Stay Tuned: First family misadventures on '1600 Penn'

Melissa Crawley

The opening scene of NBC's new situation comedy “1600 Penn” introduces Skip Gilchrist, the son of the president. He is giving a rousing pep talk to his friends who have been bullied by members of a fraternity on their college campus. He urges them to take action in the form of a fireworks display on the fraternity's front lawn. He lights a fuse and accidentally sends a rocket crashing through a window where it explodes and starts a fire. The fraternity brothers pour out of the house and go after Skip who is quickly whisked away by secret service agents. The scene isn't hilarious but Josh Gad gives us a small taste of his great dead-pan delivery as Skip, the never-gets-anything right, big-hearted misfit. Gad is a talented comedic actor, but his skills aren't enough to make “1600 Penn” a must see show.

Skip, his sisters Becca (Martha MacIsaac) and Marigold (Amara Miller) and his brother Xander (Benjamin Stockham), are the children of President Dale Gilchrist (Bill Pullman) and step-children of First Lady Emily (Jenna Elfman). The choice to make Emily the step-mom is unexpected and a little interesting where first family dynamics are concerned. But so far, the series has chosen to keep the character in typical step-mom scenarios where she works hard to win over her husband’s children who see her as inconsequential. Elfman's talents, which she used to great effect on “Dharma and Greg,” feel wasted here.

Pullman's President Gilchrist is an exasperated father who just happens to be the commander-in-chief. Political situations are a backdrop for the show's domestic comedy so a typical scene will play out within this dynamic. After President Gilchrist finds out the shocking news that his straight-arrow daughter Becca is pregnant from a one-night stand, he is called into the situation room. The security briefing quickly turns into an impromptu therapy session as several generals give him advice including not underestimating the power of a hug. In this scene and most others, “1600 Penn” mines its laughs from the intrusion of the president's family misadventures into his professional responsibilities. While all the president's children have parts to play, most of these embarrassing mishaps are courtesy of Skip.

Skip, who has turned his four years of college into seven and counting, is the first family's lovable slacker. After the fraternity fire, the president decides that Skip should move home to the White House so he can stay out of trouble and figure out his future. But lovable slackers' well-meaning attempts at getting their life together have unintended and hilarious consequences. At least that's the hope. Skip's first attempt to win his father's approval involves crashing a meeting of Latin leaders and sealing a trade deal by giving the same pep talk he gave his friends at college. This time, the leader of Brazil stands in for the mean fraternity brothers. It's not exactly sharp political satire but Gad is good at giving Skip a funny combination of awkward and earnest.

Often, sitcoms can survive on the talent of one actor (Tim Allen on “Last Man Standing” is an example) and “1600 Penn” is Gad's show. Its success will depend on how good he is at persuading you to hang out with Skip every week.

“1600 Penn” is on Thursdays at 9:30 p.m. EDT on NBC.

Melissa Crawley is the author of “Mr. Sorkin Goes to Washington: Shaping the President on Television's 'The West Wing.’” She has a PhD in media studies and is a member of the Television Critics Association. To comment on Stay Tuned, email her at or follow her on Twitter at @MelissaCrawley.