Tuned In: NBC's '1600 Penn' shows promise
At first blush, NBC's "1600 Penn" comes across as another one of those comedies with a chubby, idiot man-boy at its center. It's also charming at times.
"1600 Penn," which had a sneak preview last month, has its time slot premiere Thursday at 9:30 p.m. It may be NBC's first real effort to broaden its comedies, the stated goal of network executives.
Compared to recent Thursday night fare on the network -- "Parks and Recreation," "Community," "30 Rock" -- "1600 Penn" is indeed broader. It's essentially a family sitcom that happens to be set in the White House. But it's not complete pabulum.
There is an edge to the humor, not as sharp as past Thursday comedies but certainly not as dull as, say, ABC's "Last Man Standing" or "Malibu Country."
"1600 Penn" is focused in its pilot episode on Skip Gilchrist (2003 Carnegie Mellon University grad Josh Gad, "Back to You" and "The Book of Mormon" on Broadway), the not-so-bright son of U.S. President Dale Gilchrist (Bill Pullman, "Independence Day"). Skip has been in college for seven years and has a penchant for wreaking dim-witted havoc wherever he goes.
Whether you find idiot man-boy humor hilarious or dull will determine your first impression of the show. I'm not a fan. But two subsequent episodes NBC sent for review show more promise.
When Skip is used more as a garnish and not the focus, his character is less annoying and more amusing. It also gives the other characters their turn in the spotlight, including eldest daughter Becca (Martha MacIsaac, "Superbad"), the take-charge, good girl who becomes pregnant in a rare fit of irresponsibility.
For a broader comedy, "1600 Penn" is serialized on how the first family, the press and the public deal with news of Becca's pregnancy. Skip, trying to be helpful, only makes matters worse when he tells reporters, "She doesn't even know the guy's name. So don't bother asking."
An upcoming episode introduces D.B. (Robbie Amell), the guy who got Becca pregnant, and he's as dim as Skip. But the two guys make an odd couple: D.B. is as super fit as Skip is a lard puck. This visual juxtaposition pairs nicely with their similar personalities, leading to some funny, sweet bonding moments between the two guys.
Whether that's going to continue or is even enough to keep "1600 Penn" interesting in the long term remains to be seen, but if producers continue to use Skip judiciously rather than building stories around him, "1600 Penn" may be on the right track.
First Published January 6, 2013 12:00 am