We hold these truths to be self-evident: not all comedies are created equal. And four score and seven years ago (give or take a couple scores and years), Josh Gad and Jason Winer had an idea for a show about an ordinary, modern family in extraordinary circumstances. And what's more extraordinary than growing up at the most famous address in America, 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, home of the White House? Not much, if you're keeping things terrestrial.
And so is the basic idea of what 1600 Penn is all about: a regular family whose father is also in the running to have his head on a coin — thanks to being the President of the United States. The family Gilchrest is an interesting clan: neither Republican or Democrat in name or actions, the focus is less West Wing and more akin to Growing Pains or a Disneyified Married... with Children. Don't expect too much of the Sorkin-defining walk-and-talk on 1600 Penn, but don't count out the heart the series carries with it, either. With a few tweaks, they might have something.
Comedy and politics seem like a natural marriage, but it's surprising how little the White House has been used in television sitcoms. Outside of the deliriously funny HBO series Veep, the higher offices are often exempt from skewering, and saved for those kooky dramatists.
The show feels out of place in the modern television landscape — a curious notion, considering Winer's previous television family was the Pritchett-Dunphy's of juggernaut Modern Family. Where Veep nails it with its combination of British-style humor and American egoism, 1600 Penn relies far more on goofy shenanigans and schtick than substance. The scandalous and taboo topics stretch as far as the decidedly un-so ones of unwed motherhood and the fleeting mention of a possible (but clearly-never-was-happening) abortion. A potential love interest for unwed single-mom-to-be, daughter Becca (Martha MacIsaac) seems to be set up with Communications Director, Marshall (Andre Holland) that feels like an attempt to elicit memories of the Charlie Young/Zoey Bartlet relationship from the latter seasons of West Wing, and also keep things semi-diverse. The Descendants' Amara Miller, the second-youngest Gilchrest child, admits feelings for a girl (the same girl her younger brother, played by the adorably precocious Benjamin Stockham, also has feelings for) in an offhanded moment over pizza. A lesbian in the White House? Surely enraging for the more conservative Americans in the bunch, no doubt, but seems to be the sort of plot point that should appear after the character is a bit more developed, rather than made her only defining characteristic from the outset. Throwing a label on a character before she's even a fully-developed character feels more like an attempt at being edgy than it does beneficial.
The brightest spot of the bunch is the delightful Jenna Elfman's step-mother and FLOTUS extraordinaire, Emily Nash Gilchrest. Emily's image in the press is that of a Trophy Wife, but all beauty and no brains she is not. As President Dale's better half, Emily was the campaign manager for Bill Pullman's character's gubernatorial bid in his homestate of Nevada years prior. But she's a neurotic people-pleaser sort — out to prove the press corp wrong, while attempting to win over the love of the general public and her four step-children. Her intentions are good and she has the charisma to carry the show in moments that would otherwise fall flat.
Take a clip seen frequently in the advertisements for the show. In it, Emily is hosting a White House event for young girls and math. After one of the kids asks Emily why her father calls the FLOTUS a trophy wife, you see the wheels turn as she's forced to keep it cool while her kneejerk reaction boils up underneath. "Trophies aren’t just pretty, they denote accomplishment. Like putting yourself through law school, running a dozen successful political campaigns by the age of 40, and still managing to get to the gym three days a week. And I mean real classes, not just standing there on the elliptical. So if your dad has any further thoughts on trophies, wives, or otherwise, I think you should show him your soccer trophy and tell him to shove it up his—" It seems safe to assume that the depths and complexities of Emily Gilchrest will become a highlight of the show.
Whether the show's attempts to spin heart and values around the decidedly disheartened District is a bad thing or not certainly depends on what you're looking for going into 1600 Penn. It's a breezy sense of humor throughout the first four episodes; one that feels comfortable for those looking for entertainment that seems inoffensive enough to leave on the TV at grandma's house. However, the more cringeworthy, stereotypical jokes (the portrayal of the Latin American political contingency feels like a bunch of prattling children prone to histrionics rather than leaders of government) take so much away from the more humorous ones ("I have robots that roam the skies! Sky robots.") that live beside them.
