By Daniel Waldman
With the end of “30 Rock”, NBC ordered an ambitious new comedy to fill its newly open time slot: “1600 Penn.” Described by some as the “next ‘Modern Family’”, it aims to chronicle the life of a fictional president’s family and how they get along in the White House.
The President, Standrich “Dale” Gilchrist (Bill Pullman), is the center of the family, a mostly steady character who seems to spend more time straightening out his family than his country. It is immediately shown that he is not the main character of this show, rather, he is just a family figure who happens to be president of the United States.
His wife, Emily (Jenna Elfman), is his second wife (his first died) and former campaign manager who is visibly younger than the president. Early in the first episode, we can see that she is not very smart and is regarded as a trophy wife by much of the American public. His son, Skip (Josh Gad), appears to be the focus of the show. He is a twenty-five-year-old man-child whose trouble-making shenanigans cause him to be sent back from college to live at the White House, where it is assumed that he will learn to be more mature. President Gilchrist’s daughter, Becca (Martha MacIsaac), is the favorite of the house. Her first appearance on the show sees her worst nightmare come true: a passed pregnancy test. She is sick of Emily and appears to be a better mother than Emily when it comes to breaking up fights among her two younger siblings, Xander (Benjamin Stockham) and Marigold (Amara Miller), both of elementary-school age.
Some of the conflicts we can see are mostly tired old cliches: father and son trying to bond, step-parent trying to get closer to children, and immaturity among early-20s males. The hardest part about producing a TV comedy is finding plot lines that are sustainable and funny. “1600 Penn” fails dramatically at both. I could count the times I laughed in the first six episodes on one hand. The relationship between the president and Skip is supposed to be awkwardly funny, but instead comes off as canned and stupid.
As “1600 Penn” progresses, presumably throughout its first season, it will find and has found many points where storylines grind to a halt, as if running out of air, before sending the story in a different direction.
The ideas behind “1600 Penn” are not terrible, but the execution is. This show could have a future in comedy, and its characters are flexible enough to do so. It has to be funnier, or else audiences will not be pleased.
Photo courtesy of NBC