TV Review: “1600 Penn” – Misplacing the Comedy

Written by Hana Elniwairi January 17, 2013



“1600 Penn” is NBC’s latest sitcom, revolving around fictional President Dale Gilchrist (Bill Pullman) and his dysfunctional family. “1600 Penn” stars Josh Gad (“The Book of Mormon”) as aimless son Skip, Martha MacIsaac (“Superbad”) as high-achiever Becca, and Jenna Elfman (“Dharma & Greg”) as First Lady and stepmum Emily Nash-Gilchrist.

The main focus of “1600 Penn” appears to be Skip’s attempts at reconciling his buffoon-like personality and ways into an acceptable image of the President’s eldest son. This is usually done by Skip royally screwing everything up for everyone, yet still managing to save the day by doing something completely ridiculous, yet heartwarming. “1600 Penn” has not managed to achieve those goals successfully, and the series might end up suffering if it continues to miss the mark as it has been so far.

What’s Working

Before discussing the problems with “1600 Penn”, let us give a nod or two to the good things the show has going. First off, the character of First Lady Emily is working well. She is a successful political campaign manager of some sort who is struggling to gain the trust of her new family, while keeping up the image of the ‘perfect’ First Lady. Jenna Elfman’s portrayal of the flawed and insecure Emily works well for the premise of the show, and she is perhaps the only character who fits into what you’d expect from a show like “1600 Penn”.

Another aspect of the show that is not quite working currently but has the potential to develop into something better is the family itself. The members in the Gilchrist family are based on good character archetypes, like the screw-up, the golden child, the busy father, etc. However, archetypes are useless if they are not properly utilized and they run the risk of becoming unbearable cliches, as is the case with the main character Skip Gilchrist. His waywardness is highlighted very well, but there doesn’t seem to be many serious attempts -or even suggestions- that Skip’s attitude toward life is problematic. Mostly, everyone just wants to keep him away from the press.


Stop Trying So Hard

Now that the good is out of the way, let’s get down to the problems. “1600 Penn” is a show that is currently trying way too hard to be funny and comedic. Literally everything in an episode is given a comedic tone, from whatever silly thing Skip has thought up, to meetings about terrorism crises. In a show that is set in a serious location like the White House, there is a time and place for comedy. “1600 Penn” does not tout itself as a parody, yet that is what if feels like, and despite that, it is not terribly good at being funny.

In order for the dysfunctional family dynamic to produce some comedy, there should be a sense of legitamcy to the President and his political career. So far in “1600 Penn”, it doesn’t seem like anyone is trying too hard to keep the President’s reputation from being tarnished. There needs to be a balance between the comedy and the ‘real life’ aspect of it all. Currently, it just seems like everything in the show is there for Skip to screw up then magically put together using even more silliness and awkward situations.


Overall, “1600 Penn” works on a premise that could be very entertaining and successful. As it stands at the moment, the show is coming off as a bit of a cliched sitcom that is designed to be a filler, rather than a destination, and even at that, it is mediocre at best. Should “1600 Penn” hone in on character development and enriching the relationships between those characters, instead of trying way too hard to infuse comedy into every minute of the show, it could get better. Should “1600 Penn” continue as it is, it is not something I’d recommend.

My Rating: 4.5/10

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About Hana Elniwairi

Hana is a student at UWO, studying Psychology and Creative Writing. She enjoys watching movies and TV, no matter how much she complains about them or claims otherwise.

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