1600 Penn


Quality is not an act, it is a habit.
–  Aristotle

If quality is a habit, “1600 Penn” shows us that NBC seems to have considered quality a bad habit. The stinking pile of dung that was tossed onto the masses last week with “1600 Penn” proves NBC has either renounced quality entirely or is hell bent on destroying the very idea all together. “1600 Penn” is so staggeringly bad it makes “The Big Bang Theory” seem like sitcom Tolstoy. I sat through 44 minutes of the most mind numbingly inane television I have seen in years and watching two complete episodes of this show makes me think it could replace water-boarding as a coercive interrogation device.

Bill Pullman plays Dale Gilchrest, a father of four children who also happens to be President of the United States. Scientologist Jenna Elfman plays the first lady, Book of Mormon alumni, and co-creator of the show, Josh Gad plays buffoonish first son Skip. Skip comes across as the retarded red headed step child of Chris Farley’s “Tommy Boy”, sans the charm and affability of Farley. Martha MacIsaac plays bookish first daughter Becca and the rest of the cast is rounded out by a hackneyed version of a sitcom family and seemingly competent side players. This show is so bad that it is almost as though the dark lord himself, Satan, pitched this idea in an attempt to further push the population down the rabbit hole of mediocrity.

The first two episodes revolve around the bookish Becca telling her father that she has become pregnant after a reckless one night stand. Hilarity does not ensue. In all fairness, this is a pretty solid premise for comedy and in more skillful hands, it may have even been funny. In “1600 Penn” it’s just formulaic tripe. To describe those scenes in any way would take me back to a place I am incapable of going, just trust me, they’re awful. However, the scenes between Pullman and MacIsaac are engaging; in fact, those scenes are the only good thing about the show. Sadly, that accounts for maybe 90 seconds of 44 minutes over the two episodes. The remaining 42 minutes and 30 seconds are filled with pedantic writing and performing, with Josh Gad’s Skip leading the idiot brigade.

It would be easy to blame the three creators, Josh Gad, Jason Winer and Jon Lovett, for this show. But this show is so dreadful that to hold only three people accountable would be intellectually impossible. The lions share of shit heaved onto, into and around this show has got to come from NBC programming “notes”. If history is any indication, this degree of banality has NBC programming octopus prints all over it.  So, the plausibility that three seemingly talented people could be solely responsible for such simplistic dreck is beyond any scope of comprehension. Now that doesn’t excuse the creators because, in the final analysis, the decision to say “no” or “We’re not doing that” rests with them and in failing to exercise that, that makes them ultimately responsible.

I recently wrote about something I call Creative Corporatism and “1600 Penn” serves as a text book example of this idea. As the name implies, it is the concept of Corporatism directing creativity. Hollywood, and television in particular, has a long history of meddling with shows to “make them better” and sometimes it works, like when the note was given to add a female character to “The Seinfeld Chronicles’”. But when those notes fail or seem to serve any purpose, as they seem to have here, well, then it just becomes a shit show. Literally. Corporate shills have one responsibility, nay two, and those are to serve the shareholder and to keep their job; they don’t have a responsibility to create formidable and compelling television. Sure, we all want that, but sadly, I am not convinced they do.

Maybe I am wrong about “1600 Penn” and it will turn out to be a huge hit. I don’t know, but based on the 44 minutes I saw, “1600 Penn” is a giant turd on the face of American television and should be cancelled post haste.