Spring 2013 Review: 1600 Penn

11 Mar

1600 Penn

1600 Penn looked awful in commercials, but it was merely not very good in practice.

1600 Penn is, as the name suggests, a comedic rendition of life in the White House.  The main family and cast members include the father, President Strandrich Gilchrist, played by Bill Pullman (no mention of this could be complete without of course noting that he also played the President in Independence Day), the first lady, Strandrich’s second wife and former campaign manager, Emily Nash-Gilchrist (Jenna Elfman), oldest son Skip (Josh Gadd, a co-creator of the show), daughter Becca Gilchrist (Martha MacIssac, best known as Becca from Superbad), and youngest children Xander and Marigold (Benjamin Stockham and Amara Miller, respectively).

The family’s personal problems are constantly getting in the way of the President’s political goals.  There’s plenty of infighting; Becca still hates her step mom, and Skip is a ridiculous screw up who constantly disappoints his parents by getting into trouble and having to have them, sometimes with the help of the Secret Service, bail him out.  The President likes to win too much that, after a little patriot cheering, he can’t even intentionally lose a tennis match to a Latin American whose support he needs on a crucial vote (played by Miguel Sandoval, who played cock-fighter Marcelino in Seinfeld, and tequila company head Carlos in Entourage).  The day is saved when Skip walks into the room where the Latin American leaders are planning to vote, and Skip drinks with them and unintentionally convinces them to gang up against Sandoval, who apparently has been bullying them for years.

If you can’t tell from the above few sentences, it’s an incredibly silly show.  It’s not particularly funny.  With most of the attempts at laughs, I can see what the show is going for but the jokes don’t really hit.  Josh Gadd is probably the best part of the show, being ridiculously incompetent but kind of likable, but even most of his attempts at being funny are not successful.

Compared to fellow political comedy Veep, 1600 Penn is far more over the top and ridiculous than Veep, which focuses on everyday humor and a bit of satire.  For a show about the President, there’s nothing at all satirical or political about 1600 Penn.  I wouldn’t expect to see any but the most basic jokes about Democrats or Republicans, if that.  While both Veep and 1600 Penn try to create humor out of the contrast of real people’s lives with the majesty of the White House (or the Vice President’s office, but for this point, the same difference), Veep aims for humor out of the mundane, while 1600 Penn attempts to mine the ludicrous not even attempting to resemble real life.  Josh Gadd’s Skip is certainly the most goofy aspect of the show, but he really drives the direction of the show, rather than being the exception.  To give another example, Skip at one point accidentally lights a fire in the White House, while recording a fire safety video, which causes the window to explode and hit a visiting dignitary.  It’s not that this kind of comedy can’t work, it just doesn’t really here.

It’s not a truly terrible show.  It doesn’t make me angry, and it’s surprisingly watchable, in the sense that it doesn’t make you want to immediately get up from your couch mid-episode and turn it off no matter what.   It’s bad enough though that I don’t think there’s any fixing it or making it into a second season surprise.  Even a moderately improved 1600 Penn probably leaves a fair amount to be desired.

Will I watch it again?  No.  I damn it with the faint praise that it’s far better than I originally thought it would be from the commercials, unfunny rather than cringeworthy.  Still, that falls fairly far short of the standard for getting me to watch multiple episodes.

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