The show has a lot to work on if it wants to capture the essence of family living in 2013. It's an odd blend of political obligations and dated tomfoolery. There's potential in places: the humor shines in its most relatable moments (Skip's relationship with Becca's baby-daddy D.B. is charming in buddy-comedy way). If they tone down the more buffoon-y moments with Skip (Think of it this way: there's a reason Kramer wasn't the central figure of Seinfeld, you guys.) and focus on the humor of modern living, the show could end up surprising us. But until then, NBC may hover over this one with a veto power of its own — and for the charming and lovely cast and creators of this show (and like our nation in general), we hope the underdog surprises us for the better.
[Photo Credit: NBC]
Follow Alicia on Twitter @alicialutes
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Poor St. Patrick. His Day has devolved into a celebration of – and with – alcohol rather than a celebration of the man himself and what he represents: the arrival of Christianity in Ireland. (Thanks, Wikipedia!) And in honor of St. Patrick’s Day 2012, we’re here to perpetuate that modern tradition with a list our favorite drunk scenes of all time. (NOTE: THE CLIPS BELOW CONTAIN VULGAR LANGUAGE AND/OR WILL FERRELL’S BUTT.)
Leaving Las Vegas
A great drunk scene need not be of the comedic variety. Exhibit A: almost every scene of Nicolas Cage’s (career-best, Oscar-winning) performance as a man on a mission to drink himself to death. Several sequences are depressingly memorable, but one of the best involves a little bit of humor, a bar fight and the awesome line “Like the kiln klan king of the rim ram room.”
“We’re going streaking!” With that line – and, of course, the gratuitous display of his ass (which would soon become his go-to move) – Will Ferrell cemented a spot in many a frat guy’s heart and on any list like this one. It also actually might’ve helped launch him into superstardom, as he went on quite a roll following Old School, and this scene was certainly its most memorable.
Much of Superbad revolves around procuring alcohol, and many such scenes that take place after said procurement are instant classics (i.e., Michael Cera and Martha MacIsaac getting, uh, clumsy in bed, or Cera reluctantly singing to a group of coked-out older guys), but the best might be the one that sets the movie apart from straightforward raunch-fests before and since: the hilariously tender scene between Cera and Jonah Hill after a long night of drunken craziness. Boop!
Billy Bob Thornton singlehandedly helped refresh the entire holiday-movie genre with his title mall Santa – an obscenity-spewing, alcohol-swilling curmudgeon out to make money on Christmas, not make kids smile. In one of the movie's best scenes (above), hilarity starts the very second we see Thornton’s character, in Santa attire, roll up the escalator, wasted, with a broken bottle of booze in his hand.
The Big Lebowski
It’s not exactly a drunk scene, per se, but we wouldn’t feel right about not including it: While driving, with a beer in one hand and joint in the other (certainly not something we’d recommend trying), The Dude (Jeff Bridges) tries to flick the joint roach out of his closed car window, lets out one of the more hilarious yelps in movie history when it falls on his crotch, and then does, well, the somewhat sensible thing by using his beer as a fire extinguisher. And then crashes.
“No more yanky my wanky. The Donger need food!” What else can be said? Ever??
Otis Day & The Knights - Shout (video edit) from FunkyRob on Vimeo.
John Belushi and Co. spent much of this beloved college comedy drunk (except for the great “I’m a zit, get it?” scene) – and oftentimes seemed drunk even when their characters weren’t – but the best, most purely fun drunkenness is on display during Otis Day & the Knights’ performance of “Shout” at a Delta House packed with frat guys and their dates ready to sing and dance like fools.
Don’t let the horrendous Russell Brand update taint the 1981 Arthur. In fact, let it prompt you to watch or re-watch the fantastic original, in which Dudley Moore plays the title character, arguably the greatest film drunk of all time (whatever that means). It’s pretty tough to choose just one amazing drunk scene, so we went with several. Because you truly can’t hear that laugh enough.
How about a scene involving what will not be drunk instead of a “drunk scene”? Even though it doesn’t contain anything memorable that meets the basic criteria of our list, Sideways is expressly about alcohol, so it does have some business being on a list commemorating THE drunk holiday, and … OK, we just had to find a way to include Paul Giammatti’s classic anti-merlot line.