When we elect our officials, we hope to pick great candidates who will work tirelessly and without distraction for the betterment of the country and its citizens. But we forget that they are human, with needs and desires, and that the candidate’s family is usually involved too, but with more pressure and less power. In 2012, a sitcom chronicled the administration of one such President, and the hijinks of his first family, in 1600 Penn.
Meet Gilchrist; he’s a war hero, governor of Nevada, and now he’s President of the United States. His screw-up slacker son, Skip, has taken up his dad’s offer of residing at the White House, hoping being under the President’s wing will help him shape up. His oldest daughter broke her strait-laced and responsible image, by having a wild fling and getting pregnant, throwing a wrench into her plans. Meanwhile, young Xander (a boy genius) and Marigold, try to adjust to their new school, while stepmother Emily finds it challenging to integrate with the new family, especially Becca, with whom she bucks heads with constantly. The family is in turmoil as the tribulations of the Gilchrist administration’s clash and complement the issues facing the Gilchrist family.
In a creative leap, Bill Pullman plays President Gilchrist, despite some slight differences his depictions of both Gilchrist and Whitmore remain similar in their generic ideals. The focus is on the first family, from single episode antics to multi-episode arcs. Skip is a dominating figure, a slacker, but has a big heart, with Josh Gad’s humour shining through the character and his exploits fuel a lot of the comedy. I like the quasi love-triangle between Becca, Becca’s dim one-night stand D.B. and Malloy the put-upon Press Secretary, played capably by André Holland. Meanwhile, Jemma Elfman’s Emily especially when it comes at odds with Becca, who both vie to be the leading female face of the Gilchrist family.
The show knows how to make a comfortable sitcom, from the heightened situation of life in the west wing. The episodes merge real-world issues playfully with the lives of the characters, with funny and touching results. The story where Malloy makes up a fake employee to get an office, and some free time to himself or the one when the family does a reluctant digital detox in rural Nevada. From the time Becca’s hard work on the environmental commission being overshadowed due to perceived ignorance and nepotism to the time Emily having to charm an ageing Senator with deeply unpleasant views. 1600 Penn weaves the issues facing the nation with the comedic drama facing the family, and it’s a recurring sight to see Gilchrist in the War Room, consulting about said family issues.
We have had many television shows depicting the lives of the residents of the White House, yet few manage to integrate the comedic potential of the family dynamic and its impact on a life in politics. The single season tackles a lot and shows some great potential in its characters. A wide mix of styles helps the stories remain engaging and 1600 Penn keeps the humour and the heart to make the First Family’s antics fun for all the family.
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