Not for a good laugh

Tuned in

What can you say of a show that has, among its creators, a former speechwriter for US President Barack Obama?

 And boasts of being shot partly in the very premise whose address gives the show its name? It’s definitely a novelty! However, novelties are no substitute for substance. Any work of art, or even science for that matter, never does well if it has a lot of novelty but no substance. Switch their places, and the substance may just triumph over novelty. 

Television channels in the US are replete with sitcoms. It must have taken Josh Gad (who also stars in the show and causes most of the situations that are meant to make the audience laugh but don’t), Obama’s former speechwriter John Lovett and Jason Winer (the man behind Modern Family) quite a bit of brainstorming to come up with the idea that gave birth to 1600 Penn. One can only wish they had given it some more thought, so that the audience wouldn’t be stuck watching only the “they’re just like us” stories all through. 

The show, ostensibly, is about the presidential reign of Dale Gilchrist (Bill Pullman; yes, the same guy who played President in Independence Day). Making his life just that much more difficult are the children from his first wife Skip (Josh Gad) and Becca (Martha MacIsaac). While Skip goes from being a college-dropout dimwit to one of the biggest liabilities for his father’s administration, Becca gets impregnated, and stands at the eye of a scandal that could blow up in her dad’s face, especially given his stature.

Helping the president balance the family is his second wife Emily (Jenna Elfman), whose own children Marigold (Amara Miller) and Xander (Benjamin Stockham), cause some more trouble for their already preoccupied parents. And trying to desperately help the First Couple firefight their way through personal and professional problems is young but competent White House Press Secretary Marshal Malloy (Andre Holland).

The biggest problem 1600 Penn suffers from is that although it is marketed as a show that takes a humorous look at the travails of the supposed leader of the free world, the aforementioned travails rarely go beyond the family. Nearly all episodes are centred around mischief-maker-in-chief Skip, who also ends up solving a couple of problems for his family and his dad in ways that would have ended in disaster for a real president. When it’s not him, it’s Becca, her pregnancy, and the search for her baby-daddy. 

The creators don’t seem to come good on the promise of a show that can blend US and global politics with a politician’s personal life in a way that can deliver a lot of laughs. Gad, as the airheaded Skip, seems to have kept quite a lot of lines for his own self, but only so much fun can be generated from his puerile antics. The audience is left searching for comedy where there is none. 

Instead, there seems to have been injected a healthy dose of drama, and some melodrama, in the episodes. One may argue that these emotions have worked well in the other series. They may note that these worked because they were used sparsely, at the right moment, and almost never as a substitute for comedy. 

As for the novelties, you don’t get too much of an insight into exactly what the president does. Neither does the White House itself play too big a role throughout the series. Now, that part is understandable, because to reveal too much of it might have compromised the security of the building and those in it. But one is left wondering why some gentle (and the occasional ribald) ribbing of some of the guests according to their ethnicities. Sure, that might have been controversial, but no less offendingly funny than the movie-inspired sitcom Outsourced. 

And even if it was, the fate of 1600 Penn might not have been all that different. While Outsourced ran for a whole season of 24 episodes before it was taken off air for some strange reason, 1600 Penn, originally planned as a mid-season series, scored so low with audiences in the US that it was cancelled only after 13 episodes. 

Now, that’s a warning for all those out there who have taken a liking to this show. Don’t get too accustomed to it, for it won’t last long. Unless some channel decides on reruns or occasional fillers. 

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