TV review: '1600 Penn' on NBC

Monday, 17 December 2012 12:00 AM Written by 

1600 pennOn first blush, NBC’s “1600 Penn” comes across as another one of those comedies with a chubby, man-boy idiot at its center. But it’s also, at times, kind of charming, too.

“1600 Penn,” which has a sneak preview tonight at 9:30 after "The Voice," has its time slot premiere Jan. 10 at 9:30 p.m. It may be NBC’s first real effort to broaden its comedies, the stated goal of network executives.

Compared to recent Thursday night fare on the network – “Parks and Recreation,” “Community,” “30 Rock” – “1600 Penn” is indeed broader. It’s essentially a family sitcom that happens to be set in the White House. But it’s not complete pabulum.

There is an edge to the humor, not as sharp as past Thursday comedies but certainly not as dull as, say, ABC’s “Last Man Standing” or “Malibu Country.”

Read more after the jump. ...

“1600 Penn” is focused in its pilot episode squarely on Skip Gilchrist (2003 Carnegie Mellon University grad Josh Gad, “Back to You”), the not-so-bright son of U.S. President Dale Gilchrist (Bill Pullman, “Independence Day”). Skip has been in college for seven years and has a penchant for wreaking dim-witted havoc wherever he goes.

“Aw, Skip,” says first lady Emily (Jenna Elfman, “Dharma & Greg”). “Nothing fazes you, even when it should.”

The pilot episode is squarely centered on Skip and whether you find idiot man-boy humor hilarious or dull will determine your first impression of the show. Personally, I’m not a fan. But two subsequent episodes NBC sent for review show more promise.

When Skip is used more as a garnish and not the focus, his character is less annoying and more amusing. It also gives the other characters a chance in the spotlight, including oldest sister Becca (Martha MacIsaac, “Superbad”), the take-charge, good-girl who gets knocked up in a rare fit of irresponsibility.

For a broader comedy, “1600 Penn” is, surprisingly, serialized with the story building as it centers on how the first family, the press and the public deal with news of Becca’s pregnancy. Skip, trying to be helpful, only makes matter worse when he tells reporters,
“She doesn’t even know the guy’s name, so don’t bother asking.”

The third episode introduces the guy who got Becca pregnant and he’s as dull of mind as Skip while being as super-fit as Skip is a lard puck. This odd visual juxtaposition pairs nicely with their similar personalities, leading to some funny, sweet bonding moments.

Whether that’s going to continue or is even enough to keep “1600 Penn” interesting in the long-term remains to be seen but if producers continue to use Skip judiciously rather than building stories around him, “1600 Penn” may be on the right track.

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