1600 Penn Review: A Big Fail to the Chief

By Tim Surette

Jan 11, 2013

1600 Penn S01E02: "The Skiplantic Ocean"

1600 Penn is what happens when a half-formed comedy needs an extra punch to make it past the pitching stage, and said punch adds the suffix "except it takes place in outer space/a slaughterhouse/an orphanage for deformed kids" or in this case, "the White House." Or maybe it's what happens when a former White House speechwriter and a Broadway star taking the next step toward crossover success talk for 13 minutes about creating the next Modern Family. But no matter which scenario is true (it's number two with a splash of number one), it's also what happens when network executives think a screeching buffoon equals laughs.

Josh Gad's (The Book of Mormon) Skip Gilchrist is the black hole around which everything else orbits in this family comedy set in the POTUS's crib, and the character (I'm not putting Gad on the hook here without seeing him in more stuff) is so grating that he should be used in the War on Terror to flush out evildoers. Seriously, if the minds in the secret bunker underneath the Washington Monument figure out a way to weaponize Skip, we can level China and put 'Murica where it belongs: screaming louder than everyone else. The general formula with Skip and 1600 Penn is quite clear: through naiveté and the finesse of a man with his shoelaces tied together, he'll nearly ruin the day before saving it with the same sense of innocence and idiocy that got him in trouble in the first place. Wrap it up with some talk about how family is important (don't forget to throw in a few touching piano strokes so the audience knows it's sentimental), and you have one of those "broad" comedies that NBC has been so eager to dump onto our heads.

Tonight's "The Skiplantic Ocean" was a modest improvement over the pilot, as some of the family bonds—which need to be super-duper strong and convincing for a family comedy to survive—were solidified and we got a sense of some Gilchrist family history. Or maybe I just think that because of a second episode-ending speech touting family values (Modern Family is guilty of this too, but at least that show uses poignancy as icing on something that's already been established during the episode). But I still don't get the sense that these people are family or actually love each other. Heck, stepmom Emily (Jenna Elfman) barely seems like she knows the kids' names. If you look back on Modern Family's pilot (still one of the best comedy pilots ever), you'll see familiarity all over the place, and that episode had THREE families to cover. Perhaps the White House thing is clouding the family-comedy thing, or vice versa, but the show is stuck between those two worlds when it should be melding them. That can be accomplished in time, via spending more time with the Gilchrists, but until then 1600 Penn is only slowly building its identity... and it's off to a terrible start.

Of course, any comedy can overcome these academic misfires as long as it's funny; too bad 1600 Penn is mostly tumbleweeds and cricket chirps. There is the occasional smirk and just a pip of a chuckle from time to time, but the humor is so easy on the brain that it almost needs a laugh track to induce the psychological need to conform and laugh.

What 1600 Penn does have going for it is unabashed silliness, which it embraces with an Adam-Sandlerian (YES THAT IS NOW A WORD) depiction of White House life. President Dale Gilchrist (Bill Pullman, slumming it) turning a war room terrorist threat meeting into a gathering of fathers wondering how to be dads is kinda funny! The possibility of insulting nation after nation as visiting foreign dignitaries replace the typical TV trope of nosy neighbors has potential! Andre Holland as press secretary Marshall Malloy is the only cast member who elevates his material. And ummm... the sets! They look awfully pretty and White Housey.

Unfortunately, it's not enough to pick this largely unfunny sitcom off the ground, and it's definitely not enough to cancel out the horror that is Skip Gilchrist. Ladies and gentlemen, this is the type of comedy that NBC is pushing Community out for, but get used to it until NBC decides it needs another makeover.


– The original title for "The Skiplantic Ocean" was "Everything's Nice in the Pool," making the series 0-for-2 on good episode titles.

– Wouldn't it be something to see a family comedy that doesn't feature some young genius kid, a straight-A student daughter, and an idiot child?

– I can't talk about 1600 Penn without mentioning that showrunner Mike Royce (who joined the show after the pilot) created the hilarious and poignant TNT drama Men of a Certain Age, which is must-see television. Royce also worked on Everybody Loves Raymond, so there's hope that 1600 Penn can be molded into something better.

