1600 Penn Review: NBC's First Family Comedy Puts Family First
NBC is giving viewers an early look at their midseason comedy 1600 Penn, a White House-set series focused on the fictional First Family. We've seen shows set in the White House and we've seen plenty of TV comedies that focus on families. 1600 Penn merges these two things, placing an emphasis on the family aspect of the series ahead of the politics, and using the White House setting to approach your standard family sitcom from a slightly more presidential point of view. While 1600 Penn aims for goofy at times in terms of the humor, the cast is great and there's potential for the show to settle in as something fun and different from your standard family-focused sitcom.
Created by Josh Gad, Jon Lovett and Jason Winer, 1600 Penn follows First Family, the Gilchrists, as they deal with the usual family affairs, mingled with humorous shenanigans that might transpire in the White House, if the White House were a sitcom. The series begins with the President's son Skip (Josh Gad) getting into some trouble at college, which results in him being brought home where he can safely resume setting fires (both literally and figuratively) within the confines of the White House. Gad, who's known for starring in Broadway's The Book of Mormon plays the role with the kind of goofy humor and odd-duck charm that's a little reminiscent of Chris Farley in comedies like Tommy Boy and Black Sheep. He's a guy who means well but does everything wrong. And that adds some good humor to the premiere episode.
Meanwhile, as President Dale Gilcrhist, Bill Pullman's character is a serious guy, but we see hints of the actor's sense of humor and softer side in the role. Jenna Elfman plays the First Lady a little less serious, which works as Emily Nash Gilchrist is a woman trying to balance being the First Lady and also being the stepmother to her husband's offspring, the eldest of which causes trouble, the second of whom has a major issue to deal with, and the third and fourth (played by Amara Miller and Benjamin Stockham) are still kids.
The first episode involves the Gilchrists dealing with Skip's homecoming following a public mishap and Becca (Martha MacIsaac) trying to figure out how to tell her father and stepmother some very big news. These are issues any sitcom family might have to deal with, and then you consider the press coverage and the fact that, in addition to tending to family matters, Dad's also busy trying to work with the South American leaders to arrange a trade agreement, and as you can imagine, that naturally adds a little something different to the equation. Somehow the pilot manages to tie these things together in a way that's humorous and not especially political, in spite of the setting.
From the first few episodes, it looks like 1600 Penn is attempting to approach your standard single-camera family comedy with a White House twist, putting the primary focus on the family element and the characters, so it's light on actual politics. The series gets off to a solid start with the pilot, delivering some laughs and a fair set-up to the family set to be featured in the series. The humor, which gets goofy at times, might not be for everyone, but there's a charm to it and the characters are likable. What can be said with most certainty, beyond the potential 1600 Penn has to be something really fun if given time to settle in, is that there's nothing like it on television and no family quite like The Gilchrists.
1600 Penn's sneak preview airs tonight (Monday, December 17) at 9:30 p.m. ET on NBC.
The official premiere is set for January 10 (Thursdays at 9:30 p.m.).
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