Tonight marked a rerun of the pilot of 1600 Penn on NBC followed by the brand new second episode of the series at 9:30 PM with the episode titled “The Skiplantic Ocean ”. When 7 year college student Skip (Josh Gad) returns home to his father Dale Gilchrest (Bill Pullman) and his step-mother Emily Gilchrest (Jenna Elfman) from his trek through the pillars of education, only Skip sees the plus side to everything. That is because Dale is the President of the United States, and Skip is returning home which is actually The White House. And Skip gets into trouble a lot. Can the President keep Skip under control and out of trouble? Will this equal hilarity for viewers?
After viewing the pilot, it is all but too easy to write-off the show. The show, via the pilot alone, which is also went/goes by the title “Putting Out Fires”, is a tragic mis-fire on almost every level and is what I’d call a galactic misuse of talent. The show is all bark and no bite, and really the oldest (Pullman, Elfman) of the ensemble comedy are the ones who walk away with some semblance of charm.
Skip returns home due to a prank gone wrong at college and the President thinks that Skip could do less damage at home. Naturally we know this not to be the case. By this idea alone, comedy should come from this and entertain our television viewing funny bone. Problem is, Skip is a giant moron.; a moron of gigantic bumbling proportions. But unlike other morons in television and film, he is a moron who lacks heart or drive.
At the end of the day, or the end of the Pilot episode “Putting Out Fires” I wish that the show was a fire I could put out. Or at least Skip’s character was a fire I could put out. Skip was so darned annoying, so idiotic, but he further lacked any real semblance of someone I wanted to root for. Sure he was dim-witted and light-hearted but that doesn’t necessarily mean he is someone we can root for. Gad’s character of Skip in most situations feels shoehorned in to what would be otherwise an interesting premise by itself; but instead we get Skip launching into weird physical bits of comedy, or lord knows what.
In episode two, “The Skiplantic Ocean” the show did feature some actual decent laughs but again, none of the comedy came from Gad, but actually came from Pullman and Elfman. Matter o’ factly, the entire episode’s sequence in the war/situation room with the military chief of staff (?) to originally discuss a terrorist cell unit which then becomes about a bunch of generals, all men, but also fathers, helping President Gilchrest work out issues of his daughter being preggers. It was actually quite heartwarming and hilarious. But then we get more bits of supposed comedy from the Skip character.
What makes 1600 Penn more obnoxious than the overall Skip character is the general idea has some merit and, like the sequence I described above, is ripe with comedic ideas that could land. The problem is, it feels way off the mark. For every one idea that hits, the jokes around it, and heck, I’d say the joke itself mostly fails or falls flat. And that’s what is probably more tragic and sad about 1600 Penn; the show has potential to do better. And I say this from the perspective of seeing the first two episodes. This isn’t like my previous review of Ben & Kate’s pilot, and then doing a reversal after viewing the next view episodes. This is purely a situation of the show needed drastic overhauling before hitting the air, and yet if you had to ask me what to fix, it’s hard to directly say. While I dislike the character of Skip, he is a catalyst for half the things happening. And Gad is a talented actor and entertainer, but the character feels squandered and thus his talents do as well. The same could also be said about Elfman and Pullman, who literally are doing all they can to add brevity and wit to what is good ideas but with mostly poor execution in the writing.
Overall, 1600 Penn is a very unfunny series that has tons of potential but is horribly carried out and accomplished. The show does has bright spots and that is the talented actors such as Jenna Elfman, Bill Pullman and heck, even Josh Gad when his character is wrangled down a bit. The key will be to see if the show can continue to grow a bit further and take the good ideas the show has and really bring them to life.
1600 Penn can be watched on NBC WCMH Channel 4 for Time Warner and Insight Communications customers. For HD channel versions, check your local cable or satellite provider for more information.
But what do YOU think?
You can read Nick’s additional reviews on The TV King.