1600 PENN premiered last night. While the initial laughs were few, there is a potential for success if the network is willing to be patient.
Granted, this is a pilot episode. So a grain of salt must be taken. As in all pilots, it’s more about character introduction and development. Marked as a sitcom, it had the feel of slow-moving political theater. The debut took great pains to articulate the differences in each character from the stern President Gilchrist (Bill Pullman) to skillful First Lady/Step-mom, Emily Nash Gilchrist (Jenna Elfman) and slacker son, Skip (Josh Gad). Rounding out the cast is the college aged, Becca (Martha MacIsaac) and teenagers Marigold (Amara Miller) and Xander (Benjamin Stockham).
1600 PENN is entertaining in its own right. Pullman’s President is smart but is obviously distracted with matters of running the free world. Elfman starts out as rigid and impersonal, but softens as she tries to bridge the relational gap with Becca. She is the second marriage and finds it awkward to parent the brood within the atmosphere of the White House. Gad (think Chris Farley in BLACK SHEEP) is called home from college after yet, another crazy college stunt as gone awry. Pullman and Elfman are pleasant enough. Gad is big-hearted and means well.
Series co-creator, Matt Winer has been proclaiming that the series he has created with Gad along with former White House speechwriter Jon Lovett is about family and not politics. According to the Baltimore Sun:
“It’s not fundamentally a political show. I wouldn’t be surprised if we never say the word ‘Democrat’ or ‘Republican’ in the entire series. This is a show about a family, first and foremost. Whereas (a show such as),’The West Wing’ got into the nitty-gritty of political reality, this show focuses on the details of this family’s life — a family that just happens to be in the fishbowl of the most famous address in America.”
A pregnancy is added into the mix and figures to bring extra strife within the White House. Stay tuned.
The message of 1600 PENN is that every family in America should appreciate what each of its members brings to the collective table. In spite of our good and bad traits, we all need to be acknowledged, accepted and ultimately loved for who we are. With crafty writing, solid character development and a decent time-slot, 1600 PENN could be an all-around charming sitcom. Viewers are going to have to be patient with this show to see if it can truly flourish.
As NBC tries to replace 30 ROCK and THE OFFICE, it is tasked with the same undertaking.