1600 Penn: Take a Smart Comedy, Make It Stupid

I want to first disclose one thing about 1600 Penn. I have only seen the new episode aired last night and the last ten minutes of the pilot. I haven’t seen the full pilot, so keep that in mind as you read my post.

I really had no interest in 1600 Penn when I first heard about the series. Perhaps it was because it had the ridiculous promo picture you see above. Here’s a comedy about the White House family with a bumbling fool jumping around in the background. Well, why wouldn’t you put him there? How else will you know it’s a comedy? Well, in case you weren’t quite sure, you have a couple other options to back you up, like having him sit on a table and it breaking, or perhaps him busting into a formal picture with a ridiculous, caricaturish expression. That alone made me realize that I didn’t want to take this show seriously.

But I heard a few things about how Jenna Elfman shined in the show, and given that nothing else was on at 9:30 last night (with the exception of the second half of Four Weddings — and I was bored with the first two and grinding my teeth at one of the brides), I decided to check it out. After all, the last ten minutes of the pilot showed some potential room for growth: a knocked up first daughter and another who may be a lesbian.

And I must say: I wasn’t right. I wasn’t wrong either. This comedy isn’t good, all because of one character in particular: the ridiculous bumbling food Skip who is jumping around in the background. While the show could be rather comedic, surrounding a real family who is in the public eye — a very important family in the public eye — dealing with such scandals as I mentioned above, we decided to dumb it down for the audience, adding Skip, who sucks the laughing soul out of anyone still sitting on the couch and putting up with it. His foibles are predictable and dumb, and any professional actor in the scene with him is brought down by the bad writing and hammed up scenarios. Poor Bill Pullman, who we all know can play a President, is continuously put in scenes with Skip, only to leave him as a one-dimensional shell of a president that leaves nothing for the imagination (except why this wonderful blond would be with him in the first place).

If you think that’s harsh, I’m not the only one who thinks that way. Check out this excerpt from TV.com:

Josh Gad‘s (The Book of Mormon) Skip Gilchrist is the black hole around which everything else orbits in this family comedy set in the POTUS’s crib, and the character (I’m not putting Gad on the hook here without seeing him in more stuff) is so grating that he should be used in the War on Terror to flush out evildoers. Seriously, if the minds in the secret bunker underneath the Washington Monument figure out a way to weaponize Skip, we can level China and put ‘Murica where it belongs: screaming louder than everyone else. The general formula with Skip and 1600 Penn is quite clear: through naiveté and the finesse of a man with his shoelaces tied together, he’ll nearly ruin the day before saving it with the same sense of innocence and idiocy that got him in trouble in the first place. Wrap it up with some talk about how family is important (don’t forget to throw in a few touching piano strokes so the audience knows it’s sentimental), and you have one of those “broad” comedies that NBC has been so eager to dump onto our heads.

If anything, you’d think they could liven up the cleverness by giving Skip a name that sounded like he should be responsible and professional: Countering someone named Stuart or Pryce with idiotic tendencies at least points to irony. But no, we have a fool.

It’s unfortunate because if they really embraced what it seems the writers want to showcase — complex storylines from a first family in comedy form — they could actually do it. Hell, we have the kid from The Descendants as one of the first daughters, so you’d think she’d know a thing or two about subtle comedy. But instead, we have this, which I can only guess (in agreement with the review above) is a way to reach NBC’s take on a “broad audience” — taking something smart and adding in stupid.

The smartest thing 1600 Penn can do is give Skip the job he claimed he’s looking for and get him relocated to another place in the US. Then keep our eyes on the people who look like they can handle something smart. But my guess is that stupidity is what NBC thinks America wants.

And as an avid TV viewer, that just makes me a little sad for the state of our country.

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2 thoughts on “1600 Penn: Take a Smart Comedy, Make It Stupid

  1. Great review. “Broad” is the right word to describe this show. It feels dumb enough to be on CBS. Skip really, really drags the whole thing down, which is too bad because I thought Jenna Elfman was pretty funny in the little that I watched of this episode. But hey, NBC said they were tired of being a niche network, and wanted more broad support. I guess this is what we get. Yuck.

  2. What irritates me most about NBC’s “broad” goal is the fact that what they’re really doing is not defining their audience. They’re trying to reach everyone when that really gets them no one. If a show speaks so generally that it should speak for the masses, how can anyone really relate to it individually?

    That’s a larger discussion, of course, and perhaps the subject for another blog post.

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