Let’s Review: 1600 Penn

By January 11, 2013

Last night saw the “official” (I say official in quotes as the pilot actually aired on December 17th as a midseason replacement) premiere of NBC’s new comedy, 1600 Penn, about a man (Bill Pullman) trying to keep his dysfunctional family in order and just happens to be the President of the United States.

And that’s about where the fun ends.


Based on what you’ve seen, the show SEEMS like it would be pretty funny but in reality there’s SO much going on that it becomes a jumbled mess and tries a little too hard to win your heart.

After watching two episodes, (and it pains me to say this because I really do love Bill Pullman as President Gilchrist) I was disappointed to learn that while the show’s premise revolves around the POTUS, it’s actually the character of the oldest son and idiot black sheep of the family, Skip (Josh Gad, who also created the series with Jon Lovett) the show is centered on.

Gad, best known for being part of the original cast of hit musical The Book Of Mormon also sits as an executive producer and writer of 1600 Penn which means that he’s got a great handle on who Skip is and how he should be but it doesn’t work when the rest of the characters seem to be treading water until he and the writers can figure out how to deal with them.

The pilot episode, “Putting Out Fires”, sees Skip coming home from his seven year stint in college to live with the family after accidentally setting a fraternity house on fire during a failed prank attempt while his POTUS dad is dealing with a trade agreement…sounds simple enough right? WRONG!

We also learn that the oldest daughter Becca (Martha MacIsaac) is pregnant after a one-night stand; youngest son Xander (Benjamin Stockham) is a bit of an egghead and middle daughter Marigold (Amara Miller) is possibly a lesbian admitting to First Lady and stepmother Emily (Jenna Elfman) that she has a crush on a girl named Jessica.

I GET that pilots are usually known as the “establishing” episode (meaning you get to know all the characters at once) but it can be a bit overwhelming and in this case, a LOT overwhelming.  At one point it became so muddled and confusing that I found myself unintentionally tuning out unless Bill Pullman was in the scene and that SUCKS to say because I LOVE Bill Pullman but I am NOT in love with this show. Gad’s Tommy Boy-like antics wear wafer thin after 10 minutes but again as he’s a co-writer, there’s far, FAR too many of these moments that occur.

Unlike other political sitcoms like HBO’s VEEP (starring Julia Louis-Dreyfus) centered around the life of the Vice President, I just feel like it’s trying FAR too hard to make ALL the characters relatable which then puts strain on making EVERYONE funny, is too far fetched and zzzzz…I just fell asleep TALKING about this show.

If you wanna see a presidential comedy that goes awry in the right way, might I suggest the 1980 comedy, First Family?

Manfred Link (Bob Newhart) is the President of the United States, First Lady (Madeline Kahn) is a bit of a boozer and their 28-year-old daughter (Gilda Radner) only has one thing on her mind: getting laid. BOOM.


Even though First Family is a HIGHLY exaggerated look at the life of our Commander-In-Chief, I’d still rather watch this than a show like 1600 Penn that borrows far too much from other films and shows that have come before it; I must’ve said “Simpsons did it” (metaphorically, of course) several times. The only reason I’m sticking it out for ONE MORE episode is BECAUSE of Bill Pullman’s portrayal of President Gilchrist and in turn is the only relatable character in the show.

As some shows take a little warming up to before they get good (like Community), I usually give any show 3 episodes to find their footing before giving up…but I gotta tell ya that after 2 episodes, I’m ready to throw in the towel.


1600 Penn airs Thursday nights at 9:30 on NBC.

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Cricket Lee
Star Wars fangirl. Named Best Kisser by Time Magazine. CEO/Host: Girl Gamer; host of Gecken: GeekNation; writer: Dread Central. You'll have a crush on me soon. Vote Quimby. Twitter: @crixlee http://www.imdb.me/crixlee