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 V.22 No.2 | January 10 - 16, 2013 

Idiot Box

First (Modern) Family

“1600 Penn” on NBC

NBC’s midseason replacement sitcom “1600 Penn” starts off with a stereotypical setup. Seems that chubby loser Skip (Josh Gad from Broadway’s The Book of Mormon) has been kicked out of college after seven unproductive years and is now forced to move back in with his parents. The twist in this tale is contained in the titular address. Yup, Skip’s parents are the president and the first lady of the United States.

Setting a dysfunctional family sitcom in the White House seems like such an inspired idea it’s surprising nobody ever thought of it before. (I mean, other than Bob Newhart’s 1980 movie The First Family, Comedy Central’s “That’s My Bush!” and some syndicated show Byron Allen is apparently producing.) It’s like “Modern Family,” but with politics—which is probably how the creators (the aforementioned Gad and former White House speechwriter Jon Lovett) pitched it.

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You see, in addition to poor Skip, President Dale Gilchrist (Bill Pullman) and his considerably younger second wife Emily (Jenna Elfman) must deal with three other kids. Brainy eldest daughter Becca (Martha MacIsaac) is considered the perfect one in the family—at least she was until she got knocked up out of wedlock (probably by a black guy). The two youngest Gilchrist kids are a couple of prep school hellraisers (one of whom may be gay). Yes, “1600 Penn” does like to pile on the dysfunction, but at least it’s provided the show’s writers plenty of fodder for situational comedy.

Pullman has the presidential thing down pat—though he may come across as something of a letdown to voters, having fought off those aliens from Independence Day in his first term. Elfman knows her way around a sitcom (“Dharma and Greg,” anyone?) and adds some familiar energy to the cast. But Gad’s lovable loser is the centerpiece here and soaks up most of the ensemble laughs. He’s like a younger, more chipper, less blustery version of Jack Black.

“1600 Penn” isn’t anywhere near as edgy as HBO’s nasty, Washington-based laugher “Veep.” Though it steers well clear of timely headlines and demonstrates no aversion to schticky comedy, it’s not some lowest-common-denominator, Monday-night-on-CBS sitcom. It does a solid job of defining its characters, giving them stuff to do and letting loose with the occasional pratfall.

“1600 Penn” isn’t going to be anybody’s favorite new show. Frankly, I’d rather be watching new episodes of “Community” right now on NBC. But with its skilled cast, standout setting and occasional well-earned chuckle, this D.C. folly might just make it to reelection.

“1600 Penn” premieres Thursday, Jan. 10, at 8:30 p.m. on KOB-4.

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