Follow TV.com writer Tim Surette on Twitter: @TimAtTVDotCom

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  • waltmor Apr 03, 2013

    Completely disagree. I love Skip and his crazy antics (like his imaginary relationship with the mail clerk) and this show has become of one of the best comedies on tv. Sure it's not the goldmine of classicness and perfection that is Community but don't blame Community's fate on these guys, that show dug its own hole. Someone should watch the entire season of 1600 Penn and analyze it as a whole.

  • Guian63 Feb 27, 2013

    Skip is horrible. The res tof the cast continue to get better. Perhaps bring on Jack back as an Uncle and have Skip go try and find Bin Laden, not knowing we already got him. Do a quick 30 second short at end credits with Skip trying to find him.

  • kok_warlock Jan 25, 2013

    This show rely on it's worst character, Skip, which is incredibly badly written and gigantic over the top, to the point he isn't even remotely funny and hugely annoying at the same time, frankly he is so bad you just crave for a scene where he gets shot! The rest of the cast is pretty good or decent at least, too bad that like 60% of the show is all Skip, which kinda ruins it all

  • ErickShayneSm Jan 24, 2013

    Uh... The title of this episode was "Skiplantic". Of course it's going to center around the Skip character. I don't mind Skip.

    A. Its a comedy, give it a break. Security briefings aren't going to be serious
    B. Give it a few more shows before completely dismissing it. Pullman is great, Elfman does well. The set is fantastic. I can't understand why people push for sincerity in a show that's meant to be goofy and 100% not serious.

    The subject of the daughter getting pregnant was a tad of a stretch but to say the family didn't "take it seriously"... well duh. It's a comedy.

    Im more heartened to see they didnt go all political and make it a serious question about abortion and how babies ruin women's lives. So that scored points with me.

  • BryonBougie1 Jan 18, 2013

    Such a bad show. I hope NBC keeps it on at 8:30 so I can watch 90 minutes of funny and turn off the TV before this abomination is on. They need to cancel this show and bring us Community, or even Up All Night.

  • donnarosario9 Jan 14, 2013

    Review is dead on.

    Amazing that shows so obviously terrible get ok'ed for production.

    Josh Gad is easily the worst/most annoying character I can think of in the last 5 years.

  • reasonating Jan 13, 2013

    Agreed. This is why the show's creator should not also star in the show, unless they really are talented and/or funny. Of course, HE thinks he is hilarious, and that centering the show around his hilarious buffoon of a character is a great idea. Josh Gad needs somebody to let him know that Skip is not really that funny. Aren't we all tired of the cliched sweet but idiotic man-child characters? Can't we ever have characters that we like, who have a brain and some dignity, and are also funny? I get that Josh Gad thinks the world needs more Chris Farley impersonators, but it just doesn't work on this show.

  • angeleys151 Jan 13, 2013

    Spot on! I would also like to add that saying something loudly does not make it funny. All too often an actor raises their voice and uses a tone (exasperated/confused/panicked), that doesn't make that doesn't make an unfunny line any funnier.

  • Atlantida Jan 12, 2013

    Sometimes Tim pushes a little too hard in his reviews but regarding Skip even Tim didn't do all the justice to him. I don't have enough words to describe my feels t/w this abomination of a character. Well, censor words. F...ing Skip, just shut the F up and DIE. #myreview

  • tv_gonzo Jan 12, 2013

    I agree that Skip is just awful, but i can't agree with you on Jenna Elfman's character. She tore herself apart to respect the wishes of her step daughter. I can relate to her. Bill Pullmans performance is quite good in my opinion. Almost every scene is better with him in it. I don't know if that's just Bill Pullman being Bill Pullman or not, but i wouldn't say he's slumming it. He could do better, but he does ok. I think the love the family has for each other might be best conveyed by the fact that no one murdered Skip yet. His fathers patience is a testament to that.
    So the show fails, because it's not funny and Skip is awful. I agree on that.

  • ch0c0nutz Jan 12, 2013

    i dont hate it but i could certainly live without it.
    interesting the only line that i found funny was the assistant telling the president he was gay and the president: "i accept you"
    ok, no i'm not really

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