'1600 Penn' Review: A Very Funny First Family


'1600 Penn' (Photo courtesy of NBC)

The good news: NBC is giving viewers a sneak preview of its new Presidential comedy 1600 Penn tonight after it's performance finale of The Voice. The bad news? You'll have to wait until January 10 to see more episodes of this promising new comedy about an eccentric First Family.

1600 Penn stars Bill Pullman as President Gilchrist and Jenna Elfman as his second wife, Emily, who is struggling to balance her duties as First Lady with her role as stepmom to her husband's four children. Book of Mormon's Josh Gad plays Skip, the president's eldest son and biggest White House liability. Skip is a perpetual slacker who refuses to grow up (after seven years of college, he's kicked out after a prank goes wrong on the pilot episode), but he means well and is the comedic heart of 1600 Penn.

Gad's goofy, over the top shtick can sometimes wear thin, but in its first three episodes the show finds a nice balance between Skip's shenanigans and the rest of the action at the White House. That action involves overachieving first daughter Becca (Martha MacIsaac), tween daughter Marigold (Aamara Miller), and young smarty pants Xander (Benjamin Stockham), who are all nicely defined without being sitcom stereotypes.

Becca's public fall from grace (think the Bush twins getting caught drinking, but much, much bigger) is at the center of the first few episodes of 1600 Penn, which get progressively funnier as the show figures out how best to use its talented ensemble.

Pullman makes a great commander in chief (not a surprise for anyone who's seen Independence Day), and Jenna Elfman's impressive comedic skills are on full display as she navigates between state dinners and stepmom duties.  Andre Holland is also very funny as the White House press spokesman Marshall. Some of the show's most shrewd comedic moments involve the snarky press corps, which the show clearly plans to use as a running gag.

Like HBO's Veep, 1600 Penn takes place in a political world, but politics are not the focus. President Gilchrist meets with generals and joint chiefs, but they spend the whole time hashing out the prez's family troubles. When he gives press conferences, Gilchrist addresses personal issues before casually tossing out gems like, "Oh and we took out a terror cell today. Bad dudes, we left nothing but rubble. Marshall has the details."If 1600 Penn can maintain its sharp balance between family funny business and political satire, the show will be a great addition to NBC's Thursday night comedy lineup.

A sneak peek of 1600 Penn airs tonight, Monday, Dec. 17 at 9:30/8:30c after The Voice. The series returns Jan. 10 in its regular time period of Thursdays at 9:30/8:30c. 1600 Penn was created by Jason Winer (Modern Family), Gad, and former White House speechwriter Jon Lovett.

I'm the Chief Content Officer of Livingly Media (Livingly, Lonny, StyleBistro, Zimbio, Mabel + Moxie, and It's Rosy). My TV boyfriend is Pacey Witter. You can reach me at jill@livingly.com.
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