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1600 Penn: The Shtick House

by Rachel Stein December 18, 2012 6:00 am
<i>1600 Penn</i>: The Shtick House

Considering the strength of its cast, there's no excuse for how terrible NBC's 1600 Penn pilot is. I get that Jenna Elfman can be absolutely grating to some, but even then, there's Bill Pullman, Book of Mormon's Josh Gad, Martha MacIsaac (playing essentially the same role she had in Superbad, which I'll get back to in a second) and The Descendants' Amara Miller. The series was also created by Gad as well as President Obama's former speechwriter Jon Lovett, and is directed by Modern Family's Jason Winer, making it all the more confusing that the first episode was just so stinking bad.

I wouldn't say I don't see potential in the premise of having a standard TV sitcom with the backdrop of the White House -- after all, Veep, if anything, proved that this very concept could be funny -- but with 1600 Penn, it's as though the higher stakes are expected to make up for the predictable writing. A lot of changes have to be made in the next few episodes for the series to be remotely salvaged. For starters, clich├ęs like these have got to go:

Everything Involving Skip Gilchrist
I can look past the pregnant First Daughter plotline since MacIsaac seems like a strong enough actress to make it work, but Gad playing her deadbeat brother (or is it half-brother? The family dynamics are still a little hazy to me) Skip was basically unwatchable. First of all, his presence was too annoying to bear while his comedic timing was pretty nonexistent, and given MacIsaac's Superbad role, I immediately see Gad's role here to be a poor man's Hill... including the sexual chemistry, which is all kinds of wrong.

The Little Ones
Much as I love Little Miss Sunshine, I do blame it for creating an influx of sitcoms that have these awkward endearing youngsters getting optimum screen time to say age-inappropriate-yet-darndest things. It works on some shows -- Bebe Wood is one of the best parts of The New Normal -- but here, Xander (Robbie Amell) is too much of 2012's answer to Jerry Maguire's Jonathan Lipnicki. And I realize it was only the pilot, but Miller brought me to tears in The Descendants yet was essentially a prop as little Marigold Gilchrist here.

The "Political Bigwigs Are Just like Us" Quips
What worries me the most is that the plotlines for Dale (Pullman) and Emily (Elfman) in this premiere were the overdone angry-dad-with-a-heart-of-gold for him and stepmother-desperately-seeking-approval for her, each peppered with kooky supporting characters who constantly remind us that this is all happening to the First Family, I guess in order to remind us that this should be so funny. Hopefully, 1600 Penn will take a page from Veep rather than being the comedy version of USA's Political Animals, and instead of using its setting as a crutch, will thoughtfully think about what life would really be like as a dysfunctional family in the spotlight and go from there. And please, keep Gad behind the camera as much as humanly possible.

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