‘1600 Penn’ Has Potential

With the series finales of “30 Rock” and “The Office” looming in the horizon, many fans are eagerly anticipating NBC’s next big sitcom to fill the shoes of the long-running comedy staples.

The network’s latest attempt, “1600 Penn,” focuses on the fictional President Dale Gilchrist (Bill Pullman) and the First Family, which include his decades-younger wife Emily (Jenna Elfman) who is stepmother to his biological children Becca (Martha MacIsaac), Skip (Josh Gad), and middle-schoolers Marigold (Amara Miller) and Xander (Benjamin Stockham).

The series opens with Skip attempting to exact revenge via fireworks on frat boy bullies who have tormented him and his friends.

Things go awry, and Skip is called back to live in the White House to both spare his father’s image and figure out a way to get his life on track.

We are also introduced to perfect, prim First Daughter Becca, whose tension with her stepmother stems from the sizeable age gap between her father and Emily, and annoyance at Emily’s desperate attempts to connect with her.

“1600 Penn” has the potential to become something great — its political setting serves as a perfect backdrop for the writers to offer satire or bring a humorous light to pressing issues. This is seen briefly in the show, for example, when the Gilchrists attempt to figure out a way to make a deal with an overtly racist Senator.

Courtesy of NBC

Courtesy of NBC

However, the show appears to be set on focusing on the bumbling of the family, namely Skip. This gets old fast, and does the show a disservice, as the characters of Bill, Emily and the young Marigold and Xander are somewhat more fascinating and engaging, but unfortunately underutilized.

The show places far too much emphasis on Skip’s extremely embarrassing trials and tribulations as an underachieving dork who tries futilely to live up to his father’s powerful presence. It’s hard to imagine any longevity from the series if they mean to continue with topping the last episode with an even more mortifying situation in which to place the childish Skip.

Frankly put, Skip is annoying to the point where it’s almost implausible. It’s difficult to sympathize with a character in his mid-20s who has the common sense of a kindergartener. On that same note, it is also rather hard to believe that any President of the United States would allow their son to stammer a confession of love on a microphone in front of important political figures.

The actors themselves do a fine job — Pullman perfectly portrays the President as a man who is serious about his tasks at hand, but also soft-hearted and caring when it comes to the ones he loves. Though one-dimensional, the stiff good-girl character of Becca is well-done by MacIsaac, especially when paired with Elfman’s Emily.

Though Skip is unlikeable, Gad does a good job in crafting a character who is prone to life’s misfortunes and attempting to escape from his family’s shadow to stand as an individual.

Hopefully the writers will realize the full potential it holds and utilize it as soon as possible. Otherwise, “1600 Penn” is really not too much to write home about.

Only Recommended If: You can handle the man-child antics of Skip. It has potential, but it must make use of its entire cast in order to successfully fill the shoes of “The Office” and “30 Rock.”