Following the nastiness that was the 2012 Presidential Election and the recent fiscal cliff talks, the nation has needed a break of sorts. They may have found it with NBC’s newest comedy, “1600 Penn.” The first episode ended with words we all wish were spoken by our presidents and politicians in general.
“We give into pride, we hold onto resentment, and sometimes, we just screw up.”
That line, spoken by President Dale Gilchrest, (Bill Pullman - Independence Day, The American President, Titan A.E.), sums up first episode. The debut introduces Gilchrest, who is working to keep together not just an administration, but a family which is about American as one can get. In this White House, the First Family is far from Camelot, and the series itself is long on both slapstick and political humor.
Everything from cracks about American history (the Brazilian President grumbling “I’ll treat you the way you treated your indigenous people.”) to a flaming chair being tossed through a window onto the North Lawn in front of visiting Latin American dignitaries highlights the first episode. The perpetrator of the fiery chair flinging, ne'er-do-well son Skip Gilchrest (Josh Gad), proves to be the lovable loser who returns to make good, first encouraging his Commander-in-chief father to beat the Brazilian President in a game of tennis rigged as a loss in order to win his vote for a trade pact (which earns the Brazilian President's vow to defeat the deal), then rallying the remaining leaders to turn on their South American colleague and vote for it.
Also featured during the episode is the pregnancy of first daughter Becca (Martha McIsaac), who hears female anatomy terms spoken every other word by First Lady Emma (Jenna Elfman). Marigold (Amara Miller) and Xander (Benjamin Stockham) round out the family, which Emma appears to doing her best to hold together, despite being given the cold shoulder on several occasions.
The second episode leads off with the President’s spokesman, Marshall (Andre Holland), uttering the political kiss of death during a workout (“I love a slow news day.”), when an MSNBC report leaking news of Becca’s pregnancy to the world send him and the rest of the White House staff scrambling to contain the damage. Ironically, the situation is revealed to the president as he takes a cool dip in the pool. Skip tries to wax philosophical about it.
“I’m starting to feel all light…woozy…..to be fair, this is partly my fault. I came in with very low blood sugar.”
Becca reveals the father to be a man called D.B. (Robby Amell), to which Dale reveals his expectation of who would screw up to be Skip. It also revealed just how much a president needs to keep from the First Lady (“Okay, I keep the launch codes…okay, I keep a ton of stuff from you..”) While Skip plays keepaway with Becca’s Blackberry (eventually throwing it into the pool, Marco Polo-style), the president’s problems with the pregnancy begin to slip through during a Defense Department briefing, leading to a bit of on-the-job therapy leading to a classic lesson in management.
General: “You said to get my head out of my ass…”
President: “And what did you do?”
General: “I got my head out of my ass…”
President: “That’s called leadership”
As Skip offers to babysit for Becca, First Lady Emma shows up to convince Becca to discuss the pregnancy with Marigold and Xander. Meanwhile, the Joint Chief’s group therapy session with the president continues, with Buddhism and parenting blogs thrown about. Then, the president has an epiphany, realizing his view of Becca’s perfection was what prevented her from opening up to him. Afterwards, it was back to business, after a fashion.
President: “That terror cell..it’s been confirmed?”
General: “Yes, sir. One hundred percent.”
President: “Take ‘em out…and really good talk!”
Again, trying to do the right thing, Skip just makes things worse, walking Becca into what he thinks is the kitchen when, in reality, it was the briefing room where he and Becca are accosted by reporters about the scandal. Thinking he’s helping, Skip attempts to silence reports by saying “there’s nothing salicious about it,” then following the comic rule of irony, reveals the actual salacious details.
Should the series stick and survive the midseason replacement cut, it will be welcome satire of the absolutely mean-spirited politics which has infested Washington over the years. Pullman’s serious-yet-silly delivery, combined with the Elfman’s comedic heroine appeal, is a wonderful foil against the semi-dopey character of Josh Gad and the uber-angst of Martha MacIsaac.
The writing is crisp, fresh and original, and it takes the nastiness of politics and meshes it with the difficult underbelly of family life. In the end, the future of the series could decided by how America receives a president who looks like he wants to be more dad than chief executive. The only thing which could make this show funnier would be the comic relief of a golden retriever piddling on the nuclear football.
But this series is so new, it may just be a matter of time.