americans, making him the perfect creator and host for the show.

“The country feels really divided right now, and we all have different ideas on how to solve problems,” Penn said in the series premiere, addressing viewers. “But the reality is, we have a heck of a lot more in common with each other than we give ourselves credit for. I got involved in public service because I wanted the lives of my friends and family to get better. I created this TV show because I want the same for yours.”

Over six weekly episodes, Penn discusses different issues affecting the country in a nonpartisan way and explains what voters can do to take action. Those issues are the youth vote, education, judicial nominations, health care, climate change and voter empowerment — all topics that play significant roles in the 2020 election.

In episode 1, “Kal Penn Approves our Democracy,” Penn tackles the power of the vote. He explains how voting and civic engagement can affect many factors of everyday life. More specifically, young voters are becoming an increasingly influential demographic in elections.

“If you weren’t powerful, they wouldn’t be so scared when you show up,” Penn said. “Remember 2018? The midterms had the highest turnout for 18 to 24 year olds in decades.”

This turnout transformed Congress into one of its most diverse ensembles in years. Young people aren’t only impactful at the polls but in the streets as well. Many movements have been led by youth in recent years, from a campaign in New Jersey for teens to earn minimum wage to approval of 50 new gun control laws because of March For Our Lives’ activism.

Young adults often face criticism that they don’t care enough to vote, which is partially true. In the 2016 presidential election, less than half of 18 to 29 year olds turned out to vote. Penn went on to explain what could happen if all young voters took advantage of their rights and cast their ballots. There could be more national parks, larger development for high-speed rail transportation, and the voting age could be lowered.

This was done in 1971 when soldiers under the age of 21 returned home from the Vietnam War weren’t eligible to vote. Fighting for what they believed in, the youth campaigned to lower the voting age to its current position at 18, championing the slogan, “Old enough to fight. Old enough to vote.”

The show shifted gears to spotlight an organization called Vote16 USA, an initiative led by young people to lower the voting age to 16 in local elections and make them more representative. The members that appear on the show say issues in local elections impact teenagers who are active community participants and that they should be enfranchised. 

Following this segment, the program featured a celebrity guest: Dolores Huerta, an award-winning voting rights activist and President of the Dolores Huerta Foundation. Penn asked Huerta for advice to share with viewers who felt like their votes wouldn’t matter. She encouraged them to still vote and let their voices be heard.

Penn ended the episode with a segment called “Micro Macro,” which tells viewers about actions they can take after watching the show. The macro-action was to volunteer at a local polling place, especially since many older Americans who may traditionally volunteer might want to avoid the risk of contracting COVID-19. The micro-action was to text five friends and ask if they have a voting plan and help them register if needed. 

Episode 2, “Kal Penn Approves Education,” focuses on trade schools, college, technology and the global economy. Penn opens with a story about his friend Nick, a trade school graduate who was able to build his house with his bare hands and the help of some friends. 

Penn explains that trade school students who learn a specific set of skills for a specific line of work, such as construction or welding, can learn important life skills for a fraction of the cost of obtaining a four-year degree. The show reports that the average cost of a university education is approximately $140,000, while trade school is only $33,000. Ultimately, whether one attends trade school or a college like JMU, students will receive a valuable education that’ll help them compete in today’s economy.

Penn, with the help of Bill Nye, turns viewers’ attention to the rise of automation and the need for S.T.E.M. and S.T.E.A.M. education. These models entail curriculum in science, technology, engineering, the arts and math. Many careers today could fade away as more humans are replaced by robots to do their jobs. This goes to show that S.T.E.M. and S.T.E.A.M. programs in schools and universities will become essential to train and educate future employees as the paradigm shifts in the workforce. Someone has to take care of JMU’s beloved Starship robots.

The episode features footage of politicians from both parties, like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y. and Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, who support automation. Ocasio-Cortez said she believes it can provide more time for people to educate themselves or create art, while Romney said he thinks that it can create an innovative world with America as a leader. When one considers who to vote for, it’s important to research their opinions on policies to be better informed. 

Once again, Penn had a celebrity guest visit the show; this episode welcomed former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. She shared her appreciation for youth-led movements like Black Lives Matter and the fight for action against climate change as well as her excitement for the future of technology.

To close out the show, Penn provided more tips for viewers in “Micro Macro.” One could start a Girls Who Code club, increasing the number of women in the computer science field. A simple micro-action is to download a fun coding app to learn some programming tools. One can find additional resources from the show at kalpennapprovesvoting.com.

“Kal Penn Approves This Message” is off to a great start and will continue to be a fantastic source of information and inspiration for voters.

Contact Michael Russo at russomw@dukes.jmu.edu. For more on the culture, arts and lifestyle of the JMU and Harrisonburg communities, follow the culture desk on Twitter and Instagram @Breeze_Culture.