Monday night, NBC gave us a sneak preview of their new sitcom 1600 Penn, starring Bill Pullman and Jenna Elfman. Set to premiere early next year, the show brings standard sitcom structure to the White House. Though cliches abound, not all of the classic tropes translate perfectly to the first family.
For one thing, President Dale Gilchrest isn't anywhere near as bumbling as your average sitcom father (he is the president after all). Still, somebody has to bumble, and from the first episode it appears that all of the standard male wackiness (like starting fires and throwing chairs out of windows) will be the duty of first son, Skip Gilchrest, codename: Meatball. Fortunately for NBC, they seem to have themselves a real superstar in Skip, who is played by Josh Gad from Broadway's The Book of Mormon.
Jenna Elfman plays much more of the stereotypical sitcom mom, or in her case, stepmom. Her simultaneously competitive/nurturing relationship with her overachieving stepdaughter is something I've definitely seen before. The other kids are straight from the playbook as well, with a shy tween girl and an annoying little brother rounding out the squad. Of course, 1600 Penn tries to “shake it up” in some very predictable ways. The older daughter is pregnant, unintentionally, and the younger is getting her first crush, on another girl. How scandalous!
The one thing that did surprise me was how none of the kids seem to resent the trappings of being related to the president. This theme has been touched upon in just about every dramatic depiction of the first family that I've ever seen from Aaron Sorkin's The West Wing to Sinbad's First Kid. Normally, we see constant tantrums and attempted escapes, but the Gilchrests are all shockingly well adjusted to their highly-unusual lives.
Though 1600 Penn might not be the most original show on television, the execution was actually pretty damn good. Monday night's sneak preview proved that Josh Gad's timing and sheer comedic presence translate perfectly from the stage to the screen, and also that there's a reason Jenna Elfman keeps getting work. I don't think we're looking at the next 30 Rock or Parks and Recreation, but I'm optimistic about NBC's political slant on the sitcom.